American society today is highly mobile. Few of us work close to our homes, so we are constantly running from one place to another, burning gasoline and putting miles on our cars. According to the National Auto Insurer’s Association, this is on the increase, with the average American driving twice as many miles per year as they did 30 years ago.
With so much time in our cars and trucks and so much of that time being a ways away from our homes, it only seems logical to make sure that our vehicles are prepared to help us survive; yet few actually bother with that, even amongst the prepping and survival community.
I’m not talking about creating a bug out vehicle here. In fact, I’m far from convinced of the necessity of paying big bucks for a bug out vehicle. Some preppers spend a fortune on 4×4 pickups or custom-made backwoods campers. But unless you have some other reason to buy such a rig, I’d say that it’s a waste of money for most of us. If we have to bug out, we probably won’t be going off-road to do so.
Sorry if I burst your bubble with that, but I’m talking reality here. Unless you managed to build a survival retreat somewhere that’s far from roads, why do you need a 4×4 pickup to get there? On the other hand, a natural disaster, a vehicle breakdown late at night or the results of an act of terrorism are things that can happen at any time. Those are the things you need to have your vehicle prepared for, so that you can survive.
With fall just starting, this is an ideal time to prepare your vehicle for survival. Every winter, a number of people end up dying in their cars, not from accidents (although that happens too), but from trying to survive after going off the road in a snowstorm. Without the right equipment and supplies in the car, you might not make it through that cold winter’s night.
Preparing Your Vehicle for Survival
1.Let’s Start with the Vehicle
It just makes sense to start by talking about the vehicle itself. If your vehicle isn’t going to survive the winter, then it’s not going to be much help to your survival. For that matter, it might just increase the chances of you dying this winter.
While an actual bug out vehicle may not be a real necessity for driving back and forth to work, there are a couple of characteristics of pickup trucks and SUVs, which make them great vehicles for survival:
- Storage space - I've never been a fan of the average family sedan, simply because you are limited in how much you can haul in it. Granted, some sedans have large trunks, but those are in the minority. For the most part, you get much more space in a van, mini-van, station wagon or pickup truck.
- Ground clearance - The average family sedan isn't all that good if you have to jump a curb and go across a median or through someone's front yard. If you try, you'll probably end up scraping the bottom of the vehicle on the curb. Trucks and SUVs can handle this simple off-road task with ease, even if they aren't four wheel drive.
- Large Engines - A large engine may consume more fuel, but it also has advantages. Specifically, that large engine gives you greater acceleration. It also allows a vehicle to climb steep grades, without slowing down. But probably the best thing is that a large engine will last longer, simply because it isn't working as hard.
- Visibility - Pickup trucks and SUVs are higher off the ground, giving you better visibility to see what's happening in front of you, when you're stuck in a traffic jam. That extra information might just give you an advantage in knowing how to deal with the situation.
- Interior space - If you get stranded somewhere, a SUV or van provides you with more space inside, to use as a shelter. Some even have reclining seats or bench seats that will fold out to make a bed. This makes them much more comfortable as a survival vehicle.
So, while I'm not saying that you need a 4x4 bug out vehicle; but if you have a truck, SUV or van, there are some advantages. So, while I might not spend another $20 grand for a pickup truck, just so that I could use it as a bug out vehicle, I would keep the advantages of that truck in mind, while looking at the other options out there.
Even more important than the type of vehicle you have is the condition of that vehicle. You could have the biggest, baddest 4x4 truck on the road, but if you have trouble keeping it running, all you have is a pile of metal on the way to the scrap yard. Better to have something that's not so big and bad, but that you can count on starting every time you turn the key.
Proper maintenance is essential to keeping a vehicle running well. More than anything, this means proper preventative maintenance. If you don't change your oil regularly, like you should, then you're asking for trouble. If you don't check your engine's coolant and transmission fluid, you're heading for a breakdown. These simple tasks are essential to owning a reliable vehicle.
Likewise, making repairs in a timely manner is important. At the onset of every winter, there are countless cars who leave their owners stranded. This is usually due to lack of maintenance. The owners of those vehicles don't replace their batteries, hoses, thermostats and belts when they should, so they end up sitting there with a broken down vehicle or having to repair it out in the cold.
Most vehicle problems aren't major breakdowns, but rather minor ones. Taking the time to inspect a vehicle regularly and make necessary repairs doesn't really take all that much time or money. All you need to check is:
- Engine fluids - Make sure that they are all up to the full level and that it's not time to change them. When it is time for a change, use quality fluids, as the will protect the engine better. Always make sure that you use 50/50 anti-freeze and water for the maximum protection and keep your windshield washer fluid reservoir filled, so that you can clean your windshield.
- Wiper blades - It may not seem like a big thing, but if you get caught in a snowstorm with worn out wiper blades, you'll be wishing you had changed them. You need good blades to clean the snow and sleet off the windshield, so that you can see.
- Serpentine belt - The old collection of fan belts under the hood of a car have been replaced by a single belt. Make sure that it isn't frayed and that there aren't any ribs missing. A belt that is narrow, having lost a rib, is a sure indicator that you have a pulley out of alignment. Old belts can dry out, cracking and losing some of the material in the ribs. These should be replaced.
- Hoses - When hoses get old, they soften, especially near the ends. If you have hoses that are bulged out near the ends, that's an indication that the hose is about ready to burst. Better to replace it before it can.
- Tires - Many people try and use their tires until they are bald. That's okay, if you can get away with it. But the wintertime isn't the time to try. A good thick tread on your tires is one of your greatest protections against losing control on ice and packed snow.
- Spare - When was the last time you checked the air in your spare tire? Many people drive around with spares that are empty, simply because they don't bother to check it.
- Brakes - Good brakes are critical for controlling a car. If your brakes are making any noise, it's time to replace them.
- Battery - Check the charge of the battery, the water level (if it's not a sealed battery) and the age. If your battery has been in the car as many years as it is warranted for, you can pretty much count on it going bad this winter. Better to change it before that happens, rather than getting stuck with a dead battery.
- Gasoline - Did you know that it's just as easy to keep the top half of the gas tank full, as it is to keep the bottom half full? Why run around with a tank that's almost empty all the time, when you can run around with one that's almost full? That way, you don't have to worry about running out. Fill it when it reaches the 1/4 or 1/2 mark on the gas gauge.
Carry Some Spares
A spare tire is provided with most vehicles, as a safety precaution. After all, if a tire goes flat, that vehicle isn't going anywhere. But then, there are a lot of other parts that will prevent a vehicle from going anywhere, if they fail. Why is it that car manufacturers provide spare tires, but not spare belts and hoses, for example?
The answer to this goes back to the days before paved streets were common. In the early days of the automobile, tires weren't as strong as they are now and roads weren't as good. So, flat tires were a much more common occurrence. Manufacturers provided spare tires to help overcome this problem.
Based on that, some people could say that a spare tire is outdated and unnecessary; but I prefer to go the other way. If we're going to carry spare tires in case of a having a flat, then we should also carry some spares to take care of common vehicle problems. That way, we're ready for a whole lot more.
So, what else should you carry?
- Distributor cap and rotor (if your car uses them)
- Spark plug wire
- Water or water/antifreeze mix
While this short list of parts won't take care of every problem you are likely to encounter, it will take care of many of the most common. Being able to fix those common problems will drastically reduce the chances of being caught stranded somewhere, due to a breakdown.
Of course, carrying these extra parts also means carrying the tools to install them. It doesn't do any good to have the parts, if you can't do anything with them. So, make sure you have a basic tool kit in the car, as well as a good jack, an air pump and some jumper cables.
2. Basic Vehicle Survival Plan
Okay, now that the vehicle itself is ready, your chances of survival are greatly increased. At least you shouldn’t find yourself in a situation where the vehicle is causing your untimely demise. Unless, of course, you get into an accident; but that probably won’t be the fault of the vehicle.
Even the best prepared and maintained vehicle can have mechanical problems. In addition, every time you drive down the street, there is a risk of accident. There are lots of fools out there, hiding behind the steering wheels of cars and trucks, and you never know when you might encounter one of them.
The solution for this is constant vigilance. When I was teaching my kids to drive, the one thing I hammered into their heads, over and over again, was “Always assume the other driver is going to do something foolish.” By assuming that, you’re alert and watching them. When they do something foolish, you’re more likely to see it and be ready to react. That might be enough to prevent the accident.
There’s also a risk of a disaster happening while you are away from home, impeding your ability to return to your family. That may be a sudden storm, a flash flood or some enemy nation setting off an EMP, bringing everything to a standstill.
Regardless of what happens, you want to be ready for it. Part of that is making sure you have some survival equipment and supplies with you, but another part is making sure that you know what to do, in case any of those things happens.
One of the most important things you can do to ensure your survival in your vehicle is to make sure that somebody knows where you are. Let’s say that you’re going to a nearby town for the day, because of your business. When you leave, you need to make sure that your spouse knows where you’re going, the route you’re going to take to get there and what time you expect to be home. That way, if you don’t make it back home when you should, they can raise the alarm and send someone looking for you.
If you end up stuck in the middle of nowhere, check your cell phone first. If you have signal, then make use of it to call for help. The first person to call is the person who was expecting you, so that they know what has happened. If you can’t get to the authorities, they should be able to get through. Once you’ve let them know what’s going on, try contacting the police. They are your best point of contact to any rescue services in the area. With that taken care of, contact your family member again, updating them.
In any situation where someone is likely to come looking for you, your best plan of action is to stay with the vehicle. Not only is the vehicle larger and more visible than you are, it can also provide you with shelter while you wait.
Rescuers aren’t going to be looking for a person on foot, but rather a vehicle that’s gone off the road. So, they won’t even start looking for you on foot, until after they’ve found your abandoned vehicle and searched the area around it, to make sure that you aren’t there somewhere. That could add another day or more to your ultimate rescue. If you’re hurt in any way, that day could be critical.
Of course, if the event is so catastrophic as to mean that rescuers aren’t going to get to where you are for days, if at all, then it might make more sense to try walking out to civilization or even walking home. But think it through before leaving your car. In leaving, you’re giving up a huge advantage.
Sheltering in Your Car
While a car isn’t a perfect shelter, it’s actually much better than most shelters which you might find out in the wild. It is sturdy, secure, waterproof, has some insulation and even some heating, assuming that your engine is still working and you have fuel in the tank.
In the winter, your car may not be warm enough, so it would be a good idea to make it hold in the heat better, in order to help you survive. This is easily accomplished by keeping several inexpensive rescue blankets in the car, along with some duct tape. Use the tape and blankets to line the inside of the passenger compartment. That will reflect the heat from your body and from the vehicle’s heater back into the car, rather than having it escape.
With the rescue blankets in place, turn the engine on for 15 minutes at a time, allowing the heater to warm up the interior. No, it won’t be as comfortable as sitting in your living room, but you shouldn’t have any problem getting it warm enough to survive. Remember though, your gas will only last so long, so use it sparingly.
Another way to warm the interior of the vehicle is with candles. Once again, this won’t make it feel like you’re sitting in front of the fireplace, but it can provide you with enough heat to keep you from freezing. Be sure to keep a couple of candles and blankets in the vehicle, just in case.
Whatever you do, don’t go outside in a heavy snowstorm, especially one with blowing snow. You could fall or a gust of wind could blow you off course. In a heavy storm, you might not be able to see the vehicle, even if you’re only a few feet away. Stay inside, where you are protected.
If you have to leave the vehicle for some reason, then make sure that you are tied to it with a piece of cord. That way, you can always follow the cord to find your way back. A simple piece of paracord, attached to your wrist and the steering wheel, could save your life.
3. What do You Need in the Vehicle?
We’ve talked about preparing the vehicle and making sure that you have parts for the vehicle, but we haven’t talked about what you need to have, for your survival. While the vehicle itself can provide you with shelter, that’s about all it can do. You’ll need some other things to help you survive.
We actually need to look at this in two different ways; sheltering in the vehicle and walking out. While it makes sense to stay with the vehicle in most cases, there might be a TEOFWAWKI event that takes place while you are away from home. In that case, you need to have what you’ll need in order to survive as you make your way back home. We’ll look at these as two different lists.
For Sheltering in the Car:
More than anything, sheltering in the car means that you have shelter to protect you from the weather. At the same time, the vehicle itself acts as a beacon, drawing rescuers to you. So, you won't need to worry so much about signaling any rescue team.
- Rescue blankets (at least 3)
- Duct tape
- Large candles
- Matches or a butane lighter
- Plastic bags (to use as a toilet)
- Phone charger
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Map (so you can locate yourself and tell rescuers where you are)
- Firearm and ammo (self-defense)
- High energy snack bars
- Purified water or sports drink
For Making Your Way Home:
Making your way home is a bit more complicated than staying with your car and waiting for someone to come rescue you. However, in some circumstances, that's exactly what you'll have to do. If nobody is likely to be coming, then there really is no reason to stay with your car.
Basically, you're going to need a rather extensive survival kit or a get home bag. It will have to provide you with means to build a shelter, purify water and some food to eat. As I already talked about a get home bag in another article, I'm not going to repeat that list here. However, there are some things I'm going to add to it, which you should have in your car:
- Rugged clothes and good walking shoes - Most of us leave home dressed in manners that are not conducive to survival. If that's the case, then make sure you have something appropriate to wear as you make your way home.
- Seasonally appropriate coat - You should always carry a jacket, hat and gloves with you, no matter what. Even in the summertime, you might have a cold front come in and it get chilly at night. Better to keep a jacket in the car, then to not have it when you need it.
- Map and compass - You're going to need to be able to navigate your way back home. Make sure that you can.
- Walking stick - If you've never used a walking stick on a long walk, try it sometime. It makes it easier to get over rough terrain, as well as keeping your balance. If a stray dog comes along, it makes a good weapon as well.
- Firearm and ammo - You always want to be able to protect yourself.
Leave a note at the car, telling any rescuers who you are and where you are going. That way, if they get to your car faster than you expect, they can come looking for you. You might not end up having to walk home, after all.
The decision to shelter in your car or make your way home is the most important decision you'll make when stranded in a car. The sooner you make that decision, the better. While you can always change your mind and head for home, if nobody comes for you, your supplies will only last so long. Making that decision quickly means that you'll be able to have more supplies to use as you make your way home. It will also help you to get home that much sooner.Ultimately, your survival is up to you. While there are organizations which specialize in rescuing those in need, there are many factors which might prevent them from getting to you in time. If you are depending on them to survive, you might be disappointed. Be prepared, so that you can take care of yourself.