Some of our readers are making plans to, or have already gone, ‘off grid’ in their current home, whether in a suburban neighborhood or in a condominium. Others have a retreat or a second home that they’re preparing to live in. In either case, you might need a vehicle that is equipped and prepared should the time come when you need to leave the area in haste, perhaps as a result of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or, God forbid, some sort of societal breakdown (let’s not forget the riots and looting in New Orleans or the 1992 L.A. riots after the Rodney King verdict).
The most important consideration for your vehicle is how many people you need to provide for. Remember, it’s not just the bodies you need to carry, it’s the gear each person will bring along. At minimum you’ll be carrying the equivalent of a few days’ luggage, at worst you’ll be carrying everything that each person is taking away with them-forever.
The second consideration is the terrain and weather. In much of the southeast or southwest the weather is rarely such that you would need a vehicle capable of off-road travel, unless your 2nd home or retreat house is truly off the beaten path. However, in most of the rest of the country, winter weather could pose enough of a threat that you’d have to have a 4×4.
People who live in rural areas often have metal brush guards on their vehicles. These are those metal frames attached to the front part of the frame of the guard that makes the vehicle look battle-ready. They’re called brush guards but they’re really ideal for help with any object that won’t-or can’t-move out of the way.
Consider for a moment a deer running across the road, at night, which you fail to avoid. Many cars would be totaled by a collision with an adult deer, and people have even died when antlers or hooves come through windows. With a brush guard on your car, you and the vehicle are protected.
It might not always be deer that is your problem. In a situation where you’re encountering civil unrest, any moving vehicle is a target for rocks, bottles, even bats. If you encounter a gang on the streets or just a few violent individuals with baseball bats, the front end of even a standard SUV won’t hold up well to a few bats. You don’t want to be navigating your way through an already troubled area with broken headlights and taillights, attracted further unwanted attention.
On the other hand, a kid with a baseball bat might take a look at a brush guard on the front of your SUV and think twice about taking a swing at it. Perhaps your threat won’t be a deer or a criminal, but a few cars that have been abandoned on the road. If you have no other option than to attempt to push them out of the way, the brush guard could be the difference between you getting through or having to backtrack.
Of course, one of the most important preparations for your vehicle is to know that it has been properly maintained. This is more than just changing the oil and keeping the gas tank full (or at least never less than half-full), this means checking the transmission fluid, belts, hoses, inspecting the tires regularly and rotating them, and having your mechanic go over all the major systems to see if there are warning signs of an imminent failure.
If you are going to be changing vehicles anyway or just want to have a dedicated, emergency vehicle at the standby, a full size Chevy Suburban or Ford Expedition is hard to beat. They’re built on strong, truck frames and have lots of room for carrying gear. Of course, if it’s just you, then you won’t need as much room but consider that in an emergency situation, you might find primary roads impassable, whether because of damage from a natural disaster, chaos following a terrorist attack that has caused the roads to be jammed with traffic or a declaration of martial law that is limiting movement, and you might have to resort to less than ideal driving conditions. A four wheel drive vehicle, or even something with a little more ground clearance, could be the difference between freedom and being stuck.
I prefer larger vehicles such as the old fashioned Chevy Blazer and Ford Bronco, or the old Jeep Waggoner, because they are big, heavy vehicles that take a lot of abuse and have a tough underbelly. Many of these SUVs driving around suburban America are running on car frames and don’t have the strength or endurance of true trucks.
Keep in mind that you don’t need-or want-a shiny, brand new SUV. Get something a few years old (or 10 years old!) and invest the money you would have spent on the newer one on maintenance, customization and add-ons that you really need. Besides, you don’t ever want to be the nicest car around in an emergency situation… you want to be the guy nobody else looks out.
Next newsletter, I’ll share my list of critical supplies to keep in your ‘Get Out of Dodge’ vehicle.