There are many reasons why you’d want to bulletproof your car. Perhaps you’re getting your bug-out vehicle as ready for its mission as it can be. Maybe you just live in an unsafe neighborhood where shattered windows and stolen cars are the norm, or perhaps you want some extra peace of mind for your bug-out vehicle.
Commercially available, low-profile armored cars are one option, but even the most rudimentary of these options will cost an order of magnitude more than a normal, unarmored car in the same class.
Proper armored cars are huge, ungainly vehicles and more expensive still. One option that more than a few preppers consider is DIY armor in the form of a homebrew solution or aftermarket armor kits for select vehicles.
You might not need a full-bore heavy armored vehicle to get safety! If you’ve already done basic preparations such as loading your BOB, and planning your bug-out routes, I’ll show you how to take your preps one step further and bulletproof your car.
Table of Contents
Fundamentals of Ballistic Protection
For worn armor or vehicle armor, protection is rated for specific threats, meaning your armor has been tested to stop certain rounds traveling at a certain velocity and do so for so many hits.
This rating is usually described as an “NIJ Standard” for National Institute of Justice metrics. This system is outdated, flawed, and doesn’t make allowances for more modern rounds in common use, but it is still the only widely familiar rating system available and so most manufacturers and agencies use it.
To ensure you have enough ballistic protection against the threat you are most likely to face, you’ll go up the scale of NIJ ratings from Level IIA all the way up to Level IV.
Levels IIA and II protect you from common handgun threats, while Level III can protect you against some rifles. Level IV armor will protect you from some otherwise armor-piercing rifle threats.
As a basic rule, your armor gets heavier, bulkier, more expensive, or all three as you increase your protection rating. While bad enough for personal body armor, this is especially daunting for vehicles since weight and cost skyrocket as you have much more surface area to protect in order to keep bullets from reaching the occupants of a vehicle.
Also, don’t forget that windows and windshields will need to be replaced with bullet-resistant alternatives for complete protection.
Ultimately, installing real-deal armor on your vehicle will be a costly undertaking but it can be done if you have the coin.
With anything but the lightest of commercial or homebrew armor solutions, your vehicle will become heavily laden. It will ride noticeably lower on its suspension.
It will feel like it has lost a lot of pep, and braking will be sluggish, as will maneuvering. Armor protection always comes at a cost to mobility and agility. Always.
To maintain even a respectable baseline of performance you will need to enhance and strengthen the suspension, brakes, engine, and potentially some structural members and hinges that support the soon-to-be-much-heavier doors.
This is an entirely separate undertaking and adds even more cost to the endeavor. Failure to do this can result in a vehicle that is way outside its nominal performance parameters for the sake of ballistic protection, and potentially dangerously. Driver beware.
Tires are the other and obvious major concern and one of the most vulnerable elements of any wheeled vehicle’s motive system.
If you’ve watched any action movies, you know that in a shootout, everybody aims for the wheels of the quarry in a car chase.
If it’s going too fast, then the driver will likely lose control because of the sudden damage to the tire.
While shooting out a tire rarely causes a catastrophic loss of the tire in real life, a puncture will definitely bring the party bus to a halt eventually. Not ideal if you are bugging out.
Your primary concern is making sure that your car can still roll even if one or more tires are punctured. This is accomplished on bigger, much more expensive armored vehicles through the use of an onboard tire pressure control and sealing system.
Smaller, less expensive vehicles can just use run-flat tires rated for their vehicle’s curb weight.
Most of these tires will allow you to roll on for about 50 miles or so at a modest speed of around 25-30mph, hopefully enough to get clear of immediate danger so you can enact repairs or pop on a spare.
By using run-flat tires, you also minimize the risk of death in a car crash. Run-flat tires enable your car to survive a whole lot of sharp things from nail beds to knives and bullets.
While they do not offer complete protection against catastrophic wheel or tire loss, they go a long way to mitigating the most common weakness of wheeled vehicles.
Bulletproofing car Windows and the Windshield
Standard cars aren’t equipped by the manufacturer with bulletproof windows, and the quickest way to get any car to stop is to shoot the driver through any window you can.
Auto glass is notorious for impeding and deflecting handgun rounds but will rarely stop them. Rifle rounds and shotgun slugs sail through them like tissue paper. No good.
The solution is to remove the safety glass and install composite polycarbonates instead. This is most often a piece of polycarbonate sandwiched between standard pieces of auto glass. Advanced examples can even be “one-way” allowing you to shoot out but preventing shots from coming in.
Keep in mind that if you install bullet-resistant windows and glass it might be more difficult for you to escape from your car if need be in case of a fire or being submerged.
It is no easy thing to break these composites and conventional glass breakers will not work. You’ll need a specialized plan for dealing with this or you’ll just need to accept the risks.
Presently there is no great solution for DIY bulletproofing of auto glass except, possibly, some thicker Mylar appliqués.
Armoring the exterior, really the intermediary spaces of the car body is done is zones. Typical light protection covers the doors and spaces around the pillars and potentially the rear cabin wall.
The engine is often left unarmored and its bulk is counted on to stop rounds fired from the front. More extensive protection will increasingly wrap around the passenger compartment, engine compartment, and drivetrain to ensure its integrity against gunfire.
This is done with polymer or synthetic fabrics like Kevlar and Dyneema if resistance to handgun fire is all that is desired, but protection from rifle fire will mean that UHMWPE or good old steel will need to be installed.
Any of the latter options means that weight and bulk will become serious issues, bulk with UHMWPE and weight with various grades of rolled steels.
For preppers bangin’ on a budget and who want protection against the most common threats, handgun rounds, you could look to install an aftermarket Level II armor package. This will afford you protection from even large magnum handguns.
Another part of the car that you will have to worry about is the gas tank. Just as the windows and the tires are bullet magnets, so is your gas tank.
Gas tanks don’t often explode when shot, contrary to popular depiction, but a shot to the tank will quickly drain it, and you should protect it with armor if it is not placed within the protection envelope afforded by the cabin’s armor.
Protecting the Engine and Other Concerns
If you want your car to go the extra mile, literally, consider armoring the engine compartment. Modern engines are comparatively fragile things, and even seemingly minor penetrating damage can lead to a breakdown in short order.
The engine, radiator, fluid reservoirs, and electrical systems are all vulnerable and packed together in the engine bay.
Wrap-around protection will add considerably more weight where you don’t want it- way up front- but if the alternative is having to hoof it away from your now wrecked hard car the choice is clear.
Bulletproofing your car doesn’t just mean adding a layer of protection to the parts that you can see. You have to remember that by adding armor, you’re adding a substantial amount of weight to the car.
Thus, bulletproofing a car properly includes making sure that your car is able to handle the extra weight.
Horsepower upgrades will ensure your vehicle remains peppy and quick when you hit that skinny pedal on the right. Consider that the more powerful the engine, the more gas it consumes.
In a post-collapse situation, your bulletproof car may be your downfall if you failed to correctly reassess the amount of fuel your newly bullet-absorbent ride will take.
Your brakes should also stand some upgrading since they will be laboring to stop a drastically heavier vehicle. Consult a professional or your armor installer for advice and don’t skimp on them!
Aside from the engine, go an extra step and make sure that the suspension of your car can support the extra weight. Consider the springs, shocks, struts, bearings, and just about anything that connects one part of your car to another.
What about DIY Armor?
Alright, we are getting into junkyard war territory now! People have been armoring automobiles since shortly after cars became a thing. Their chief antagonists, firearms, had already been around for a while.
Enterprising or just desperate souls have long sought to afford their car’s invulnerability or at least some protection from bullets, and when proper armor was not available people have made due with all kinds of materials.
Anything that will impede a bullet will start to reduce its effectiveness. I have seen civilian “soft cars” up-armored with wood planks before.
How much protection this afforded the occupants from rifle and machinegun fire, well, probably not much. But it would help against low-velocity rounds and possibly fragments.
There are only three real choices if you want to do some “hillbilly armor” on your car. Let it be known that your results will vary, and this should only be undertaken if you have no other choice or are desperate to harden your car against a known threat or dangerous run.
Steel and other metals that are welded, bolted, glued, or otherwise attached to your car will vary wildly in effectiveness against various ballistic threats. Enough metal of the right kind is always a serious impediment to most bullets, it is true, but you will be dealing with an entirely new threat, that of spalling.
Spall is what results from a high-velocity bullet hitting a piece of steel and getting stopped by it, although it can result from penetrations, too. Spall is the metal flakes and slivers that literally peel and fly off the backside of the struck face of the metal, like shrapnel.
This spall has long been a major threat to occupants of all kinds of armored vehicles, and will definitely be a threat to you.
The good news is steel is abundant, and you’ll likely be able to rig up enough of it to make a difference against handguns and low-velocity rifle rounds, so there is that, though the weight will be tough on your vehicle.
Sandbags are effective against all kinds of bullets if you can stack them thickly enough! Since you have no easy way to attach them outside your vehicle you’ll be placing them inside, and this will quickly gobble room from the interior.
The good news is that you can fill sand- or earthbags no matter where you are, and placing them in strategic locations can afford you decent protection. When the threat has passed, you can remove them.
3) Homebrew Composite
One old trick that has come out of long-running warzones and other austere places is what is known as homemade composite armor.
Consisting of ceramic tiles or other flat pieces of fired earthen ware taped snug and flat to the outer “strike face” of thick books (phonebooks, hardcover books, etc.) one is able to create an armor package with surprising effectiveness against some threats,
Now, this will never be top-of-the-line ceramic armor, no way no how, but the materials are all around us in most places, and with a little notice and minor demolition, it would be not too much work at all to raid your bathroom and home library in preparation for surviving a perilous SHTF journey.
Bulletproofing your car takes time and effort. It’s not easy, and most of the time, there are parts that you won’t be able to do on your own. Thus, if you want the best results, consider investing in a professional installation.
If you do the installation of a kit yourself, take care that you upgrade the car’s other systems if at all possible for best results. No matter what, armoring your vehicle makes sense if you are anticipating travel through hostile places.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.