For all kinds of preppers planning to bug out, your trusty bug-out vehicle is likely an essential component of your survival plans.
Compared to walking out on foot hauling your heavy bug out bag, a bug-out vehicle will help you get farther, faster with drastically less effort all while hauling considerably more cargo than your own two legs can carry.
But for all the advantages they convey, your personal conveyance can be something of an Achilles’ heel: in any survival situation an operational vehicle may be a priority target for thieves looking to take advantage of disrupted law enforcement.
Those who are desperate to escape may also make a bid for your wheels if they are able. Even those who wouldn’t steal your car would be happy to loot it if it is packed full of survival supplies down to the floor mats.
Knowing how to secure your bug-out vehicle pre- and post-SHTF is a skill in itself. In today’s article, we will teach you how to do just that.
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All Your Eggs in One Mobile Basket
The biggest drawback to using a bug-out vehicle for evacuation and survival purposes is that it pretty much forces you to have all of your supplies, very likely, in one basket.
If the vehicle is stolen or destroyed chances are you are going to lose everything inside it and strapped on top of it in one shot.
This can obviously be a severe blow to your chances of survival, to say nothing of what it will do to your morale; all of that planning, preparation, hard work and investment down the drain in the blink of an eye. Ugh, I don’t even want to think about it.
Even if you’re carrying a bug out bag within your bug-out vehicle, and you should be, let’s be real: you aren’t going to be wearing the BOB inside the vehicle.
That means if you need to bail out, or otherwise lose your BOV you’ll have to grab your BOB on the way out, or risk going down to only the survival supplies you have in your pockets and on your belt. That’s not ideal.
And now we come to the real crux of the problem: in many ways a vehicle is an extremely vulnerable container for your survival supplies.
Face it, no car is that difficult to break into unless you are talking about a proper armored car and those are beyond the reach of all but the most financially well-to-do preppers. If someone can break into the car they can access the contents in most circumstances.
Additionally, if they can break into the vehicle then they have a chance to get it started and get away with it, one way or the other.
Older vehicles are typically more vulnerable to hot-wiring, but even the newest vehicle has no protection against carjacking or having the keys lifted off of the owner.
With that in mind, protecting your BOV is going to revolve around keeping the contents (that’s the survival stuff you keep in the vehicle) safe and also preventing the outright theft of the vehicle itself.
Accomplishing both objectives requires an integrated, holistic approach to security. This approach will vary somewhat depending on whether it is before or after the onset of a SHTF event.
BOV Security and Protection
Regardless of it being before or after SHTF, we will keep our BOV safe from sticky fingers and prying eyes with two sets of procedures.
BOV security; steps and measures taken to protect the contents of the vehicles from unauthorized access and BOV protection; steps and measures taken to keep the BOV safe from theft or detection.
As mentioned, you will make use of both sets of procedures before, during and after the onset of a major disaster or crisis. They will only vary in the techniques and tactics used depending on the timeline.
That’s enough preamble. Let’s get to it. Below you’ll find a handy checklist for security procedures and techniques and right after that we will dive into the details.
- ✅ Sterilize Vehicle: Remove “prepper-centric” stickers, decals, logos, etc.
- ✅ Hide Contents: Contents should be hidden out of sight in compartments, under screens, in decoy container, etc.
- ✅ Install Secure Storage: Guns, knives, and other sensitive items should be kept in hardened container installed in cabin/trunk.
- ✅ Doors Locked at All Times: The majority of vehicle break-ins occur with a vehicle sitting at home unlocked in the owner’s drive way. Your vehicle is only unlocked when you are entering or exiting it.
- ✅ Guard Vehicle: An unattended vehicle is one that is about to get broken open like a piñata.
- ✅ Use Security Coverings: Don’t leave obviously helpful supplies in plain sight if at all possible. Keep them under blankets, tarps, etc. A moment’s indecision could see a thief pass up your vehicle for another, surer mark.
- ✅ Bury Essential Supplies: Anything you need to keep safe should be buried under a mountain of other cargo as long as it is not emergency equipment: guns, jack, spare tire, etc.
- ✅ Consider Manual Transmission: Most car thieves today cannot drive a stick shift. The ones that know how are either retired, in jail or dead.
- ✅ Understand the Threat of Theft: Car theft is big business in some areas, not so much in others. Know what vehicles are high-reward targets for thievery.
- ✅ Minimize “Bling”: Expensive upgrades and equipment packages will just make your vehicle a bigger target. This includes major off-road packages and obvious performance upgrades.
- ✅ Employ Theft Deterrents: Things like the Club steering wheel lock along with smart parking and positioning can make your vehicle difficult to steal.
- ✅ Camouflage and Concealment: In a long term survival situation, all bets are off. Use situationally specific camo and concealment to hide your vehicle from observation. What cannot be found will not get stolen.
- ✅ Install and Use Kill-switch: You can also make a good argument for this in kinder times. A hidden, discrete kill-switch will prevent the vehicle from starting at all, even with the keys inserted. A nasty surprise for any thief.
BOV Security Pre-SHTF
You’ll predominately want to secure the contents of your bug-out vehicle prior to SHTF events by keeping it from becoming a target of opportunity.
What does a target of opportunity look like? Simple: a vehicle that draws attention to itself or has obvious valuables, or the suggestion of valuables, inside.
It is appalling how many thieves simply go shopping for their next heist by trolling parking lots looking for the things they want inside vehicles.
Part of the above strategy is sanitizing your vehicle. What do I mean by sanitize? I mean removing all of the flair, the stickers, the logos and other accoutrement that lets you proudly proclaim what you and your “identity” are all about to the world.
I’m talking things like gun manufacturer logos, aggressively patriotic bumper stickers, labels and decals advertising outrageously overpriced coolers or electronics or car parts. Things like that.
If you choose display that stuff, you are tipping people off that you likely own those things and that they can likely be found within. That can inform a thief’s opinion.
If you don’t want to get your vehicle broken into you need to make it a point to keep your valuables out of sight. If your vehicle lacks good hiding places you might consider making use of a good decoy safe.
A decoy safe is something that looks useless and unappealing to a thief, but actually contains your valuables. Sometimes hidden in plain sight is best.
A time-honored decoy safe is an old, cruddy 5 gallon bucket with lots of scuffs, old dried paint and other stains on the outside.
Place your valuables inside the bucket, snap the lid on and simply leave it in the back seat or in the floorboard with an old paint tray and roller beside it and no thief will even look twice.
I know most of you are smart enough to keep things like wallets, jewelry and electronics hidden, but have you considered what other signs and clues may point to things like guns or other specialized equipment being within your vehicle?
You should never leave gun cases, boxes of ammunition, brass cases and similar paraphernalia in plain sight where they can be seen.
Also keep in mind that no vehicle is a secure container on its own. As I mentioned above, vehicles are easy to break into in all circumstances. If your car is broken into, anything in the cabin should be considered lost.
The trunk is slightly more secure, but far from difficult to get into. I do not believe you should keep firearms inside your vehicle at unless you are in the vehicle with them.
However, if you decide to do this you need to make it a point to install a small, lockable steel gun box either in the console, or beneath one of the seats out of sight to provide more security for the gun.
This container should be bolted to the vehicle’s frame or cabled to a structural member at the least.
Lastly, it should go without saying but keep your freaking doors locked! Most vehicles are broken into when they are sitting in their driveway at home, unlocked, for some inconceivable reason.
The only time your vehicle should be unlocked is if you are entering it or exiting it, the end.
BOV Security Post-SHTF
The situation is going to change in the aftermath of a major disaster, when the sky falls, people are running around acting crazy and all bets are off.
Compared to normal times the chances are very good that your vehicle will be heavily and obviously laden with all of your survival supplies and other gear.
You might even have gear stored on external racks and trailers attached to the vehicle. It will be practically impossible to keep people from seeing that you have a lot of stuff in the vehicle, so we need to protect it in a slightly different way.
First and foremost, you need to guard the vehicle. If there are people around, or if people might be around, you need to keep an eye on the vehicle. That’s all there is to it.
An unguarded vehicle is going to be ripe for breaking into, especially if you are not nearby. Do not underestimate the boldness of the criminally deranged or the truly desperate!
Another technique you should try is the use of security coverings to conceal precisely what is in your vehicle and where it is.
You won’t be fooling anybody if you throw an old army blanket over your pile of prepper supplies, but it might keep someone from beelining to it if they do manage to break in.
A more effective tactic that can buy you time to respond in case someone does jimmy the door or smash the window is to bury your valuables that are not emergency supplies when you’re on the road. What does that mean?
Let’s say you have something very valuable to you, whatever it might be. So long as you wouldn’t need it in a fight or to fix a flat tire in a pinch, go on and feel free to bury that stuff under all your other supplies.
Keep things like your guns, first aid supplies, spare tire, flat tire kit, jumper box and so forth on top and easy to access so you can get your vehicle back on the road if you run into trouble, but otherwise, make it as hard to get to the good stuff as possible for any would-be thief.
Vehicle Protection Pre-SHTF
Keeping your vehicle from being stolen prior to any SHTF festivities is mostly a matter of smart risk assessment and not making it look appealing to car thieves.
One certain way to keep your vehicle out of thief’s sights is to choose a vehicle with a manual transmission.
Yt sounds silly, but it’s true! Stick shift vehicles are kind of on the way out in the consumer sector except for very specialized performance and off-road applications. Most people don’t like them or want them and that means they aren’t desirable to car thieves.
Also keep in mind most car thieves working today don’t know how to drive them. All the old thieves that do are either in jail, dead or retired.
Assessing what you are up against should come naturally to preppers, and the same goes for assessing the threat of theft for your vehicle. Make it a point to learn how prevalent car thievery is in your area.
Dig deeper: find out where the troublesome spots of town are, how the cars are stolen and what kinds of cars are targeted. For instance, in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas of Texas pickup trucks, especially early 2000s pickup trucks, are most commonly targeted for theft.
In certain cities, it might be mid-sized Japanese imports or some other type of vehicle. You should learn what ideal prey looks like to the predators you are trying to foil, and then take pains to make sure your vehicle doesn’t look like food.
Speaking of not looking like food, keep the bling and all that other stuff to a minimum on your car. Expensive-looking wheels, body kits and obvious performance driving upgrades will all make your vehicle more appetizing to a car thief.
Even you good ol’ boys are not off the hook: lifted suspensions, big bore wheels, knobby mud tires and gleaming chrome bumpers all mean bigger paydays for car thieves.
If you try to look like the gray man in public the rest of the time, why should your vehicle shout “Hey! Look at me! Here I am!”
Admittedly, many performance upgrades including off-road ones are very useful in a SHTF situation; you’ll need to weigh the benefits against raising the profile of the vehicle.
Lastly, consider theft deterrent systems like the legendary Club steering wheel immobilization device.
Used intelligently with a little strategy in parking and positioning your vehicle you can make it almost impossible to steal, or such a pain in the butt to do so that a car thief working the area will look for easier gains.
Keep in mind that a club or similar device will do nothing to keep the contents of the car safe, however.
BOV Protection Post-SHTF
All the things you can do pre-SHTF to protect your BOV from theft will work, mostly, post-SHTF but you will need to be concerned with more overt attempts to steal the vehicle.
Since all bets are off on blending in to the mass of commuter vehicles at large, you should definitely consider camouflaging the vehicle with paint if you are enduring a long-term survival situation.
There are numerous camouflage patterns that can be adapted in almost any environment, rural or urban, and can be easily and quickly applied with simple large paint brushes and field expedient paint.
You should also brush up, perhaps literally, on concealment techniques. You can use brush and other vegetation, camouflage netting, large crates and boxes and almost anything else you can think of to hide your vehicle from casual observation. The vehicle that cannot be found cannot be stolen.
Also, you might consider the installation and use of a kill-switch of one form or another. A kill-switch prevents the vehicle from getting fuel or electrical power depending on the type, and is often installed in a hidden or semi-hidden place in the cabin.
Even if someone were to get the keys from you and try to hijack your vehicle they could not get it moving unless they knew where the kill-switch was and how to deactivate it.
These devices are generally more trouble than they’re worth in kind times, but in high-risk situations where vehicle theft is on the rise or prevalent they do make sense.
What about Car Alarms?
I’m not a fan of car alarms, and generally think they are worse than useless from a security or vehicle protection standpoint. Ask yourself this question: when was the last time you saw any passerby respond to a car alarm?
People won’t even look up when they hear one unless it goes off right next to them.
Now, they can alert the owner of the car that the car has been disturbed, bumped or whatever but that is only useful if they are close enough to hear it and close enough to respond to it.
Also keep in mind the situation that you might find yourself in post-SHTF. Stealth and discretion may become virtues in a bad enough situation.
Do you want to run the risk that your horn can be inadvertently activated either by accident or by disturbance if that would draw bad guys to you or give away your hiding-place? Not a very good idea.
In fact, the vehicle’s horn and indeed all the lights except the headlamps are often deactivated by personnel using vehicles in high-risk situations both at home and abroad since remaining undetected is often far more important the making full use of the vehicle’s signaling equipment.
That is something else you might consider doing if you are relying on your BOV during a long-term SHTF situation.
Should You Consider Armored Glass?
Armored glass is a necessary component for armored packages on vehicles.
Some preppers think the idea is attractive on its own for overall security because reinforced ballistic glass windows and windshields are much more resistant to other kinds of damage as well, specifically being bashed in by a tire iron or a ball bat.
While their reasoning is sound, I would not consider armored windows unless I was seeking all-around armor protection for the vehicle. The reason being is that they may become a liability in a vehicle extrication or escape scenario.
The heavy, armored glass windows will, as a rule, not be able to be rolled down and are extremely hard to break and not at all easy to kick out.
This could see you and other passengers trapped in a burning or sinking vehicle with no way to escape. That’s hard to think about.
As with all defenses and countermeasures, you must weigh the advantages against any disadvantages.
If you desire armor protection for your vehicle, armored windows with flaws and all will be a necessary part of that. If all you want is more protection against a smash-and-grab attempt, look elsewhere.
Your bug-out vehicle is an invaluable part of your SHTF survival plan, and you can bet on other, bad people realizing the same thing.
You’ll need a comprehensive security and protection plan both before and after any crisis event that occurs.
Study up on the techniques, tactics and procedures presented in this guide and start implementing your BOV security plan today.
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.