Single Vehicle Response Drills and Tactics

To most preppers, vehicles are an integral part of their survival plan, being either the primary or secondary conveyance that they will rely on for evacuation in a bug-out scenario, or as a transport to get them around a new and scary world.

For most of us, this will be our daily driver, and no matter what sort of scenario we find ourselves surviving in our team, or group, will probably not be so large that we employ multiple vehicles as part of a convoy.

4x4 vehicle on top of some rocks

Right or wrong, most preppers will be getting work done in a single-vehicle with a capable friend, or a few such capable friends along for the ride.

This entry in our continuing series on team tactics brings us back to vehicular operations as part of a team, and this time we will be digging in deeper into the subject of single-vehicle operations, emphasizing what you and your teammates should do when responding to a threat.

You can read the rest of the articles in this series here:

Getting ambushed or attacked while sitting in a soft-skinned vehicle is extremely dangerous, and often casualties will mount before you can react in a meaningful way. This makes studied and intensely rehearsed team drills vital for surviving such an occurrence.

Vehicular operations are not just for spies, and not just the stuff of battlefield fantasies for civilians; violent criminals, carjackers, and desperate survivors will all attempt to overwhelm or pick off an isolated vehicle, with the vehicle or its cargo as the prize.

These procedures are just as important as the similar techniques you should learn when moving as a team on foot. Your crash course starts now, keep reading.

The Hazards and the Necessity of Single Vehicle Ops

Generally speaking, just like patrolling or traveling on foot, heading out into a potentially threatening environment and traveling only in a single vehicle is a bad idea.

Just like a lone and isolated person, a lone vehicle is much easier to surprise and overwhelm than a convoy. Nonetheless, this will still be the default mode of travel for many preppers.

The reasons why can range from lack of access to additional vehicles, lack of access to more than one vehicle suitable for the terrain, or a shortage of personnel needed to safely and efficiently crew those vehicles.

Most of us have families and other “tagalongs” as part of our survival groups, people who we are responsible for and want to protect, but among those folks we will probably only have a few, perhaps not even a handful, that we can rely on to actually help us do the protecting.

These are the people we must depend on to operate any vehicles in our convoy, and these people are crew candidates. All the others are just passengers.

I detailed this concept at some length in the previous article I wrote serving as an intro to vehicle tactics for preppers, so if what I have said so far does not make sense I would recommend you tap the brakes, double back, and start with that article. That way everything you read here will make sense.

At any rate, what we are left with usually looks like a single vehicle occupied by ourselves, and one, two or three more teammates that we can depend on to handle business when things get loud.

We might indeed have other people in the vehicle with us, but we might not. Our erstwhile passengers might still be stashed safely back at home or your base camp.

You might be heading out with only your teammates to scout a route, look for supplies, patrol, or do something else. There is no need to expose more people to risk than you have to.

So before you say “I’d never do something so risky as to head out in a single-vehicle!” check your ego- reality will still get a vote, and it has a funny way of asserting itself. You might not have any choice, or your alternate choices could be even worse.

Also consider that these drills are just as useful in a “normal” everyday context as they are in a SHTF situation; most of us don’t commute or otherwise travel in a convoy!

Basic Pointers for Single Vehicle Operations

Before we get to the details of the actual attack responses based on how many people you have in your tactical vehicle, consider the following and keep them in mind as you read.

These are not hard-and-fast rules, but you had better have a damn good reason for violating them if you do.

Remember you are not driving a “hard” car…

Or at least you probably aren’t. The vast majority of vehicles on the road, including the ones you will have at your disposal, will not have anything in the way of actual armor.

Bottom line, full stop: Vehicles do not stop bullets. They do not stop handgun bullets. They do not stop rifle bullets. They do not stop shotgun slugs or shots, though auto glass and sheet metal might afford you some protection against bird shot.

But since birdshot is for birds and not people, that is the least of your worries. Assume that, if you start taking fire, those bullets are going to be entering the passenger compartment with lethal effect.

Consider body armor for vehicle ops.

Assuming you have it and do not wear it at any other time, you should definitely, definitely consider body armor when operating a vehicle.

Considering that vehicles offer scant if any legitimate protection from gunfire and the fact that in a significant ambush event tons of projectiles are going to be screaming into the tightly packed bundle of crew and passengers’ body armor might be the only thing that buys you enough time to even get out of the vehicle alive. You have been warned.

Consider Capacity and Seating Arrangement.

Assuming you have a full-size sedan or SUV that has two complete rows of seating (or three rows of seating in the case of an SUV), you’ll want to think twice before cramming in more than four crewmembers, possibly five, inside.

It is a lot easier to get people into a vehicle when not under stress than it is to get them out under stress when the passenger compartment is getting filled in by supersonic lead and people are getting shot left and right.

If you have additional passengers to contend with, this will get geometrically more difficult. It is bad to go too light, but it might be worse to go too heavy in a single vehicle.

All of the specific response drills we will cover shortly assume you have between two and four crew members in the vehicle.

Weapon Selection Matters

Maneuvering and effectively shooting firearms inside a vehicle is a bit of a nightmare, between the cramped conditions and ample snag hazards, not to mention the close, fixed proximity of your teammates everybody who might potentially be shooting in the vehicle has to step their game up. This is no arena for duffers.

On that note, long arms should be kept as short as possible. This is the ideal time to employ a braced AR pistol or a genuine SBR. Trying to maneuver full-length rifles and shotguns while inside the confines of a vehicle will turn into a circus in fairly short order.

Muzzle discipline is crucial.

This is so important it must be stressed again, and again, and again. Bad things happen to the people inside a vehicle when it starts taking fire, and sometimes those bad things originate from inside the vehicle.

The passenger compartment of a vehicle is so cramped and so packed that practically every direction is an unsafe direction. Shooters must be even more cautious than usual to prevent a potential tragedy.

Especially when entering or exiting a vehicle, no matter the conditions and no matter the situation, muzzles must be kept in a safe direction.

Once Again, the Driver just drives.

I know I covered this exhaustively in the initial article on vehicular team tactics, but I’m saying it again here because it is just so important. In any vehicle, with any size crew, the driver only drives. Ever. The End.

Even if you’re receiving gunfire, one of the biggest threats to life and limb is still going to be an accident, typically the type of accident you would expect to suffer when you’re racing away from an ambush at maximum speed.

The driver’s job is hard enough without expecting him to juggle directing accurate fire and simultaneously controlling a speeding vehicle with a handful of maniacs in it.

Eye-pro is mandatory

When vehicles take hits from gunfire, or when crewmembers fire through glass at targets outside the vehicle fine, airborne debris will immediately fill the cabin.

This will be in addition to all of the normal spall and fragmentation that accompanies near hits from gunfire, so protecting your eyes is going to be essential.

You should seriously consider wearing eye protection at all times while operating a vehicle, and that eye protection must have clear lenses for operation in conditions of low or no ambient lighting.

Ear-pro is strongly recommended.

Gunfire as it turns out is really, really loud. It gets even louder when it occurs inside an enclosed space, say, like an indoor shooting range. It is apocalyptic, crap-your-pants loud when it happens inside a vehicle.

Start adding multiple shooters with multiple long guns and we are talking kiss-it-goodbye levels of hearing loss.

Even if you don’t lose your hearing, the pain and disorientation attendant to such a cataclysmically loud event will disorient you and reduce your effectiveness as part of a team. You don’t have to use hearing protection, but I would highly encourage it.

Use Bail-Out Bags

Go back and read that twice if you have to. I said bail-out bag, not bug-out bag, and so I will refrain from using an acronym for it so you don’t get confused.

A bail-out bag is nothing more than a small, narrow compact bag utilized by crew members that has the bare minimum they need to keep fighting and survive when they get out of the vehicle.

Typically ammunition, medical supplies, signaling equipment and other bare necessities will be included. These must be kept thin, small, and light so they can be easily grabbed even on the way out of a burning vehicle. Keep in mind if you are traveling with a proper BOB (bug-out bag) it could be left behind in a pinch.

With all of that in mind, let’s move on to the actual procedures.

Response Drills Tips

Just like moving as part of a team on foot, your actions while moving as part of a team, or crew, in a vehicle should be dictated by some fundamental principles.

These principles are things that do not change no matter what the situation is, and it is your principles that inform your training, practice, and actions in a live attack or ambush. They are:

Work Together!

Working together is more than just being individuals with the same mission. Team members must have an assigned job, know that job backwards and forward, and trust that their fellows are doing their jobs just the same.

It is not enough to be on a crew together; each crew member must have a job and responsibilities. It is not enough to have a job; you have to be an expert at your job. It is not enough to know that your teammate is doing his job; you must know he is doing his job well.

Develop Consistent Procedures.

Much of the heavy lifting in this area has already been done for us thanks to decades of continual war.

Each member of the team must understand their own response and the team’s response, collectively, to a given threat or situation and focus on taking the correct actions at the instant.

This is the bedrock of working as an effective and efficient team, and is especially vital for vehicular operations. If everyone is working off of a different sheet of music, you won’t have a symphony; you’ll just have blaring noise.

Control Must Be Maintained.

Being a part of a crew that is run by a committee instead of standard procedures is one of the most frustrating and dangerous things you will ever do.

Just like an on-foot team-based movement, somebody has to be in control of this rodeo, and that somebody is the VL, or vehicle leader.

The vehicle leader must not only understand his own job and the objective, but he must understand the jobs of every other crew member.

He does not necessarily have to be liked, but he must be respected and respected enough by his fellow teammates that they will obey his directives in a time-is-life situation. The assignment of VL must never be given lightly.

Train, Train, Train Some More!

The only way that you will ever know for certain you have developed enough proficiency in these principles to put them to the ultimate test in a live situation is by training and practicing with your teammates.

Talking about it is not enough. Theory and wargaming is not enough. You actually have to do these things, even if you are doing them in a simulated environment. That being said, the higher fidelity your training is the more capable you will all be when the chips are down.

These principles inform every standard response you’ll see below. Attempting to implement these responses without developing and reinforcing the principles is a fool’s errand.

Response Drill – Power Through – 2, 3, or 4 Crew

An effective attack on a vehicle, to say nothing of a proper ambush, is highly dependent on that vehicle being in a pre-selected, pre-prepared, and tightly defined attack site and within that attack site the kill zone.

This allows the attackers to direct the maximum amount of effective firepower into the vehicle in the minimum amount of time. I will not lie to you, properly executed, many occupants of the vehicle will be casualties before they can effectively react, barring providence.

Regardless, the first and best response to an attack is to simply drive on as quickly as possible, getting the vehicle out of the kill zone and off the “X”. This is dependent on two things:

  1. The vehicle is not disabled and
  2. The driver is able to control it.

More on that in a minute. If the enemy fire is originating on one side of the vehicle or the other, any crew on that side of the vehicle should return fire as rapidly as they can effectively aim in an effort to disrupt or suppress the bad guys lighting up the vehicle. Once again, the driver does not shoot; he only drives!

Ingraining this response as a nearly automatic and instantaneous default counter to receiving incoming fire should be the very first action item on your team training checklist.

Now, things can start going wrong as soon as the vehicle starts taking fire, with the two major problems being that the vehicle is disabled or the driver gets hit, as mentioned above.

In the case of the former, the VL can reach across to the steering wheel the steer while using his left leg to depress the gas pedal, accelerating the vehicle normally.

I know it sounds awkward, and it is, but with practice, this can be done quickly enough to get or keep the vehicle moving and hopefully save the occupants. This is extremely difficult to accomplish, however, if the vehicle is a stick shift.

If the vehicle gets disabled you are now facing a “vehicle-down” or “mobility kill” response. We will cover those in just a minute. A few more tips concerning the “power through” response:

  • If you are working with a two-man crew or a three-man crew which has the back-seaters out of action, the VL can actually lean across the driver’s seat to shoot effectively on the driver’s side of the vehicle if required. This should only be attempted after considerable practice and contingency planning, as it generally makes the driver’s job very difficult.
  • If you have limited access to weapons that can produce a high rate of fire, preference for equipment should be given to the #3 man who sits directly behind the driver. In normal conditions, he will be the lone shooter firing on that side of the vehicle, and so might have to do the work of two.
  • Speed is of the essence with this response, and the driver must be intimately familiar with how the vehicle handles at high speeds while heavily loaded. Botching this quick getaway with a burnout, skid or worse yet a full-blown crash could mean certain death for the crew.
  • All crew members should be comfortable applying immediate first-aid to anyone who is wounded while the vehicle is still in motion. Stopping could mean death if attackers follow you. Don’t stop to provide better care until you are certain you are clear of danger and in a safe place.

There is a small variation on this response accomplished simply by backing away from the kill zone instead of driving forward and through it.

Single Vehicle Response Drills

Reverse Out – 2, 3 or 4 Crew

Reversing out of the kill zone is otherwise identical in all essential regards to driving forward and through the kill zone but is employed, as one expects when the way forward is blocked by terrain, obstacles or a deliberate roadblock.

A skilled and alert vehicle crew may also detect additional threats ahead in case the ambush was sprung early, in which case reversing out could be the better choice.

Popular conception would have you learn a variety of performance driving maneuvers like the bootlegger, J-turn, and other fast and fancy direction changes.

Though these maneuvers have their place and are indeed useful, they require a considerably higher degree of skill and considerably more risk that something will go wrong compared to simply popping the vehicle into reverse and accelerating away backwards.

If something does go wrong with any of the aforementioned maneuvers, your vehicle is going to lose a considerable amount of speed, come to a complete stop or even flip over. Talk about a bad day.

Now, driving away quickly in reverse is not child’s play, and since the vehicle is now essentially rear-wheel steering it will become progressively more jittery and responsive to inputs as speed increases. Ask anyone who has ever driven a forklift and they can fill you in on that fun fact.

That being said, though the driver should attempt to make the best possible speed and indeed should be practicing high-speed driving in reverse even maintaining a comparatively leisurely 25 miles an hour will soon put hundreds and hundreds of feet between you and potential gunmen.

Unless you are dealing with true professionals most people armed with any kind of gun aren’t going to hit a darn thing at even 100 yards.

Once safe distance has been reached or the terrain is more favorable, the driver can complete a standard turnaround or if required execute a J-turn under more control with less pressure.

  • The vehicle driver should be accomplished in cornering and other required maneuvering while driving in reverse at speed. Backing up in a straight line can certainly do the trick, but it might not always be an option, and emergency direction changes could still be required.
  • The backseat members of the team should be prepared to get out of the driver’s vision cone as best they can when the vehicle is moving in reverse.

Response Drill – Vehicle Disabled – 3 or 4 Crew

Vehicles do not hold up mechanically as well as you’re probably hoping when taking fire, and it is likely that your vehicle can be knocked out by even a comparatively limited amount of small arms fire.

Additionally, the driver himself is a “component” that is highly vulnerable to enemy fire as you might imagine. Your outing is going to get very lively if you are occupying a vehicle that is disabled by enemy fire and continues to take fire when halted.

As soon as the driver realizes the vehicle is no longer operational or cannot continue moving under its own power, he should communicate this to the rest of the crew. The VL should do the same thing whether or not he thinks the rest of the crew heard it.

Note that you will probably have to yell at your head off inside a vehicle even if you’re all using radios with headsets. If the VL notices the driver is hit and incapacitated or killed you should communicate the exact same sentiment that the vehicle is knocked out.

This is often some variation of vehicle down, truck down, etc. followed by repeating the phrase get out or bail.

As soon as the source of the incoming fire is identified, the crew must begin logically returning fire, while getting out of the vehicle as quickly as they can. If the incoming fire is originating directly from the front or rear, the front-seaters or back-seaters will begin to lay down suppressing fires respectively while their counterparts exit.

If from the left or right side, the crew members on the side of the vehicle that is receiving the fire should lay down their own rapid, accurate suppressing fire in order to lessen the effectiveness of the enemy fire.

Simultaneously, the crew members on the opposite side of the vehicle must open their doors, and get out as quickly as possible by any means necessary, taking up a position of cover on their respective ends of the vehicle.

Once these team members are in place and producing their own high volume of accurate fire at the bad guys, the crew members remaining in the vehicle will cease firing and exit the vehicle on the side opposite the one receiving the fire.

For emphasis, no crew member should ever exit the vehicle on the side that is actively taking fire!

The last crew members out of the vehicle cannot take up an effective position near their teammates using the vehicle for cover and so should seek to quickly move to a nearby position of cover to continue fighting, moving as safely as terrain dictates.

Once all crew members are out of the vehicle and accounted for the vehicle leader, (now team leader for on-foot purposes), will dictate whether or not the team should attempt to flee or stay and fight depending upon the situation.

In the event any crew member is injured or incapacitated and unable to exit the vehicle, once this is realized the teammate nearest to the vehicle with access to it should indicate the situation to his fellows, and then all available suppressive fires should be directed at the bad guys.

This can buy time and opportunity for the nearby teammate to re-enter the vehicle and extract his and your comrades by any means necessary.

Obviously, there is much that can go wrong when a vehicle is disabled and receiving accurate fire. Following every permutation through to its logical conclusion is beyond the scope of this article and additional scenarios will be covered in future articles.

Suffice it to say that your chances of survival in this situation are far higher if you have a full vehicle crew backing you up. Consider the additional tips below:

  • For front-seaters exiting a disabled vehicle, the cover will be the engine block and front wheels. For back-seaters, the rear wheels only as there is nothing heavy or stout enough in the trunk/cargo bay to stop bullets reliably. Crew members at the front of the vehicle may crouch or kneel to make better use of the protection afforded by the engine compartment, while team members at the rear will typically need to assume a prone or modified prone position due to the much smaller envelope of protection afforded by wheels alone.
  • Depending upon the threat level and overall situation, the team might want to fight through the attack in order to potentially recover the vehicle and its contents, or they might not. Suppressive fire tactics can be used for extricating BOBs and other essential supplies as with wounded teammates.
  • Beware “rabbit” rounds which will easily skip off the pavement under the vehicle. Team members must make sure they are entirely behind the wheels as tightly as possible to prevent this.
  • A disabled vehicle taking fire is one situation where smoke grenades and other vision-obstructing tools will actually come in really handy. It is not a bad idea to keep one or two for use in such a scenario.
  • It is imperative all crew members on the team know how to function and interact with each other during on-foot movement in case prolonged escape becomes necessary. See my previous articles on the topic in this series for more.
  • Remember, never exit the vehicle on the side that is taking fire!

Response Drill – Vehicle Disabled – 2 Crew

The response to a disabled vehicle when it is only crewed by two people is very much the same as the response drill above with more crew members, this is the only practical differences being the requirement to establish ahead of time who will initiate suppressive fire, and who will get out when responding to an attack from the front or rear.

Considering that the vehicle is no longer operable, it does not matter so much whether the driver or the VL/front-seater get out first, so long as both crew members know exactly what is expected of them under the circumstances.

When the vehicle becomes disabled and starts receiving fire from the left or right side, the crew member on that side is responsible for delivering suppressive fire while their counterpart gets out of the vehicle and assumes a position of cover at the front of the vehicle.

Once they are established they will direct the crewmember remaining in the vehicle to get out where they will go to a position of cover at the rear of the vehicle per normal.

When fire is being received from the front or rear of the vehicle the crew member whose responsibility it is to establish suppressive fire will begin firing while the other crew member gets out of the vehicle on their side or through the rear tailgate as appropriate.

Note that it is considerably more difficult to use a vehicle for cover effectively from the front or rear compared to one side or the other.

At any rate, once both crew members have exited the vehicle they should be thinking about getting away as quickly as possible unless they are confident in their skills and position.

In case one crew member is injured, his partner will have the unenviable task of having to lay down sufficient suppressing fire while laboring to effectively remove him from the vehicle, a task which is much easier said than done. Consider the additional items below:

  • Contrary to what you might think, physical fitness is still very important for crew members of vehicles; having to wrestle heavy equipment and disabled or resisting people from the confines of a vehicle in a timely manner while in danger is physically and mentally exhausting.
  • Smoke grenades are even more important for 2-man crews than larger ones since any extrication efforts will have to be handled by a single man who might also be injured.
  • Remember, never exit the vehicle on the side that is taking fire!

Travel and Rest Considerations

I genuinely cannot impress upon you enough how vulnerable you are when sitting inside a vehicle. In the middle of an SHTF situation where unknown contacts are all potential threats who want what you have, you can never let your guard down.

This is especially important when stopping for rest or to make camp. Pausing at an intersection or idling while waiting for a traffic snarl to clear is one thing, stopping the vehicle for hours at a time is another.

Some people have the idea that remaining in the vehicle with the keys in the ignition, and all your gear on is the ideal way to rest and catch a little shut-eye since all you have to do is turn the keys and go if there is trouble, at least in theory. In reality, it makes the entire team extremely vulnerable to surprise attacks.

Consider how visible and easily detectable a vehicle is compared to a person.

Also consider how difficult it is to see out of a vehicle in all the directions and angles you really need to see if you want to keep a sharp lookout. All cars have blind spots, blind spots that can be exploited by clever adversaries.

Someone does not have to get right on top of the vehicle to hurt or kill you and your team. They just have to get into a good firing position where they can pour bullets into it, and they will soon be shooting some sleeping fish in a rolling barrel.

Now, I maintain that no matter the weather conditions, the ideal way to break down and rest or make camp when traveling in a vehicle is to get out of and away from the vehicle, well away from it, to a place where you can still see it but if not a single guard can be posted.

This way if some attacker assumes that the vehicle is occupied and just decides to light it up you won’t get cut to ribbons, and will have a chance to stop them or get away as appropriate.

Vehicles are difficult to see out of when in any kind of dense terrain, and they are very difficult to fight out of. You can still make a quick getaway if the vehicle is parked appropriately nearby when you and your team are resting. Don’t set yourselves up for failure by staying huddled inside the vehicle when it is not appropriate.


Despite the obvious tactical shortcomings and limitations when it is time to fight your way clear of an attack, single-vehicle operations are going to be the standard for many preppers, owing either to a lack of manpower for multiple crews or a lack of additional vehicles to choose from.

For this reason, it’s imperative teams work hard in order to overcome these inherent limitations, and it is only through long practice, diligence, and strict adherence to good procedures that you and yours can remain safe when rolling around the wild wasteland in a lone vehicle.

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