You’ve planned the routes, have triple redundant bug-out locations, and primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency travel itineraries for every conceivable set of circumstances. Your BOBs are packed, your family is drilled on the fastest possible way to grab their stuff and pile in the SUV. You, my prepper friend, are officially bug-out-ready.
Or are you? Have you missed anything? Overlooked something crucial, something vital to your success and continued existence on the mortal coil?
You keep your ride in tip-top shape, regularly inspected and lovingly maintained, what more is there to do ahead of The Big One? Perhaps you, like so many preppers, have neglected to enhance your daily driver into a veritable tactical vehicle.
Your vehicle can stand some upgrades to help ensure you have the best chances of success and survival no matter the reason you hop behind the wheel. In this article, we’ll show you how to do just that!
Table of Contents
So Shiny, So Chrome!
Simmer down, now. Before you latch onto grandiose and maniacal visions of rolling gun fights ala the Mad Max school of survival strategy, I should explain that I am explicitly not talking about weaponizing your vehicle with guns, missiles, power saws, rock drills, or anything else of the post-apocalyptic persuasion.
I am instead talking about outfitting your vehicle with the kit and the enhancements to give you an edge when you need your vehicle to get you around the bend to your bug-out location, wherever that might be.
This kit can take the form of items to reduce the chance of damage or mitigate it when it does occur or add capability that your stock vehicle might be lacking.
No matter what form it takes, you can be assured all of the potential upgrades in this article fit squarely into the “no flash, all dash” class of automotive upgrades.
I care not how the vehicle looks so long as it maintains something close to its default appearance; remember that too ratty or too slick will both draw the wrong kind of attention.
That being said, if such things matter to you, you can get almost all of these upgrades from one manufacturer or another in a style that will suit you. Just make sure you aren’t letting your passion for a “custom” appearance paint a bullseye on you.
For our purposes, “tactical” means more capable, better equipped. It does not mean sleeker, meaner, or more menacing.
If I could have only a nickel for every time in my career I saw the adjective “tactical” applied to a matte black, spiny, stealth fighter-looking piece of gear I’d be a wealthy man today. Resist the urge to “look the part.” You want results, not appearances. Buy accordingly.
Your upgrade path should be based on a logical assessment of what you are most likely to need in the course of your bug-out. Some upgrades are universally useful, like extrication and recovery.
Others are only applicable in niche or specific circumstances but fall into the “parachute” category of preparation; you’ll rarely need it, but if you do, you really, really better have it!
You know your situation and plans, I do not. I have assembled this list based not even on what I need (though much of it is in fact useful for your author, here) but have instead assembled it according to my assessment of what most people will need most of the time across the most situations.
If one or some of these enhancements don’t make sense for your vehicle, either because of your local terrain or climate, you bug-out plan or because it just so happens that your vehicle is extraordinarily capable out of the factory, don’t think you have to blindly go along with it anyway to appease me or some arbitrary standard. Use your head.
Also, be sure to consider you may very well need something that is not on this list. You shouldn’t be dissuaded from purchasing and installing a piece of kit you are confident you’ll need just because I don’t need it, or didn’t include it.
What about My Warranty and Insurance?!
A good question that must be addressed. If your vehicle has a warranty you’ll need to consult the policy provider before making any major changes to your ride’s body, chassis or powerplant.
Actually, with how litigious society and the world at large have gotten, it might be best to consult with them before you install anything more complicated than a headrest cushion.
Even external cargo points and racks can void your warranty, as one acquaintance of mine found out the hard way on his Cherokee; a home-installed gas can rack was not kosher with the warranty provider, and after a small mishap on the road led to a call-in, they denied his claim.
Similarly, you’ll want to triple-check with your insurance provider as they might have a lot to say about particular modifications, or even the around-the-clock inclusion of onboard safety gear like fire extinguishers.
You must not risk your insurance carrier dropping you. Well, at least until the sky falls and we are all living in the post-society world, free from such artificial concerns.
If your insurance or warranty provider gives you a thumbs down on a prospective purchase, it is time to ask them “Why?”
Don’t let them walk on you. If they don’t budge, cannot issue a rider, or expand your use constraints, look for a new provider.
It will not do to have so much time and resources flapping in the breeze with no coverage when there are literally dozens upon dozens of providers to choose from in any state. Try to find one who is amicable to your needs and goals.
Bottom Line: it is up to you to navigate the sometimes tricky maze of warranties and insurance before adding one single thing to your vehicle.
Upgrades and Accessories to Tactify your BOV
Note: Most of these upgrades will be most at home and applicable on SUVs and trucks, but some are just as worthwhile on garden-variety sedans or beefy rally cars.
Some upgrades have no proscription against installing them on cars, save that they are not traditional and look odd on a daily driver. That being said, if you don’t mind a bit of the “security car” look you can go right ahead.
1) Upgrade Battery and Alternator
Two items that will never fail to let you down. It pays to regularly inspect and maintain both, and pays double on every dollars worth of upgrade you invest in.
Heavy-duty batteries and top quality alternators will serve as a hedge against a failure to start and keep your car running longer when its electrical system has to cope with additional strain induced by chargers, additional lights, and so forth.
Batteries have the advantage of being completely concealed inside the engine compartment and basically a drop in upgrade; simply pull the old battery, drop in the new one, connect it, and boogie
In the case of some large and particularly energy-dense batteries, you might have to do a little finagling to make room for them in the battery holder, which can involve a surprising amount of work. If in doubt, try to source a battery locally to try the fit.
Alternators are a component that does not get much thought until it is time to replace it unless you are a dedicated gear head.
If you have the scratch and your maintenance logs indicate that your alternator is about due, go ahead and have it done but spring for the top-tier model, or at least the best you can afford.
Combined with your HD battery, the last thing you’ll worry about is a shaky start.
2) Add Supplemental Lighting
For a while, in the later aughts and early part of the second decade of the 2000s, those hazy blue, crazy bright headlights were all the rage and everyone from brand new teen drivers to seasoned road warriors were installing the damned things to scare grandma with.
Now, while they undoubtedly made lightbulb companies a metric buttload of money, the actual science of human photoreception paints a dubious picture of their performance increase over more traditional “yellow” headlights.
Those things notwithstanding, you should upgrade your ride with supplemental lights in one form or another.
From additional task lighting around a camp or stopping point to increased awareness and safety when driving off road or at high speeds, light bars, and lamps make sense. After all, legions of offroaders cannot be wrong in this regard.
Options vary from thin, almost no-profile light bars that mount just above the windshield to the traditional bull-bar and A-pillar mounted single lights in various configurations, from classic incandescent bulbs to super-efficient, low-drain LED’s and screamingly bright HID (high-intensity discharge) lamps, there is a lighting solution for every budget and need.
You should definitely consider adding side and rear lighting also in order to give you full 360-degree illumination when stopping to make camp or do anything else that needs a ton of light to ensure a good result.
The ability to temporarily turn night into day is priceless and will let you save valuable batteries for your flashlights and headlamps.
Compared to a battery and alternator swap. The lights will need to be integrated with the existing wiring of the vehicle, switches routed and installed to the driver’s seat and of course the lights themselves mounted to some part of the bodywork.
This may be a less or more involved operation depending on your light kit and vehicle type. While certainly within reach of most competent and handy types, this is territory where you might want to consider professional installation.
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3) Power Inverter
A power inverter, however it is configured or installed, will allow you to use standard household plugs with your vehicle supplying the juice.
This is eminently useful for gassing up multiple phones, power banks, GPSes, and other devices but is also potentially a life saver if you need a reliable mobile power supply for tools or even small refrigerators. What would you need a mobile fridge for? Insulin, anyone?
Inverters can run from bog-simple two-slot devices with clamps to connect to a car battery installed or removed from the car, or intricately integrated installs accessible from internal and external power points on the vehicle.
Inverters take a little know-how to connect, set up, and then plug into properly, but once you go through the motions a few times it will be second nature
Don’t be left fiddling with adapters for your one or two lonely power points in the cabin if you need to charge or run anything bigger than a cell phone.
If you need to stop and make a hasty camp alongside or even in your vehicle, these jewels will let you deploy and run your larger gadgets with nary a missed minute.
One of the most expensive, but hands down one of the most essential items on our list. A quality winch with appropriately rated cable or rope is a life-saver when your vehicle or someone else’s becomes stuck in mud, slides off a road or gets framed on an obstacle.
Winches are not cheap, and require skill and training to use safely and efficiently, but nothing else will let you do what they do except… another vehicle with a winch!
Installing a winch means bolting it directly to a mounting point on the vehicle’s frame or onto a bumper or brush guard attached thereto with fasteners of appropriate grade.
I cannot stress the last part enough: cheap or inferior bolts will not stand up to the massive forces exerted by a winch and will see the winch or bumper (along with the winch!) pop right off when the line goes taut.
Winches have their own power supply requirements and will, at the least, require a heavy-duty battery as mentioned above, and potentially some other goodies as well to make them function reliably. Winches are also frequent targets of theft and not exactly inconspicuous when installed.
Another thing you must be ever cautious of when running a winch: safety. Winch accidents are gruesome, owing to broken cables which recoil with frightening speed and force, or slipped hookups which will similarly backlash.
Either is capable of inflicting grievous, even fatal wounds. Synthetic ropes are somewhat safer, but can still seriously injure you in the event of snap. This is another reason why you must seek out competent training on employing a winch to good effect if you are not already skilled in their use.
Risks and all though, a winch equipped on your vehicle will likely mean the difference between abandoning an immobilized vehicle and getting back on the road to your BOL and hopefully safety.
Make sure you get a righteously good set of gloves if you are dealing with cable! It will only take one jagger drilling through your palm to make you see the error of going without!
5) Med Kit
I am a huge believer in having dedicated medical kits for each of your vehicles. Yes, you probably have on in your go-bag. Yes, I am sure you have one in your BOB. Right?!
Yes, you can use the one in your BOB while you are bugging out, duh. That’s not the point. The point is you need one in your vehicle for all emergencies and daily SHTF moments, not just The Big One.
A vehicular medical kit should be secured within the passenger cabin in a brightly colored bag that is easy to see and more importantly easy to detach and access in the event of a crash or some other roadside mishap.
A vehicle kit should also place a heavier emphasis on goodies to treat sprains, fractures, head and neck injuries, and more of all the usual accouterment for dealing with extremity and thoracic hemorrhaging.
Car wrecks are shocking nasty, and even if you don’t need it for dealing with a crash, instead perhaps a pedestrian mow-down or just a nearby incident while parked, a grab-and-go med kit is a much swifter and surer bet than one potentially buried in your BOB or in the cargo bin.
If I have said it once, I have said it a thousand times: get medical training, including trauma training! Even if it is only Stop the Bleed and basic trauma care, you must have the skills and know-how ahead of time to make use of your gear.
Consider that it is all too easy for your intervention to do nothing or, worse yet, make things, well, worse for your patient. What if that was your wife? Your child? Your best friend?
Sitting there in the gloom beside a wrecked truck, them going in and out of consciousness while you have a pile of life-saving gear in your lap you cannot do a damn thing with. It would be a tragedy.
Get the kit. Get training with it. Keep it close in the car. No exceptions.
6) Bag of Doom
A term I first saw used by Greg Ellifritz on his blog, Active Response Training. He says he read about it in a print article written by the late, great trainer and eminent sage Pat Rogers.
This is one of those items that we are all familiar with even if we did not have a name for it. Simply put, this is your “Moar Bullets!” bag, containing extra ammunition for all of your primary and backup firearms.
In the unlikely event you ever wind up in a serious altercation or an event you cannot shoot your way clear of with just the goods on your body, you can reach for your trusty Bag of Doom (or BOD, as Greg helpfully labels, since all prepper bags need catchy acronyms!) to quickly access much-needed ammo.
Since the ability to patch holes is as important as making them if you do indeed need to make them, you might consider a small med kit containing items for treating gunshot wounds attached somewhere on the BOD as well.
Size is important here! Ammo is heavy, and you do not want something so large and cumbersome it cannot be reached and extracted from the vehicle quickly.
Greg uses and recommends Maxpedition Versipacks for the purpose, and I would second his recommendation here. Maxpedition builds quality kit, and a “hip pack” style placement will allow you to don the bag and more or less reload from your usual positions with a little training.
Whatever pack and configuration you decide on, make sure it works with you and not against you. You should ideally be able to compartmentalize and secure your various loads within the pack; you definitely don’t want to be sorting through a mixture of AR mags, AK mags, Beretta mags, Glock Mags, loose .357 Magnum rounds and assorted cards of shotshells.
7) Gear Organization
It pays to keep some things readily accessible to the passengers in the vehicle, be it spare mags, medical supplies as mentioned above, lights, maps, and so on and so forth.
One great way to do this is by use of the ever-popular seatback MOLLE systems, which cover the entire seatback of the driver and passenger front seats with MOLLE webbing, allowing you to attach a variety of pouched or any MOLLE-compatible gear to them securely and safely.
Used with tear-away Velcro adapters, this makes a dynamite place to pop a vehicle med kit, some small tools, a few spare mags, or anything that will not be too obtrusive to the passengers in the rear seats.
It is a simple affair to reach the headrest with both hands or the opposite seat with the same side arm when you are sitting across from it. Your second-row passengers will of course have very easy access to either location.
Another great perk to using these systems is they will keep whatever is attached to them in place through all but the most catastrophic of crashes assuming their pouches are affixed correctly and their contents secured.
Even in the event of some vehicular derring-do gone wrong, you should be able to easily recover what you stored there assuming you are still ambulatory.
One more thing you should install is a purpose-made locking safe, either an in-console variety or the slide-out drawer variety for the truck bed or cargo bin.
These units will securely and safely carry precious cargo like cash, jewelry, guns, and more, kept out of the greedy mitts of looters and marauders who cannot spare the time to cut into it with serious tools.
While nowhere near the effectiveness of a proper freestanding safe or built-in vault, these are must-haves for any preppers keeping guns in their cars or trucks.
Without them, your vehicle is not a secure container! Even with these installed your gear is still vulnerable to being swiped if someone has the time and means, or simply steals your ride, but they won’t have an easy smash-and-grab situation which all scumbags love.
Anything less is basically giving your guns away should someone roll the dice on your BOV.
8) CB Radio
There is an awful lot that may go wrong with our daily cell communications networks, and that means no calls or over-the-air internet for email. But one thing you will be able to count on in most situations is a good old-fashioned trusty radio.
With each set serving as a self-contained and powered transceiver, you’ll be able to reach anyone else on the airwaves so long as atmospheric conditions permit it.
Beyond broadcasting and receiving calls, you can get into more esoteric stuff like relaying to extend the range of your signal, though this requires a fair bit of know-how and coordination.
Luckily, the civilian radio and ham enthusiasts are tireless fonts of info the world over, and serve as an often thankless communications auxiliary in case of seriously rough times.
You don’t have to drop a king’s ransom on a radio, but you shouldn’t cheap out either. Quality counts, and even more important is setting up your system for efficient transmission and reception with the right antenna.
Make sure you do your homework or hire a professional before diving into the wonderfully SHTF-proof world of civilian radio.
9) Bull Bars
Call them what you will: brush guards, winch mounts, nudge bars, rammers or cowcatchers (or, if you are one of our friends from Down Under, a ‘roo bar, which makes me chuckle) you need these on your BOV.
Only bull bars afford you the protection you’ll need for the rubs, scrapes, and smashes that will inevitably occur on the road when things turn dicey.
Bull bars are often criticized by the New Church Ladies for increasing the harm, and are therefore dangerous to pedestrians and other vulnerable vehicles on the roads: bull bars concentrate impact force into a small area instead of flexing, crushing, crumpling, and folding, dissipating energy, not unlike a crappy soup can.
This makes for a seriously bad day for anything struck by a vehicle equipped with them in excess of the pain and suffering caused by being struck by a car in the first place.
But what they won’t tell you is that bull bars actually do a fine job of protecting the front and rear ends of your vehicle, especially the vulnerable radiator and headlights. They do double duty for mounting accessories and additional equipment, everything from winches to antennas, jack clamps, and even gas or water cans.
I can attest to the former after a collision I got involved with in my Jeep down in the patron state of mayhem, Florida.
After coasting along trying to get clear of a game of automotive ego-jousting playing out, at highway speed, on I-75, I was forced to ram the back end of the participant that had lost their nerve and slammed on their brakes. This was a good pop, and luckily I kept my trusty Wrangler under control.
The rear of the defending car was smashed clear up to the passenger compartment. My Wrangler had a pretty wobbly bull bar and some minor fender damage, but was otherwise unharmed. Call me a believer.
But when push comes to shove, literally, you’ll want these. From pushing over fences and gates to nudging cars and entirely-too-hostile foot mobiles out of the way, they are superior to any stock bumper.
Make sure you get a high-quality set made from good steel or perhaps aluminum, and fasteners to match. Otherwise, a minor collision might see you damage your ticket to safety.
10) Farm Jack
AKA the hi-lift jack. These long and spindly jacks you see perpetually strapped to the hoods and bumpers of lifted 4x4s and other vehicles with oversized wheels and tires are one of the handiest tools a prepper taking to the roads could ask for. They are also one of the fiddliest and most dangerous.
A hi-lift jack works as you’d expect a typical compound, ratcheting jack to, and can have its mode of operation reversed for raising and lowering depending on what you are doing.
But, it is also capable of being used as a come-along for pulling and vehicle recovery, a spreader for extrication from a crash (sort of like a manual-power jaws of life), and even a clamp. It naturally serves as a good jack, too, but that is where the trouble may start.
Hi-lift jacks are fiddly. They exert enormous force and bear incredible weight on two very small footprints, the lifting peg, called the nose, and the base, called the foot. They do not lift straight up as a bottle or scissor jack does.
If that load shifts, that weight is coming down hard and in a hurry, and if you are in the way of the departing jack you can be seriously injured.
The other major risk is getting your head broken open by the handle, which occurs when you fail to advance the climbing action to the next ratchet point and, with the load acting counter to that, propels the handle back to the resting position with immense force, knocking you out or just most of your teeth.
Still, with caution and a little prep work to secure the footing, a hi-lift jack is an indispensable mega-force multitool no bug-out vehicle should be without, full stop. You can watch a great video on using one here.
Be advised, these long and heavy implements are poor choices for storing in the cabin of a vehicle, as they are tough to properly secure and if left loose will become deadly missiles inside. Securing them to an exterior hardpoint on the vehicle is best, but even this requires some thought.
The typical placement on the hood is not ideal. Be forewarned, these devices are common targets of theft, especially in rural areas where more folks recognize them and know what they are worth.
Speaking of worth, do not cheap out on this tool! You can get them well under $100 at some dodgy big-box tool supply stores that rhyme with Ardor Bait, but considering the forces and weights using one will involve you are better off betting your pearly whites against a better make.
Oh boy. The apple of many a prepper’s eye: an actual armored car! Armored cars, be they up-armored civilian rides or purpose-made armored vehicles are in many ways the ideal solution to your bug-out woes.
They can be more or less completely resistant to gunfire on all sides, roll around on supremely tough run-flat tires and have the raw mass to absolutely devastate anything they ram into at speed. If you were going to bet it all on a vehicle to get you out of some urban hellscape, make it one of these tanky things!
There is just one problem: armored cars are both expensive and have several shortcomings that might not make them good choices for general-purpose bug-out vehicles. The first is crushing expense: factory-built or refitted armored cars are prohibitively expensive for most people.
Whether you buy a low-profile “hard car” than can mostly blend in with normal road traffic or opt to have your daily driver “soft car” hardened by a special rigger company, you are looking at hundreds or tens of thousands of dollars respectively.
In the case of the latter, you’ll also be paying for the frame, support, drivetrain, powerplant, and suspension upgrades needed to support the weight of all that extra armor. This is not a bolt-on upgrade.
In any form, armored cars suffer from inferior handling characteristics: they are harder to maneuver safely at high speeds and will easily bog down in soft, wet or muddy ground conditions.
They also guzzle gas at a prodigious rate (all that extra weight, remember?) and typically break down more often. None of the above is a good idea if you need to move overland.
Larger, overt armored cars may have better cross-country capabilities owing to their larger, wider tires, often in greater numbers, but are extremely conspicuous vehicles. Much trouble can be avoided by remaining beneath notice.
But preppers, ever crafty, have come up with their own homebrew solutions for this issue, too. Everything from sandbags and welded-on plate steel to flea market Kevlar and hillbilly composite armor consisting of phonebook and ceramic tile sandwiches has and can be used as improvised armor for vehicles.
The downsides should be obvious: gaps in coverage or threat protection, increased strain on all components, reduced interior room and more will all be issues with your prepper technical, to say nothing of the difficulties inherent to armoring your windows and windshields. But you can do it.
Still, if you have the funds and the wherewithal to purchase and maintain an armored car, it may very well be just the ticket for surviving a SHTF situation, especially a widespread WROL situation.
Time To Upgrade!
Your BOV can stand some upgrade and preps of its own the same as your BOB or house does. You are relying on your mechanical steed to ferry you and yours to safety in a SHTF scenario and it is highly likely it will serve as your home-away-from-home at least part of the time.
Some smart upgrades to your vehicle’s stores and capabilities are in order. Take the time to assess what you anticipate running up against, prioritize your purchasing, and installation accordingly.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.