Vehicles are an integral part of many preppers’ survival plans for facing down an SHTF situation. Unfortunately, in that context most vehicles will only continue to function as they do in our normal day-to-day lives: as a taxi or a bus, taking us from point A to point B and nothing more.
While this is their intended function (and it sure will be nice if our bug-out or have other travel plans do indeed go down that smoothly), chances are most are not prepared to make the most of their personal vehicles, especially when using a vehicle or multiple vehicles as part of a team.
This is something you should remedy post-haste. Vehicles confer many advantages, but they also come with a host of disadvantages but you’ll need to work hard to mitigate.
Used correctly, vehicles will help you go faster, farther and carry a lot more cargo. They will also let you respond rapidly to equally rapid changes in circumstances compared to going on foot.
But there is no other way around it: Vehicles add a layer of complexity to team movement and operations that is totally distinct from on-foot movement, and if you don’t want to be playing at bumper cars when the situation gets dicey or bullets start flying, you and the members of your team will need to brush up on correct single- and multi-vehicle operation and procedures.
In this article we’ll provide you with a primer to help get you pointed in the right direction and hopefully keep the greasy side down while on the highways and byways.
Table of Contents
Problems on the Road
Most preppers’ contingency planning concerning a mishap with their vehicle or while operating a vehicle in the context of an SHTF event is sorely lacking.
Sure, any prepper worth the name has a plan for dealing with a flat tire, a dead battery or some other minor curveball, but those are truly the least of your potential worries if you are dealing with a legitimate collapse of society or long-term survival situation in the aftermath of a catastrophe, one that changes the paradigm of our day-to-day lives.
And even if things are comparatively placid, small bouts of misfortune, equipment failure, and minor accidents have a way of snowballing out of control until everybody involved is completely screwed.
Consider how you would handle the following entirely plausible incidents if you and your group were operating out of a vehicle or two:
- The time has come for you and yours to bug out, and you have multiple families traveling as part of a convoy. You have enough vehicles and plenty of room, but only a few adults and grown children are capable of contributing to the defense of the group. Should you distribute the members of the group that cannot fight in multiple vehicles, or consolidate them into one vehicle and endeavor to protect that vehicle at all costs?
- You and a few other members of your group are out on a supply run in a single-vehicle. Things have been remarkably peaceful after the initial frenzy that occurred in the aftermath of the event. You haven’t encountered any trouble in some time, but while you and another member are waiting in your vehicle with the engine running for two of your fellows to return, you start getting lit up by gunfire. What do you do now?
- In the mad scramble to get out of the city, your small convoy first got split up with other vehicles getting between you and them. Now you can no longer see one of them, and you cannot raise them on your cell phone as all channels are busy. Should you stop and wait for them? If so, for how long? Should you just keep going and trust that they will arrive at the agreed-upon destination?
- You are following other members of your group as part of a two vehicle convoy. They are not far ahead of you, but you notice when they move through an intersection that their vehicle is clipped by another vehicle crossing perpendicularly to them. It was a hard hit and they lose control, crashing into the corner of a building. Suddenly, multiple people on foot start showing considerable interest in the crashed team’s vehicle, occupants and cargo. They have family members inside, but so do you. What should you do?
Right now you might be thinking that those scenarios I just listed are surely interesting thought exercises, but you won’t have to deal with any of that. It’s not like you’re operating on some foreign battlefield, right? Go ahead and think twice, reader.
These scenarios already happen every day on America’s roads in one form or another, and opportunistic carjackings occur with increasing frequency, especially in the rough parts of rough cities.
Such instances will only become more common in the aftermath of an SHTF event, and you should remind yourself that a running vehicle is quite a prize for someone who does not have one in that setting.
At any rate, the information provided in this article will serve as a good start to getting prepared for all of those eventualities. Read on!
Advantages of Vehicles for Team Survival
It doesn’t take much imagination to see how traveling in almost any automobile will give you numerous advantages over walking.
Some preppers seem to be of the idea, but they will walk everywhere no matter what, or that their vehicle will be a nice bonus if they have access to it and if it can get them where they need to go. These folks are probably not considering the big picture.
It is true that you can pretty much always rely on your own two feet, but it is foolish to forgo vehicles and the awesome capability they can provide you. For instance:
- Any vehicle can provide far more cargo carrying capacity than a person on foot, no matter how fit they might be. You might have tremendous endurance and be a seasoned “rucker”, but no matter how fit you are and how big your backpack you are limited by your human frailty when it comes to the carrying of cargo. Having the right tools and plenty of provisions will only increase your chances of survival. When you are carrying a backpack that holds everything you need, every single ounce has to be accounted for. A vehicle will always allow you to include more of the things you do need, along with some elective or nice to have items.
- Vehicles are the best thing going when you need to move people that have a hard time going on foot: People who are injured, the very young and the very old or people who are just plain out of shape. Even a comparatively short hike can be tough if someone does not have the basic capability to make it through, or are struggling with injuries. While a vehicle does not eliminate these shortcomings, it makes traveling with such people far easier and faster.
- The speed afforded by vehicles is a tremendous asset all in itself. Going fast means you go farther in the same amount of time and that means travel is more efficient. Speed is also a defense mechanism. When you need to put distance between you and a threat, like a personal threat from a hostile human or something like an encroaching disaster, the speed and mobility of a vehicle can turn that threat into a rapidly receding memory in the rearview mirror.
- It might sound counterintuitive, but a vehicle can actually reduce the profile of your group. Ask yourself what looks more worthy of notice or inspection: a group of 4-8 armed people all carrying large packs walking across the countryside or down the street, or a single SUV or a couple of sedans rolling by with a few people inside? Easy question, right? Especially if you are worried about observation by interested parties you can probably draw less attention, assuming you are in a generally permissible area by taking your group in one or two vehicles.
- Something that Americans constantly take for granted is just how big America is. Many countries in Europe will fit handily inside the borders of our states. The point is, Americans routinely make journeys of many miles to their own property, relatives’ property, or some other potential destination or bug-out location that can easily be many tens or even hundreds of miles. Do you really, really want to walk or hike all that way if you don’t have to? Can you even carry enough supplies with you on foot to make such a journey? Can all of your family members carry the same amount of supplies? How about everyone else in your group? A vehicle on a suitable route can make such a journey trivial.
- Generally, so long as the situation allows it and taking into account tactical and environmental considerations there is little reason to not travel any distance using a vehicle. The time savings alone are valuable, as is the reduction in exertion. This will allow you to get more work done with the time that you have. Working smart is essential for survival.
There are other niche advantages to vehicles in a survival context, but that is all of the major ones. But, as you are probably expecting, vehicles also have inherent disadvantages that you must work to mitigate or at least minimize.
Disadvantages of Vehicles for Team Survival
It isn’t all good news when it comes to vehicles. You’ll need to be keenly aware of, and work to minimize the impact of the following shortcomings. Failure to do so could mean disaster and death for you and your team:
- Vehicles require resources in the form of fuel, maintenance time and replacement parts. On the other hand, so does your body (including your feet) but generally any vehicle is going to require a greater commitment and logistical accommodation than a human being. Especially if you have a gas guzzler, you’ll need to constantly be watching your fuel supply, keeping it fresh and looking for more. Living in the aftermath of a genuine societal collapse you will be appalled at how fast fuel supplies will dry up.
- Vehicles are comparatively more predictable in their movements then people on foot are, because the vast majority of civilian vehicles are terrain limited, even the off-road capable ones. Generally speaking, bad guys will have an easier time ambushing you if you constantly move to and fro in a vehicle because chances are there will be more restrictions along your route or routes that the vehicle cannot traverse.
- Certain terrain types can be showstoppers for vehicles, easily resulting in a mobilization or accidents. While it is true the people on foot will struggle similarly with rough terrain, they are less likely to be stopped in their tracks.
- No matter what kind of vehicle you are riding in, all occupants will be packed in there together in a juicy, fat inviting target. On foot, you have the benefit of spreading out, meaning that accidents or hostile fire are less likely to injure more than one person. In a vehicle, receiving a large quantity of gunfire or even getting into an accident can result in multiple casualties before anyone can react in a meaningful way.
- To compound the above point, vehicles are also thin-skinned and do virtually nothing to stop bullets. Many civilians and even quite a few members of the military gravely overestimate the protection afforded by an unarmored vehicle. Vehicles are not cover, and this definitely counts as true when you are inside the vehicle. Even the best cover points on the vehicle, the wheels and engine block, are only “fair” to “decent” as far bullet stopping capability is concerned.
Keep all of these shortcomings in mind as you read through the rest of this article. Some procedures that seem counterintuitive will make more sense when you understand how a vehicle will typically let you down in various circumstances.
Understanding Occupant Roles and Responsibilities
In everyday life, there are two kinds of people in your vehicle: the driver and everybody else.
The driver is driving, and nominally navigating most of the time while the rest of the vehicle’s passengers zone out, play on their devices, chatter amongst themselves, or generally act without a care in the world as ever-ready Death hurtles past them on either side. That isn’t going to fly when you are surviving an SHTF situation.
No, in this new existence you will still have two kinds of people in your vehicle, if not in the world: you will have “crew” and you will have “passengers”. You should familiarize yourself with these terms intimately and the intricacies of both because they will be integral to creating a sound plan for vehicle operations as a team:
A passenger is a person riding in the vehicle who has no major responsibilities. They are not driving, they are not fighting.
They really are just along for the ride, ambulatory cargo, though they should have expectations placed on them as to how they should react in any given emergency.
Generally, passengers will be the responsibility of the crew while the vehicle is moving and occupied.
Vehicle crew members are anyone with some job to do in the vehicle, meaning people who are not just along for the ride.
Any civilian commuter vehicle only requires a single operator in the form of a driver, but that does not mean there are not other jobs to do that will contribute to team and group success.
Crew are people that can contribute to operating the vehicle, navigating, conducting the convoy or protecting the vehicle and its occupants if called upon. Below are a few standard roles for crew members:
- Driver: The driver, as you might expect, drives the vehicle. This is his principle and pretty much only responsibility, and nominally has the most important job since keeping the vehicle moving down the road and shiny side up means the occupants don’t wind up looking like scrambled eggs. The driver should be operating the vehicle, looking out for other vehicles, and watching the road for obstacles and hazardous conditions. Nothing else. Note that the driver should never, ever be shooting and driving. That way lies disaster.
- VC/VL: Stands for vehicle chief or vehicle leader. The VL sits beside the driver in the front of the vehicle and serves as a navigator, and also keeps all occupants of the vehicle appraised of the situation. The vehicle leader will communicate to other vehicles in the convoy, keep control of the team occupying the vehicle, and provide watch and security to the front and of the vehicle. This is analogous to a patrol leader’s function when moving on foot.
- Backseat: There are nominally two backseat crew positions in any four-door vehicle, immediately behind the driver and the VL. The backseaters are responsible for security to either side of the vehicle and potentially the rear of the vehicle also. They might have additional responsibilities like control of passengers, or dismounting to investigate obstacles or other hazards.
- Tail Gunner: The tail gunner, colloquially called the “trunk monkey”, sits in the rear cargo bay of an SUV or station wagon and provides security to the rear of the vehicle. The tail gunner might also be responsible for hasty repairs like the fixing of a flat tire since they will usually have best access to tools and other materials needed for the task. The tail gunner is not a strictly necessary position since the backseaters can also provide security to the rear of the vehicle.
So for our purposes you and your team would comprise the crew of a vehicle, while any family members or other people in your group who are not fluent with the way the team operates and behaves inside the vehicle, or are incapable from contributing in a meaningful way to the defense of the vehicle, will be considered passengers.
Make sure you familiarize yourself with the various crew positions and their individual responsibilities, both for operating the vehicle and defending it.
Obviously, not every vehicle will have a four or five man crew complement. A vehicle might be light on crew and heavy on passengers or vice versa.
The configuration, doors and other features of the vehicle will also play a significant part in determining and assigning crew responsibilities. There are a couple more considerations below:
The capacity of the vehicle must be carefully weighed against the number of occupants and the amount of must have gear or other supplies you are carrying. Let us consider a typical 3-row SUV.
Most can sit two adults up front, nominally three adults in the middle row and nominally two or three adults in the back row.
But instead of adults dressed in street clothes you are now seating adults wearing survival-centric clothing, and most likely wearing load carriage gear the meaningful capacity of the vehicle will shrink somewhat.
If you plan on cramming in passengers in addition to crew things are going to get even more uncomfortable, and also reduce the efficiency of the crew as they will have to move and orient themselves around the passengers.
Believe me, more than a few passengers riding in a vehicle that has come under threat have found themselves stuffed squarely into the floorboards like a piece of carry-on luggage because…
Security must be maintained
As mentioned previously, security must be maintained while inside a vehicle, the same as it is while traveling on foot. All crew members must concentrate on diligently scanning and if necessary engaging hostiles that appear in their sectors.
Nobody should take a load off and relax just because they’re inside the vehicle and it is in motion. Things can go from bad to worse in the blink of an eye.
If you are traveling at highway speeds, there might not be anything meaningful that a crew member can do to prevent an incident, except perhaps the driver, but sounding off that trouble is imminent could make the difference.
If operating a smaller vehicle or crew numbers are reduced for any reason, what crew members remain will have to take up the slack for security due to being down a crew member.
Okay. So you have a team and know what is expected of the people in the vehicle, both crew and passengers alike.
Before we set off into the wild wasteland on some adventure or errand, you need to make sure the vehicle is properly chosen and correctly equipped for any eventuality.
Vehicle Selection and Equipage
Though this section is not strictly procedural, and is not in the strictest sense a tactic or technique that your team is learning, it is nonetheless vital to ensuring that your team will be successful when engaging in vehicular operations and movement.
There are a lot of things that can go wrong with an automobile in the best of times, and the challenges and risks it will face are magnified tenfold during an SHTF event or long-term survival situation.
Some of them seemed virtually inconsequential, but are nonetheless showstoppers if you do not have the right tools or supplies to deal with them.
Also consider that your choice of vehicle will directly impact how difficult or easy your life is when you are using it as a team, and potentially even affect whether or not you can achieve your objectives.
There is an old saying that “any gun will do if you can do” and we can apply that wisdom to vehicles, too. Any automobile can do the job, but they are not created equal, so choose carefully.
Vehicle Type and Features
A considerable amount of ink has been spilled on and off the internet hypothesizing, discussing and outright asserting what kind of vehicle with what kind of options makes the best survival or bug-out vehicle. Your author here has done his fair share, by the way.
While it is worthwhile to consider how you might best optimize your vehicle, or even replace it for a model more suited to your anticipated needs in the middle of a disaster, the fact is if you have a running vehicle you will make do according to what people you have on your team.
If you do get to choose, you should consider the following items when choosing a dedicated survival vehicle or when you are thinking of upgrading or trading yours in to better suit your anticipated requirements:
- Power: A certain amount of power is a good thing to have, since it will improve your vehicle’s ability to speedily accelerate and haul heavy loads. But fire-breathing, high-performance engines and sporterized vehicles that guzzle gas will only serve to reduce your range and unduly strain your supplies. Remember that any event which knocks out civilian infrastructure or results in a proper “grid failure” will see fuel supplies dry up with shocking rapidity! There is nothing wrong with a fuel-efficient vehicle or a four cylinder engine; place a premium on range and reliability, not hot-rod speed.
- Size: Smaller vehicles are nimbler, easier to handle, and less likely to bog down and get stuck than larger behemoths, but larger vehicles have greater cargo capacity, nominally more room for passengers (if type and category are equal) and fare much better in collisions of all kinds. Generally speaking, you want to pick something somewhere in the middle of typical consumer vehicles. A gigantic Hummer or Ford Excursion seems ideal to people who have never had to maneuver them in a tricky situation, or drive them at high speeds, but people who have done so know better. Midsize SUVs and, believe it or not, station wagons, often strike an ideal balance in all kinds of environments.
- Transmission: This is a feature that garners considerable hate on both sides. Manual transmissions are far simpler mechanically and easier to repair compared to automatics, but they will usually set you up for failure or even get you killed in a high-stress situation. Missing a gear or stalling the vehicle when you need to get going now will probably mean you and your team will crash or die. Using a vehicle with an automatic transmission will greatly simplify all driving tasks. This also impacts contingency planning- it is extremely difficult for someone not sitting in the driver’s seat to positively control a vehicle with a manual transmission in an emergency.
- Off-Road Capability: Some off-road capability is a benefit, namely the ability to get through a little bit of mud, hop over low obstructions and deal with generally rough terrain better than a vehicle designed to live on the pavement. But what you probably don’t want to do is go with a highly specialized, jacked up off-road rig. These vehicles handle notoriously poorly at high speeds on or off the road, and make getting in or out a nightmare under pressure. Remember you might have to hoist an injured person in or out of such a vehicle…
- Upgrades: Any upgrades you do to your vehicle should be focused on reliability, cargo capacity and durability. Upgraded brakes and shocks are always a benefit so long as they do not compromise reliability. Internal and external cargo management systems will be of great benefit. Upgraded bumpers or even bull bars could prevent more serious damage if you need to nudge an obstruction or a stalled vehicle out of the way.
- Restraints: Restraints are a critical piece of equipment for any vehicle, but especially for your survival vehicle. These are standard equipment on basically every car, truck and SUV, but you never know what you’ll run into out there. Consider that you are still far more likely to die or be critically injured in an automobile accident than due to hostile activity even in the middle of an SHTF situation. Also consider that all of the cargo inside the cabin as well as the people inside the cabin that are not securely restrained in place are liable to go flying and injure other occupants in a crash. This is one of the reasons why a pickup truck is not a greatsurvival vehicle because carrying more than one or two people means they have to ride in the exposed, restraint-less bed.
Some items should be considered as standard equipment for any vehicle that you get to choose for your survival rig. These are items that will help keep the vehicle going in the field, as well as help keep the occupants going, crew particularly.
- Radio: Unless you are strictly going to be working with one vehicle and one vehicle only, any vehicles that are part of your survival group’s complement must be equipped with a self-contained communication system so you can reliably talk to other vehicles in your convoy. This could be something as rudimentary as a walkie-talkie, or something as advanced as a professionally installed vehicle radio set. What is important is that all crew know how to operate it, and it works reliably while you are underway with typical spacing you expect to maintain between vehicles.
- Fire Extinguisher: Vehicle fires are already extremely common. Imagine how much more common they will be when people are trying to shoot your car or set it on fire with a molotov cocktail. Small, smoldering fires in a car quickly turn into raging infernos that will engulf a car and burn it down to the frame unless you have a way to put it out quickly and on-demand. Only a fire extinguisher will do that. Any model that you choose must be kept in a cabin in a properly secured clamp so that is easily accessible, and also so that it will not become a missile in a collision.
- Repair Kit: A repair kit includes everything you need to take care of flat tires, one or two full size spare tires and an assortment of useful tools and often used parts to perform common repairs. You should definitely include standard tire patch kits, a small air compressor, various hand tools specific for your vehicle’s fasteners and components, and a safe, functional high-quality jack. Most importantly, the repair kit should be instantly accessible from wherever it is stored in the vehicle. It is the height of clown-shoery to pile all of your cargo and gear on top of your repair kit and spare tire. Don’t do it!
- First-Aid Kit: Every vehicle that is part of your complement should include a comprehensive first-aid kit that can handle traumatic injuries. This again should be kept in the cabin and readily accessible. You might consider excluding this item only if everyone on your team carries their own individual first-aid kits.
Now then, we have our vehicles selected and outfitted, we have our team, and everyone on our team knows what their role is and responsibilities are in the vehicle. Time to learn how to actually handle single- and multi-vehicle operation.
Basics of Vehicle Operations
Operating vehicles as part of a team, especially as a team that is spread across multiple vehicles, has much in common with moving, and working as a team traveling on foot with a notable difference being there considerably more “moving parts” to contend with when traveling by vehicle, even in a peaceful setting.
How many vehicles do you have access to? How many team members do you have? How many passengers? What do your potential routes look like, and what potential threats do you face? How is all of that going to affect your decisions?
It is a lot to think about, especially when you still need to maintain security, provide overwatch and respond to threats.
Taking fire and getting injured is one thing when you are standing on your own two feet, or lying prone behind cover, but it is another thing entirely when you are squeezed into a tiny metal coffin that barely has more bullet stopping capability than a tissue box. This will definitely change things, for you and your team.
It sounds like a lot to take in, and it is, but you can still go through it step-by-step oh, by the Numbers if you will. With some diligent study and plenty of practice this too shall become second nature for you and your team.
Note that this section assumes you are familiar with PRSCC and OCOKA. If neither of those acronyms made any sense, check out my previous article in this series that covers on-foot team tactics and procedures. Much of that applies just the same.
How Many Vehicles Should You Use?
Assuming you can access as many vehicles as you need, the number of vehicles you should use is dependent primarily upon your personnel requirements. This is a balancing act.
You want enough crew in each vehicle so we can defend itself in a meaningful way without squeezing in so many passengers that they interfere with vehicle operation.
On the other hand, you don’t want all your passengers in a single-vehicle that is barely manned by crew because this can fall victim to the all-eggs-one-basket blunder.
Generally speaking, it is better to have a few passengers in every vehicle with a minimum of three crew, assuming you have a full size sedan, SUV or something similar.
That will be a driver, VL and backseater. It is always best to have at least four crew in a vehicle if you can, consisting of an additional backseater to the above arrangement.
But keep in mind that the larger your convoy grows the more difficult control will become, and the more coordination your team will need to exhibit in order to handle all contingencies. It will have a harder time staying together and traffic.
There are more chances you could get separated crossing intersections. You will certainly raise the profile of your team when traveling in multiple vehicles. These are all factors you will have to weigh carefully for planning your route and activity.
What About Security? Aren’t More Vehicles Better?
Yes and no; it might afford better security but might not make you safer. More vehicles in your convoy can present a harder target, and having a trailing vehicle can help get a besieged vehicle and its beleaguered crew out of the line of fire, while also providing a recovery vehicle if required.
Certainly, having more members of your team present during an attack can help tilt the odds back in your favor. More guns on your side is always better!
But on the other hand, a smaller number of vehicles (including a lone vehicle) present a much lower profile, especially if driving an ordinary, common civilian model. Sometimes, the best defense is going unnoticed and undetected.
But this does not happen in a vacuum. If you’re in a comparatively low threat area, or are not concerned with any specific threat you might be able to get away unnoticed with a multi-vehicle convoy, even in more noticeable vehicles if you allow plenty of space between vehicles and don’t mind some incidental traffic getting between each of you.
This is a decision you will have to make after assessing the totality of your circumstances. Ultimately the choice boils down to go quietly beneath notice or go big, mean and intimidating.
If you are operating multiple vehicles in a convoy, it might be beneficial to designate and plan for the last vehicle in the convoy to serve as the CAT vehicle, with CAT standing for “counter assault team”.
If the leading vehicle(s) come under attack (and especially if they get immobilized) the counter assault team vehicle can swoop in to save the day, positioning themselves to intercept, and put pressure on the bad guys attacking their teammates.
For this reason, a dedicated CAT vehicle should not carry passengers if it can be avoided, and should also be outfitted with some of your team’s most proficient shooters equipped with the best weapons.
Even if you do not want to use a dedicated CAT vehicle, there are lessons to be learned that we will expand on shortly, namely that your vehicles should not be so close together that a single mishap or an attack can involve all of them in one go.
By having a tailing or “chase” vehicle lag slightly behind you will ensure that at least part of your team remains uninvolved in the initial incident, and able to respond intelligently to any emergency.
Again, passengers are occupants of a vehicle that are not crew, meaning they do not have a job to do inside the vehicle.
Their job, really, is to stay out of the way and not interfere with operation of the vehicle. It is imperative that one member of the crew be assigned to control the passengers.
The passengers should be told when to get in the vehicle and went to get out. A vehicle that is in trouble and taking fire is a very scary place to be, and depending upon the driver’s response to the threat passengers might get themselves in more trouble if they try to bail out when the vehicle is going to be taking off or they are hunkering down when they should be getting out.
It is, for this reason, that passengers must be at least nominally drilled on following crew instructions at all times, and one crew member in particular should serve as a sort of steward to ensure that passengers are doing what they need to be doing in any given situation.
The steward is also the one primarily responsible for accounting for and explicating passengers from the vehicle in case of an accident. Failing to account for this is going to cause even more trouble, and can lead to tragedy.
When actually underway in your vehicles, there are a few variations on driving procedure that you should familiarize yourselves with and employ as the situation dictates.
- Rolling: If the vehicle/convoy is rolling it is using speed and mobility as a defensive mechanism. This will be the default mode of movement when you have a level, clear and easy to traverse path. Think of a highway or interstate with little or no traffic. You are moving fast enough that you’re going to be difficult to target. Space between vehicles can be reduced for convenience though, as normal, you should always leave enough distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you so that you can react and avoid a collision when the lead vehicle jinks or slows suddenly.
- Overwatch: Or rolling overwatch. Overwatch should be your default mode of travel whenever circumstances or conditions dictate you could be vulnerable to attack or accident. Overwatch ensures you leave enough space between each member of the convoy that the following team members can both observe what happens to the lead vehicles, and also react intelligently to it, no matter if it is an attack or an accident. Note that unlike on-foot movement, there might be times where a following vehicle loses sight, if only briefly, of the vehicle in front of it during overwatch travel. This could be due to a rise or dip in the road, rounding a corner or something else. Bunching up in such a way that this does not occur may actually cause more harm than good, or it might not, but if it is indeed required see the next entry.
- Relay/Bounding: In situations where losing sight of another vehicle is completely unacceptable, due to crossing a known danger point or suspected attack location, the lead vehicle can stop short before it enters the point of greatest vulnerability and wait for the trailing vehicles to catch up, with every vehicle after the one immediately following the lead car maintaining a safe standoff distance. Once the following vehicle is in position, the lead car then navigates the danger points as quickly or as intelligently as possible to minimize risk before assuming a position past the danger point, and allowing all following vehicles to repeat the procedure, ideally minimizing the peril.
When actually underway keep in mind that your movement mode will change on the fly and might not necessarily always go the way that you planned before departure.
You might be planning on cautious overwatch movement for a lengthy leg of your journey only to wind up being detoured, happily, on the way to a much faster, high-speed path which could allow you to use rolling movement and ergo speed as your defense.
Conversely, you might be expecting no trouble at all going through a friendly, settled area, but trouble and tension might see you relaying through dodgy parts of town.
Don’t let yourself be held hostage by any plans or predictions that you make. The situation should always dictate what tactics you use, and this certainly applies to traveling in a vehicle or convoy.
Responding to Trouble When Underway
It never fails that something will go wrong when road tripping, especially when traveling in a convoy. Your response will be dictated by the incident, be it a hostile attack, an accident, or just a mechanical breakdown.
While the basic responses to all of these events are easily understood and learned, they will change slightly depending on how many vehicles and how many team members you have traveling with you.
Some incidents can also be handled in more than one way, and always remember that incidents that begin innocently enough may take on a sinister turn if opportunistic malcontents want to capitalize on your misfortune.
Likewise, overreacting or reacting incorrectly to hostile intent might wind up with you being injured or killed due to an accident; operating motor vehicles is a dangerous activity no matter what the setting!
If you speed away from an ambush or try to shake a pursuer only to lose control, run off the road and torpedo a power pole or jersey barrier, you might have been better off to take your chances with the shootout.
Read through the following, altogether-too-common situations that will invariably arise when you are underway, be it in a single-vehicle or when operating as a multi-vehicle convoy.
When In Doubt, Reverse Out!
A considerable amount of emphasis is placed on learning unusual performance-driving maneuvers that allow you to change direction of travel and the orientation of the vehicle quickly.
The J-turn, bootlegger, and other maneuvers are useful, but if they are botched the vehicle will usually come to a stop or even overturn.
When you are rolling along and run into a big “nope!” like an obstacle, roadblock, likely ambush or just an impending traffic snarl, the best response much of the time is simply to put the vehicle in reverse, and smoothly accelerate in the opposite direction (assuming the road behind you is clear).
First, this is incredibly easy to do even for comparatively inexperienced drivers. While it is true that steering becomes twitchy when reversing (because you have essentially turned your vehicle into a front wheel drive, rear steering machine) the good news is you do not have to go very fast in order to improve your situation, especially if you are being shot at.
Reversing out at just 20 MPH will, in a matter of seconds, put hundreds of feet between you and the problem, and if the problem is gunmen that will significantly degrading the accuracy of most.
Once you have reversed out to an acceptable distance, you can easily and safely turn your vehicles around using normal techniques and then simply drive away.
In certain situations you won’t even have to reverse out in order to get out of trouble. If the road ahead is clear and you do not suspect having to run a gauntlet of fire all you need to do is step on the accelerator and get the vehicle moving ahead as quickly as possible.
Even in the case of certain roadblocks this will not be a significant impediment, as most vehicles can easily push aside vehicles of comparable size and weight.
If you do need to nudge debris or another vehicle out of the way, make sure you do not strike it at a high rate of speed, as this is likely to inflict crippling damage to your own vehicle, and reduce your chances of making a successful getaway.
Immobilizing yourself is always a bad outcome. If you need to jump a curb, cross a median, drive over something in order to get away, do it.
This is a particularly good option when traveling in a convoy if the lead vehicle comes under attack and has several closely trailing vehicles, as the time it takes for the “train” to stop and then start reversing might be unacceptably long in that situation, exposing the occupants of the threatened vehicle to more fire.
Vehicle Disabled! Now What?
Oh no. The much-feared outcome has finally happened. Your vehicle is no longer capable of rolling forward under its own power. Major bummer, and potentially life-threatening.
Your responses to a disabled vehicle will vary depending primarily on the number of vehicles in your convoy, what disabled you, and whether or not you are threatened. See below.
- Mechanical Failure, Single Vehicle: If you suffer a flat tire, a belt gets launched into the stratosphere, or some other comparatively simple mishap happens that a member of your team can fix, the crew and passengers should dismount and assume safe and or protected positions while a repair is underway. Do not wait in the vehicle! Vehicles are absolute bullet magnets, easy to penetrate, and even if someone isn’t shooting at you, getting hit by another vehicle traveling along the same path that does not expect you could severely injure everyone still inside.
- Mechanical Failure, Multi Vehicle: If you have multiple vehicles traveling in a convoy when one experiences mechanical failure you have a couple of options. If a repair is going to be attempted on-site the other vehicles should push out and form a defensive cordon while the occupants of the disabled vehicle dismount as above. Alternately, assuming the other vehicles are capable, a tow might be attempted if near the destination or the departure point. In a pinch, crew and passengers could be distributed among the other vehicles along with essential cargo before resuming the journey. Do not assume that the disabled vehicle will still be there when you get back.
- Taking Fire, Single Vehicle: A critical component or components of the vehicle have been hit and disabled by gunfire, potentially including the driver. At any rate, the vehicle is no longer rolling and getting filled in by bullets, fast. If you have a full crew complement, the crew members that are on the side of the vehicle taking fire should be laying down lead towards the attackers while the crew on the opposite side of the vehicle bail out and improve their position. Once they are set and firing, the crew remaining in the vehicle should bail out on the side of the vehicle opposite the one receiving fire! Note that any passengers will likely need to be controlled and directed out of the vehicle, as will any injured crew members. This is much easier said than done.
- Taking Fire, Multi Vehicle: The vehicle that is taking fire will respond precisely as above, with the major difference being that any trailing vehicles will respond by maneuvering to engage, or dismounting before engaging any hostiles in order to relieve pressure on the attacked vehicle and crew. If you have pre-planned a vehicle as a CAT vehicle, this is their time to shine, as they will aggressively close with, and attempt to destroy or disrupt any hostiles at best speed.
In the aftermath of any of these events, a choice must be made whether or not to invest the time in attempting to get the vehicle rolling again before mounting up and continuing. There is no right or wrong answer as your specific objectives, environmental considerations and overall context will largely dictate what you should do.
The concepts of team-based vehicular movement are easy enough to learn, but difficult to master and require considerable coordination among team members especially as the size of a convoy grows.
But despite their drawbacks, complexity and attendant challenges vehicles offer unparalleled mobility, transport capability and speed to preppers who are trying to survive the trials and tribulations of a societal collapse or major SHTF event.
Correct employment of vehicles will help you and your team be more efficient and get more work done while staying safer, whereas sloppy, careless or incorrect employment of vehicles may very well increase the risk to life and limb.
Use this article as a primer to get started, and then start focusing on vehicular operations as a training point with your team if they factor heavily into your SHTF plans.
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.