How to Build the Ultimate Survival Vehicle

by Dan Eash

If you had to evacuate the scene of a natural disaster, civil unrest, terrorist attack or economic collapse, would your vehicle have what it takes? Can it go off-road, travel long distances without refueling and carry heavy loads? Are cheap spare parts readily available? Is it easy to repair and modify? Does it blend in or turn heads? If you want to get there in one piece, you'll need a vehicle that meets these demands.

No Show and All Go

Step 1

Select a vehicle. You need transportation that's tough, reliable and versatile. Pickup trucks meet these requirements, and domestic trucks are cheaper and easier to repair, and have better parts availability, than foreign models. Since Ford's F150 has been the best selling domestic truck for the past 50 years, it's the perfect choice for our base vehicle.

Step 2

Modify the electrical system. Electronic ignitions improve performance, but they're harder, and more expensive, to diagnose and repair than a distributor with points and condenser. The electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear explosion will disable electronic ignitions. Since they are the weak link on Ford V8s anyway, you'll be better off if you buy an 1980s pickup with a 302 V8 carburetor and replace the ignition. While you're at it, upgrade the charging system with a 65 amp alternator and a deep cycle battery that's connected in parallel to your first one. You'll have extra power for auxiliary devices and the ability to keep your engine running if the alternator dies.

Step 3

Modify the fuel system. A carbureted engine is a must, as the switch to fuel injection created the same maintenance issues as electronic ignitions have. The high cost and limited availability of diesel fuel makes gasoline engines the best choice unless your diesel can run on cooking oil. Even then, you can covert gas engines to run on propane, which has many advantages over diesel. Whatever fuel you use, add a second tank to double your range. The more ground you can cover without refueling, the better.

Step 4

Modify the drive-train and suspension. A manual transmission, with a limited-slip rear differential, is a good place to start. Avoid automatics since they're expensive and difficult to repair, less reliable than a stick and impossible to push start. To improve your load stability, beef up the rear springs. You'll get longer life and better traction on any terrain if you install six-ply tires that have moderately aggressive treads. In a four-wheel drive, you can change the transfer case gearing to 4:1 or lower and improve your ability to power through obstacles and climb steep hills.

Step 5

Add additional equipment. A class-three hitch with heavy-duty front and rear bumpers will increase your hauling capacity and impact resistance. Get a bed cover for secure storage and a dry sleeping area. Install a mobile amateur radio, scanner and am/fm/sw unit to cover your communications needs. Replace your headlights with quartz halogen units and add fog lights to the front and rear for better visibility. A driver's-side mounted spot light, like the type on police cruisers, is an effective non-lethal weapon and a way to light up the area before you enter it. Add a hidden fuel-cutoff switch to make sure your vehicle stays put until you need it.

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