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DIY Bug Out Vehicle (Prepping Your Car with Mods & Upgrades)

Today, we take a look at DIY vehicle modification and preparation. We explore ideas on how to enhance your car’s storage, security, and overall reliability. We also go over some key considerations before purchasing and modifying a bug-out vehicle.

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A prepper’s work is never done. With the end of the world seemingly around the corner, there’s never been a greater need to stay ready for a disaster in all aspects of life. Transportation is just one of these aspects, so we need to examine how our vehicles can adapt when SHTF.

Today, we take a look at DIY vehicle modification and preparation. We will explore some useful ideas on how to enhance your car’s storage, security, and overall reliability. We also help you go over some key considerations before purchasing and modifying a bug-out vehicle.

DIY bug-out vehicle modification is the customization and upgrading of a vehicle for survivalism. Preppers may install accessories like roof racks, winches, and storage mounts. Other changes include raised suspensions, new paint jobs, and armor. These modifications are aftermarket changes, so they are not recommended for vehicles on warranty.

What is a homemade bug-out vehicle?

A homemade bug-out vehicle is a car that you customize yourself at home or with the help of an aftermarket service center…or your friends. These upgrades and customizations are made to make the vehicle better suited to life during and after an emergency.

Essentially, you take your car and beef it up to epic (or appropriate) proportions. The modifications can be made in anticipation of general disaster side-effects like unavailability of fuel, loss of a home, and road destruction/ blockage. You can expect fuel, for example, to start becoming harder to source in most major crises.

You can also make modifications in anticipation of specific eventualities. Zombies have made a whirlwind return to pop culture prominence over the last decade or so, prompting a wave of vehicular zombie-proofing. Fiction or not, the prospect of facing a horde of the undead would be more daunting without adequate preparation.

It’s not just the living dead you should worry about. If, for example, you live in an area prone to natural disasters like floods, raising your vehicle’s ground clearance would be a good idea.

Of course, we would strongly advise against modifying a new or leased vehicle. A new vehicle is most likely under warranty, and any crazy changes you make could void it. Older cars tend to be a better choice for DIY mods because they do not have warranties and are, generally speaking, much easier to repair yourself than modern cars.

Whatever your situation, do not be afraid to be creative with your modifications. However, the function must come before style. Avoid unnecessary cosmetic changes that compromise your car’s utility… or make it stand out. For instance, if you install a hatch on the roof of your bug out van, make sure you’re not left with a leaky roof!

What do you need from a bug-out vehicle?

At the end of the day, a bug-out vehicle's ultimate aim is the same as yours: survival…by any means.

That said, "need" differs depending on the situation. Some people need bug-out vehicles to ferry them to and from their homes or survival shelters during supply runs and scouting missions. Such people will probably need something quick and/or quiet. Bicycles, ATVs, motorcycles, and light cars are such examples.

On the other hand, some people may be more nomadic. In this context, a bug-out vehicle will also have to double as a mobile home of sorts. These vehicles will be used for storing all of their belongings, as well as for sleeping accommodations and shelter from the elements.

Every prepper has to carefully consider his or her needs to match up with an appropriate car. Vehicles are tools, so they must be assigned to relevant tasks. Failure to recognize your current and future needs could leave you stuck with an ineffective (and potentially expensive) bug-out ride.

Now, let's go over some of the general requirements of a bug-out vehicle regardless of context.


The first thing you need is mobility. It wouldn’t be much of a vehicle if it doesn’t move, would it? Your chosen ride must be able to get you from A to B, preferably with minimal fuss. Walking, though healthy, is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea.


The next requirement is storage space. This could be quick storage for all of your small tools and weapons or large spaces for everything you own. The main reason why you would get a bug-out vehicle (besides an aversion to endless walking) is to enhance your storage space. A bug-out bag is just not enough, especially in the long term.

If you are living out of a bug-out home, your vehicle storage need will mostly be quick storage (glove compartments, door bins, baskets, racks, etc.). If you are living on the road, you will need space for your clothing, bedding, and cooking needs as well. A vehicle with adequate towing capabilities can be paired up with a camper or cargo trailer for additional space.


A vehicle’s navigation tools are also an important part of bugging out successfully. This is especially true for nomadic survivalists who may venture into the unchartered territory from time to time. Getting lost is risky for so many reasons. It could cost you precious fuel or you could end up getting “found” by the wrong crowd.

Navigation tools like a GPS could prove to be lifesavers in the wilderness. Heck, even if you come across a town in the middle of nowhere, sat-nav will point you to places of interest. Better to have it and not need it.


Reliability is another one. In fact, this has to be up there as one of the more important attributes a bug-out vehicle can have.

You simply cannot afford frequent breakdowns, and you should steer clear of any infamously unreliable cars. Stick to trusted brands, and get a trusted mechanic to (fully) inspect any used vehicles you're considering otherwise you could end up with a real problem child.

Reliability is non-negotiable.

Fuel efficiency

Perhaps equally important as reliability and mobility is fuel efficiency.

These days, most petroleum companies mandate their suppliers to employ what is known as JIT (Just in time) deliveries. This means that fuel is delivered to a gas station as soon as it runs out.

When things are normal, this system is great because it reduces fuel companies’ need to keep large reserve quantities on-site. However, if a large-scale disruption occurs, supply chains may be negatively affected. Fuel suppliers could have trouble delivering the precious juice, which would immediately cause shortages.

A vehicle with good efficiency could seriously extend the time between fuel stops. Fuel efficiency is measured in miles per gallon (MPG), and most vehicles have two of this value: a city MPG and a highway MPG. Typically, the latter is higher than the former because stop-start city driving consumes more fuel.

With a higher MPG, you have room to take risks like going over to the next town for gas or diesel. Combined with extra canisters and Jerry cans, a fuel-efficient car will see you through until fuel supplies are restored.


The ability to modify your ride is also a positive attribute. Installing winches, fuel can mounts, raised suspensions, etc. makes a vehicle more adaptable to different conditions. If you want a car that could potentially evolve into a kick-ass survival mobile, make sure to get one that is popular with modders.

Last update on 2024-07-14 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Modding your regular car is also much more affordable than purchasing a fully kitted out EarthRoamer or Marauder. Local cars, particularly trucks and vans, are great blank canvases for creative preppers.

Low profile

When SHTF, the world could become a very dangerous place. Empty shelves, shut down businesses, disease, drugs…dystopia.

With so much anarchy, the police (if there’s still police) will have their hands full. It would be a free-for-all for criminals. A jungle where humanity could be abandoned completely.

If the worst comes to the worst, the last thing you want is to be towing a heavily stocked trailer in your flashy Mercedes SUV. Standing out in this way is a big NO-NO, and it could get you in real trouble.

Make sure you get a vanilla-looking vehicle, with simplistic paint. Window tint is a smart move and trailers should be plain. Never store your key essentials (documents, money, bug-out bag, etc.) in your trailer. If you have a camper trailer, it would be wise to have people in the car when you're on the move. You never know when you have to cut the trailer loose quickly.


You should keep at least one mode of communication in your vehicle at all times. Whether it’s a two-way walkie-talkie linked to your base camp, or a police scanner for desperate S.O.S. searches, communication on the go is crucial out there.

Real-time information is important for avoiding traps, rescuing lost survivors, and minimizing waste of fuel. Even burner phones are a clever investment. Smartphones are more affordable than ever, so pick one up and keep it in your car. You can use it for the internet and check the news, weather, and your emails while you’re away from your main computer.

The easiest vehicles to modify for bugging out

Your vehicle options are endless. As we’ve mentioned above, American and Japanese vehicles are the easiest to mod. There are loads of local custom garages, paint shops, body shops, gun shops, you name it. German brands like Mercedes are also upping the ante in the survival space…but prepare your wallet.

Toyota Tundra

The Tundra is well named. Born to brave the harshest conditions in the U.S. or Canada, Toyota’s trusty truck continues to keep pace with the Silverados and F-150s of the world.

Reliability is the name of the game with the Tundra, and it looks like a darn tough son-of-a-pickup truck. It is HUGE in all of its six trims. Loads of emergency-oriented features and off-road nous mean you’re looking at your ticket through any catastrophe.

The truck’s features vary depending on trim. Toyota is seasoned on the tuner customization scene, so the Tundra still benefits from some cool trim options and extras. You can get things like roof racks from the manufacturer. Custom winches and raised suspensions can easily be fitted in the aftermarket.

Mercedes-Benz Atego

How about a utility distribution truck? The Mercedes Atego is a wonderful little rig as it is, but it is just ripe for upgrades and kitting out. Say, you black it out and tint up the cab windows for maximum privacy.

The Atego range’s payloads start from 14,330lbs and go up to 70,547lbs! Plenty of space for your food, water, clothing…shoe collection! Everything you could possibly need. You could operate the rig with a partner, or a small crew, to maximize defensive capabilities because trucks always attract raiders.

You could install hidden windows in the trailer that could serve as gunner vantage points. The Atego could also be set up to be a mobile hospital ward for anyone you rescue. Be as creative as you can, and enjoy the benefits of German engineering.

Honda Civic

The Civic might as well be an American car because its classic status on the western hemisphere is undeniable. Its popularity is the driving force behind its rabid modification community, and the survival niche has really come to the fore over the years.

The new hatchback version is fairly priced, fuel-efficient, and all set for modification. You could add a sunroof for quick escapes or vehicle defense. High-speed shootouts anyone?

All hatchback trims feature Honda’s 1.5L In-Line 4-Cylinder motor, which is awesome for quick acceleration. Great handling and the steering has a nice feel that enhances the driving experience.

This would be a good scouting and supply vehicle in urban areas. Maybe tinted windows and non-descript paint?

Ford F-150

America’s no.1 pickup truck. The F-150 will no doubt be a common choice for bugging out when trouble hits. With your choice of a hybrid, a diesel V6, or a screaming V8, you can customize the truck from the ground up.

A lot of auto shops are built on servicing Ford trucks, and you can get accessories like load bed coverstool utility boxes, portable refrigerators, and more. You can raise the suspension, beef up the wheel arches, add a bull bar…and a light bar. Also, add a rooftop PA system for search and rescue missions.

Last update on 2024-07-14 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The F-150 is famed for its ruggedness and reliability, qualities that are priceless for preppers. This truck’s popularity means that parts would be easier to source in a post-crisis scenario where manufacturer support is unavailable.


Pure precision. That is the long and short of Bavarian Motor Work’s latest iteration of the X5 SUV, a modern icon.  This time, the mid-range SUV range also features the leaner, meaner X5…M.

For those who are unfamiliar with BMW, you should know that the company’s “M” division is much like Mercedes’ AMG gearheads. Basically, they put any car they get their hands on through a course of automotive steroids. And, boy, are the results real.

The 4.4L twin-turbo V8 propels this “family” five-seater from 0-60mph in 3.8 seconds! Read that again.

The car is a classic “Beemer”, always goading you to go faster, to make sharper turns. This level of performance really puts the “sport” in “SUV” and makes the X5 M the getaway vehicle for you and your companions.

The X5 M experience is wrapped in sheer luxury thanks to heated sport seats and a Harmon Kardon sound system. A glorious panoramic sunroof enhances the interior day and night. Oh, and it has ambient lighting! Many would consider it a hundred grand well spent.

There are lots of BMW auto shops across the country, and you can always surf through Amazon for cool accessories that could come in handy. If you have even more money to burn, you could get in touch with popular aftermarket leaders like Mansory for vehicle armoring.

GMC Savana Cargo Van

If you want something reliable, spacious, durable, AND non-descript…look no further. The Savana Cargo ticks all of those boxes and more thanks to its understated features.

Unlike the Savana Passenger, which can seat up to 15 people, the Cargo only seats two people. The rest of the interior space is empty, which should set creative minds racing. A massive sliding door makes hopping in and out of the van a breeze while the large exterior area allows for the installation of bike racks and fuel mounts.

The van is very affordable, and you will be in a decent position to source parts because it shares several with many other GM products. Another cool thing about the Savana vans is how great they are at towing. The Cargo Van has a towing capacity of 10,000lbs!

Jeep Wrangler

Another mid-sized SUV for you, although this one is more of an off-roader than the tire-smoking BMW.

Jeep’s iconic Wrangler is a no-brainer choice for any bug-out vehicle shortlist. Its fun and functional design continue to stand the test of time, and each Wrangler has the potential to be transformed into something unique. These Jeep bug out vehicles are incredibly customizable at the manufacturer and aftermarket level.

The popular outdoor trim for both the Wrangler and the Wrangler Unlimited is the RUBICON. This comes with a beefier body kit, raised suspension, and other performance upgrades.

You can turn up the heat even further in the aftermarket. Raise the suspension even further, install additional storage compartments, and so much more to take your Wrangler to the next level.


Best bug out vehicle mods & upgrades

As far as the modifications you can make to your car, the choices are endless. Of course, your starting point depends on what you already have in or on your vehicle.

Raised suspension and bigger wheels

The first modification you want to make, especially on big cars like pickups, is to raise the suspension. The main benefit of this is additional ground clearance when you venture off-road. This will reduce the chances of hard objects smashing into vulnerable parts of your car's underbelly.

A raised suspension can also help you when you need to do some vehicle inspection or repairs. Accessing vehicle lifting equipment might be a challenge in a bug-out context, but a higher ground clearance could allow you to access the underside of your car.

Larger tires can improve performance, although this may have a point of diminishing returns. Larger wheels will also absorb more shock and improve ride quality.


A winch is a device that is used to haul your vehicle (or other vehicles) out of a jam. If your Jeep is stuck in the mud, for example, you can take one end of the winch chain and wrap it around a sufficiently-sized tree or boulder. You then hit a switch to retract the winch chain back towards the vehicle to pull it out of trouble.

You can also winch other vehicles out of trouble, although the vehicle must be lighter than yours if you don’t want to be dragged into the jam!

Racks and mounts

Every square inch of storage is absolutely crucial. When your interior is full, you might want to look to the exterior.

A roof rack is placed…er…on the roof of the vehicle. You can use this rack to carry extra luggage bags, kayaks, and other items. A bike rack can be fixed on the roof or rear of the vehicle too.

Mounts are used for carrying tools and containers like fuel canisters. We’ve already discussed the issue of fuel when SHTF, and mounts are one step towards a solution.

Paint and armor

Keeping a low profile is very important in an anarchist world. You don't want to attract trouble so make sure your paint job is non-too flashy.

Armor is always a good idea if you anticipate direct hostility towards you and your vehicle. Bulletproof windows and reinforced body panels, though pricey, can be installed without any problems.

Bullbars are a good way of protecting your car's facia as you blast through a sea of zombies on the highway.


You can also make a bunch of tactical modifications and additions to your vehicle. A sunroof or hatch is a great vantage point for a gunner for example, and it can also be used as an emergency exit from the vehicle.

Real GPS and police scanners are good for acquiring real-time knowledge about your surroundings. Police scanners allow you to surf the airwaves for emergency respondent messages that could prove crucial.

You should also stock your vehicle with various self-defense items like pepper spray and smoke grenades to help you evade troublemakers and animals.

What to keep in mind when choosing a DYI bug out vehicle

As we have seen, different preppers have varying needs when it comes to bug-out rides. However, there are some universal considerations. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Availability of parts
  • Reliability
  • Off-road capability
  • Storage capacity
  • Towing capacity
  • Fuel efficiency
  • Conspicuity (does it stand out too much?)
  • DIY repairability
  • Sleeping accommodations
  • Vehicle age
  • Ownership and service history (if used)
  • Mechanic inspection report (if used)
  • Fuel type
  • Fuel capacity

DIY Bug Out Vehicle Conclusions

DIY vehicle customization is a great way to bring your dream survival vehicle to life.

There are plenty of mod-friendly vehicles to choose from, as well as an unlimited number of upgrades that will prepare your vehicle for the great dystopia to come.

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Hi, I'm Russ!

I've been prepping for a long time, but 2020 convinced me that I need to take it to the next level.

This website started as a way to keep me going forward on the path to being better prepared.

Now, I’m turning it into a complete blueprint for anyone else looking to do the same!
Russell M. Morgan
Telson Survival

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