If things get bad, you will probably want to stay put – if where you are when things go bad is a relatively safe area. But what if you need to bug out? And how about staying mobile in a S hitting the F scenario? Here are some thoughts – from the perspective of a guy who’s been test-driving new cars for more than 20 years – and fiddling with old cars for a lot longer than that:
* Hybrids –
This might strike you as a strange choice, but consider: Hybrids have tremendous range – as much as 600 miles on about 12 gallons of gas (the current Prius). If you’re bugging out, you don’t want to have to stop for anything – much less gas, which might not be available. Hybrids are also stealthy. Most can operate in EV – electric vehicle – mode, which means they can be driven on just the batteries and motors. Silent running. Some (the plug-in version of the Prius, the Ford Fusion and – yup – the Chevy Volt) can be driven for a dozen or more miles – and at fairly high road speeds (as much as 100 MPH in the case of the Volt; close to 70 in the case of the plug-in Prius).In EV mode, these cars are whisper quiet – a potential life-saver in a situation where being noticed could be a life-ender.
Hybrids are also portable generators – literally. The onboard gas engine, in addition to providing motive power, also generates electrical power to charge the batteries. This could be tapped for other purposes. And hybrids with plug-in capability can be recharged using off-the-grid solar or wind or water generated electricity. Even if there’s no gas to be had, if there’s juice, you’ll be mobile.
While new hybrids are pretty pricey, used ones can be purchased for reasonable money. Keep in mind that the Prius has been in mass production for more than a decade. There are lots of them out there. You could probably buy an older model in good shape for less than $10,000. And the Prius isn’t the only hybrid, either. Honda has been making hybrid versions of the Civic for many years now – and there are hybrid versions of many popular cars (and trucks, too). Just be sure to confirm that the battery pack is in good order. Then, park it under a tarp – or in the garage – for just-in-case.
* Mid-’90s GM (or Ford) “Boat” –
Do you remember the Shamu the Whale Caprice GM made from circa 1990-1996? The same-era (and through 2011, the final model year) Ford Crown Victoria (and its sister car, the Mercury Marquis)? These big sleds were – and continue to be – hugely popular with cops and taxi drivers, which is a strong endorsement of their merits as S hitting the F mobiles. They are basically trucks that look like cars – built on heavy steel frames and featuring rugged suspensions (solid axle rear ends, coil spring front ends, beefy stamped steel control arms, etc.). They can run over a concrete center divider at 60 MPH and not break. They have simple, durable, easy to keep going almost forever V-8s under their flight deck hoods that can (and do) routinely go for 300,000-plus miles – and unlike the latest multi-turbo’d, direct-injected, variable cam-timed and cylinder deactivated engines, can be economically rebuilt by a home mechanic to go another 300k. They have room enough inside – and in the trunk – to carry several people and a large quantity of essential supplies, including a few 5 gallon cans to make up for the V-8’s thirst.
The best part, though, may be the price you can expect to pay. Which is not much. The NADA “blue book” value for a ’96 Caprice in excellent condition is under $1,800 (see here). GM also offered a station wagon version of the Caprice (also sold as the Buick Roadmaster) that’s even roomier – and has all the S hitting the F virtues of the sedan.
PS: Older “boats” from the ’80s (and ’70s) are a good choice too, but I plug these ’90s-era GM and Ford boats in particular because they are modern enough (courtesy of electronic fuel injection and overdrive transmissions, chiefly) to be extremely durable, reliable, fairly fuel-efficient everyday drivers that require very little in the way of elaborate or expensive maintenance . . . but not too modern, unlike current-era cars – which can be crippled and rendered so much redneck lawn sculpture by relatively minor electrical/computer glitches that might be tough to fix (or get fixed) if the S hits F.
* Diesels made prior to circa 2005 –
You may have noticed that the cost of diesel fuel has gone up – and the posted mileage numbers of new diesels has gone down. Also that many of the current crop require periodic top-offs with agricultural urea (sold under the more pleasant-sounding name, AdBlue or Diesel Exhaust Fluid). The reason for all three is the need to comply with the latest federal emissions requirements, which have had the unintended consequence of rendering current diesels more expensive to buy – and less efficient to operate.
As regards a S hitting the F scenario, the relevant consideration is not so much cost as the fact that you will need to feed the thing urea (AdBlue, DEF, etc.) which it will not run without if the tank runs dry. All current diesel-powered cars with urea injection (which is almost all of them) are set up to automatically immobilize themselves (engine can’t be restarted or the car can’t be driven faster than a crawl) if it’s operated for more than a pre-programmed distance without sufficient urea in the tank. And urea/AdBlue/DEF may be hard to come by if the system comes unglued. In which case, your diesel vehicle would be dead in the water.
Another new diesel negative related to the impact of the latest emissions control regulations is that the new diesels, as a rule, cannot burn biodiesel – the stuff you can brew yourself. Or at least, the stuff that can be brewed without need of an industrial scale refinery (and fossil fuels).
The older diesels can burn waste vegetable oil and many other things besides. That’s what you want in a S hitting the F scenario.
Current-era diesel powered are also afflicted with particulate filters that need to regularly “regenerate” – which requires them to be operated at a steady-state (and fairly high) speed for a given period of time in order to burn off accumulated soot in the trap. In normal (current) life, that’s not an issue. But if things become not normal – and it’s not feasible (or safe) to go out on the highway for the 15-20 minutes or so at 60 MPH it takes to “regenerate” the particulate filter – you could have a problem car on your hands. One that won’t be ready to go when you desperately need to get going – or which won’t go very far (or very fast) when you need it to.
Older diesels are also simpler – and more rugged – designs. That’s another plus.
Remember the old Chris Farley skit about living in a van down by the river? In an S hitting the F situation, that wouldn’t be a bad deal at all. Rivers are a source of fresh (because moving) water and (potentially) food (fish). But why a conversion van over an RV? Both are homes on wheels – mobile shelter. But a conversion van – a vehicle like the current Ford Econoline series and Dodge Ram van – or the Chevy Van and Astro van of the ’80s – is much more mobile (being smaller) much quicker and faster – and far more fuel-efficient. A V-8 powered van like the Econoline, Chevy Van or Ram series van can also be muscle car quick – and when you need to make tracks in a critical situation, that’s an invaluable attribute. Traditional conversion vans are also built on heavy-duty, truck-type chassis – and are beefy enough to batter through almost anything. But perhaps the chief advantage of a conversion van is that it doesn’t stick out as much – which means it doesn’t attract as much attention. I read a feature article recently (see here) about a guy who – to save money – lived in his van while attending graduate school. He parked it in the student parking lot – and no one was ever the wiser.
PS: Ford currently sells (in addition to the full-size Econoline) a neat little van called the Transit Connect (review here) that sells for just over $20k brand-new. It’s been out about two years now, so you could probably find a nice used one for around $14k or so. The Econoline (and Ram and Chevy) vans have been around for decades. Should be easy to find one in your price range – and then you can rig it up to suit.
This is arguably the most desirable S hitting the F type of car. Being debt-free means you aren’t in hock to the banksters – and with no monthly payment hanging over your head, there’s less pressure to meet other expenses – like your mortgage (and food). Perhaps even more important, you can put the money that would have gone toward monthly payments to other, more critical things – like a bug out buggy.
Throw it in the Woods?
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