Tuesday, October 22, 2013

TUTORIAL - Guest Article: The Bug-out Vehicle - Part 1

Preparing a live-in, self dependent bunker is ideal, but what if you need to get out of civilisation all together, be it for a short or prolonged period.  A 72 hour bag will get you so far on foot, but to truly have the versatility to bug out for long stays, or cover long distances, you might consider a bug out-able vehicle.

Regardless of what you have to work with, be it a hatchback or an F-truck, the principles are the same.  First and foremost, you need to consider your vehicle strategy and how that is going to guide any preparations and/or modifications you will need.  You will effectively be turning your vehicle into a “Tourer”, be it 4WD, 2WD, 2 wheeled or otherwise.  The setup will be largely dependent on the vehicle, but only limited by your imagination and ingenuity.

The most important thing is getting to know your vehicle.  This includes its basic mechanicals, its fuel economies (on road, off road, highway driving) and its operating limits.

Mechanically, understand where basic things like fluid levels can be checked and topped up, along with what type of fluids are required (engine oil grades, hydraulic fluid, radiator coolant), spark plugs, tyres and tyre changing, batteries and fuses.  Many roadside breakdowns can be attributed to simple things that could be easily fixed, if you had the gear available (broken fuses, change a tyre, spare oil, etc).  Also, familiarise yourself with things like the steering system, suspension, drive-line components, exhaust system and the chassis and bodywork.  You don’t necessarily need to be a qualified mechanic, just be confident enough to recognise if something isn’t as it should be, which is as simple as doing a visual inspection, checking bolts, nuts and generally poking things.  If you consider yourself “mechanically challenged”, next time you have the car in for a service have a chat to your mechanic about what was done.  They do it for a living, and you pay them for their expertise, so why not pick their brain a bit too.  Most are more than happy to have a chat about car stuff.

Fuel economy is probably the most vital part of any vehicular planning.  It will determine how far you can get, where you will go and how much spare fuel you might need to carry.  If you have a secluded spot in mind, ensure your vehicle has the range to get there AND get back again.  As a rule of thumb, consider your vehicle’s normal range to be reduced by at least 25% when loaded up, and even further reduced depending on the terrain you are travelling on.  Dirt roads may not seem that much worse to drive on, but your vehicle does work harder in all respects, using more juice in doing so.  Carrying spare fuel is a good way to increase your range, but be aware of the safety aspects involved.

 Carrying fuel inside a vehicle is not only illegal in most places, it’s downright stupid.  The fumes are poisonous and the material highly flammable.  Petrol fumes can be ignited by a spark up to 20m away, so seriously consider how you handle and store the stuff.  You can buy behind seat tanks that have external venting kits, but this is probably not a viable option for most.  A good sealing jerry can strapped onto a roof rack is a very simple, economical solution.  Always check your local regulations regarding fuel transportation (see your transport department or auto club).

Operating limits are something that any driver would experience whenever they get behind the wheel of their vehicle.  It comes down to knowing how your vehicle responds to your inputs and how it all feels when driving.  This includes, but is by no means limited to; the pick up when you accelerate; how responsive the brakes are; how responsive the steering is; what degree of body roll you experience when loaded (especially at speed); what is the most ergonomic and comfortable seating position.  Understanding your vehicle allows you to tailor your driving style, be it focussing on economy, long distance driving or dirt and off-road driving, just to name a few scenarios.  Whilst Australian highways often have a limit of 100km/h, most vehicles run at their best economy doing 80-90km/h.  Whether you’re in a survival situation, or taking the family on a weekend drive in the country, it’s always better reach your destination in one piece than not at all.  The difference that travelling 10km/h faster actually makes is roughly 5 minutes over a 100km distance.  What are those 5 minutes really worth?

Also consider your vehicle’s limits on different terrains.  In the instance of off road vehicles, know when a track is not worth attempting to drive.  It’s really not worth damaging or wrecking your vehicle, especially if you’re in the middle of nowhere.  If you do intend to embark on serious off-roading, try to travel in convoy, or at least gain experience beforehand.  You wouldn’t take up mountain climbing and attempt Everest as your first climb, unless perhaps you’re suicidal!  Experience will teach you to think about where your wheels are, where your diffs and underbody components are and their clearance, how your vehicle tackles rough terrain, and so on.  Experience is invaluable when it comes to off road driving, as much as recovery equipment in case it goes wrong, so ensure to have both before jumping into the deep end.

We will go into more specifics regarding setup in future articles, but for now, get under the bonnet, get under the car, get behind the wheel, and really get to know that useful lump of metal that sits in your driveway.

- The Mad Wog

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