Oh, the wretched indecision…

I’m in the middle of a practical debate right now, trying to decide the particular branding of vehicle I’m going to make into my BOV. I know…I’ve already stated the XJ Cherokee is IT. But upon careful review of local resources, there are precious few of the things around me, and seemingly millions of Explorers. What’s a prepper to do?

Why, go straight to the knowledge source, that’s what!

Having established all the pros and cons already for the Cherokee platform, I paid a visit to http://www.explorerforum.com and posited my question: Can anyone tell me in comparative terms how the Ford Explorer stacks up against the Jeep Cherokee?

For anyone who’s interested, the specific thread can be followed here: http://www.explorerforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=419161 . I’m waiting for a response…

Planning my BOV. Establishing my needs for mission success.

After much consideration I’ve firmly decided that my BOV will be based on a Jeep Cherokee and NOT a Ford Explorer. Even though the Explorers cover the Earth here where I live, the Jeep is just so much cheaper and, ummm, hardy, than the Ford.

As I’ve been cruising Craigslist and Ebay and blah blah blah for potential XJ’s, I’ve also been mulling over features and functions I want to incorporate into my BOV.

For anyone who’s considering the ramifications of a true bug out scenario, the reality of most disaster events is that you can’t just hike a half mile into the woods, throw up a tent and roast marshmallows. Just ask the folks from New Orleans.
People get infatuated with the adventure of a bug out, as if it’s all just a chapter in an exciting novel. But seriously, there are people who fled Katrina who have NEVER been able to go back. Think about that.
That sobering image brings to the fore one of the biggest points I’m thinking about in plotting out my rig…long range capability. I’ve read that there are much larger fuel tanks that are direct factory replacements, so that’s going to be one of the first upgrades I make.

As I sat thinking about the ramifications of a much larger fuel supply, I began to think about what I’d be running from. Any prepper will tell you the fact that no matter how much you prepare, how many thousands of $$$ you throw at your preps, how much you study and network and learn, you’ll never ever be prepared for everything.

In order to keep your sanity, you HAVE to (as I did) take a notepad and pen and make a list of every disaster that could happen in your area, and then rearrange them according to likelihood of occurrence. Number one should be the most likely event that could mess up your life. Then you plan for that. My number one possibility here (in north-central Alabama) is a regular power outage, followed by a tornado. That’s probably the first disaster with the greatest chance of forcing a bug out, so there’s a distinct possibility that in the worst situation, I’m going to have to travel somewhere, and probably over back country roads with lots of downed trees.

I think that a good thing here would be to share the list of potential disasters for my area that I came up with. They are listed in order of probability:

Power Outage
Tornado
Auto Accident
Hurricane
Flood
EMP
Economic Meltdown
Pandemic
Sudden and Unexpected Unemployment
Reactor Meltdown
Wildfire
Earthquake
Landslide
Dirty Bomb
Nuclear Strike
Tsunami
Yellowstone Caldera Explosion

Make another mental image here…

The storied EMP burst, sixth down my list, has happened. You wake up, not to a flashing 12:00 on your alarm clock…but to no power at all. And you won’t have any power for probably a year from now as the entire national power grid and supporting infrastructure is rebuilt.

Remember…the EMP not only took out the power generation systems, but it also surged through and destroyed every electronic device stored in warehouses across the country. The replacement transformers the power guys would have hung on poles everywhere are dead too. In fact, any electronic device not shielded in a “Farraday cage”, an enclosed and grounded metal box, will be shorted out by an EMP burst.

So that leads me into another group of ideas about my BOV. As unlikely as an EMP burst might be, it’s not really a complicated or expensive thing to prepare for one. Soooo….

I want to “deelectronilize” my BOV. I want to eliminate the computer controls, convert it from electronic fuel injection to a carburetor setup, and convert the transmission from electronic control to mechanical controls. And here’s where I leave you for now, as I go to research the possibilities.

Compare and Contrast

So now I’m doing some research into the Ford Explorer versus the Cherokee. Apparently around my area, the Cherokee just isn’t nearly as common and available as the Explorer. So far, I’m having trouble justifying the Ford because it was originally intended as more of a comfortable SUV than capable. It’s heavier, bulkier, and many things about it just don’t signify “disaster-ready”.
Well…time will tell.fordexplorer1

BOV

Gargantua

Credit for this picture goes to an unknown member of the JeepForum.com forum. Beautiful Cherokee! If I’m contacted with a name, I’ll be glad to post it for credit here.

A BOV is a Bug Out Vehicle. It’s the thing everybody looks for when disaster strikes and they have to get out of Dodge quick! But even though its name carries an apocalyptic ring to it, its true nature and purpose can be a lot more benign.

When you mention to someone that you’ve been working on your preps, or that you’re a prepper, images of camouflage and AR15 rifles and using a five gallon bucket for a toilet spring to mind in a lot of people. There’s nothing like a good joke or talking about my disaster pantry that will bring a smile to people’s faces quickly. Then I ask them how they handled the major tornadoes that came through our area back in April of 2011, and they tend to sober up. Focus comes with a slap of reality.

See, a BOV isn’t just for pulling a Red Dawn sprint to the hills when the Russians parachute into town. Here we’ve seen the aforementioned tornadoes, a couple hurricanes that made it this far north, and untold episodes of two or more days without power. Throw in a blizzard like back in 1993, and it rapidly turns into a week of wow it’s cold in here but thankfully I’m so hungry I didn’t notice.

Back then my brother had a little Mazda 323 that we got out in to make a kerosene run about six or seven miles away…fun times that took a couple hours. But it sure would have been nice to have a fully-competent four wheel drive preloaded with extra fuel and equipment. Nobody’s cracking jokes when they’re getting pulled out of the ditch by the guy with the Bug Out Vehicle.

So that’s my philosophy…look realistically at my potential disaster scenarios and prepare accordingly. Back to the BOV…

As I formulated an ideal in my mind of the vehicle I need in order to survive whatever comes, I began to look around me. I happen to sell auto parts for a living, so I have a closer-than-most understanding of which vehicles are more suited for such. Enter the Jeep Cherokee XJ body. That’s the small, box-shaped SUV to most folks…like an S-10 Blazer or a Ford Explorer, but truthfully not quite as handsome.

So what qualified the XJ in my mind? There were many pertinent and deciding factors. Let’s look at a few requirements I had, and we’ll home in on my BOV as we go:

  1. Reliability. Whatever vehicle I would finally settle on had to be reliable. It couldn’t be one of those prima-donna night-on-the-town SUV wannabe’s that celebrities like to tool around in, pretending to be “just like the common man”. Some negatories on this list of no-show vehicles are…
    1. Anything European. You are a disaster waiting to happen, Land Rover. Mercedes, out. The Bimmer is looking dimmer.
    2. Anything excessively dressed up, decked out, frilly. The gimmicks don’t get it out in the wild. All the exterior plastic add-ons, the bling bling, the entertainment packages, and especially the Big Brother OnStar junk…nope. Practicality rules, and in the event the fabled EMP burst struck overhead, the remote tv setup will be junk anyway. When it comes to procuring replacement parts down the road, if it’s not bone stock and as plain as an Amish girl churning butter, it’s a handicap.
    3. Anything larger than my (to be decided) needs. Suburbans, Excursions, Hummers and other rolling continents just aren’t the thang when fuel shortages hit and I’ve got to cut a trail up a narrow washout.
    4. The Japanese entries. I had mixed feelings here…my Tacoma is super-reliable and a really really good truck. But the downer is that the 3.4 liter V6 inside is a timing belt DOHC aluminum-headed money pit in a breakdown scenario. I once priced a long-block from Toyota for someone else…$11,000.
      E L E V E N  T H O U S A N D dollars! Can you say, “blown head gasket equals pretty new lawn decoration”? As much as I love my Toyota, it’s just NOT a good survival scenario vehicle. And the same goes for the Nissans, the Mazdas and any other Japanese truck. You’ll get me here in a bit.
    5. Car-based SUV’s. The Pontiacs, Buicks, Cadillacs, Ford Escapes and all the rest…you know who you are!…need not apply. You are posers.
  2. Popularity. Whichever vehicle I finally went with had to be a popular choice. Why? After doomsday the distribution systems may break down completely. Trucks may not be able to run over destroyed highway infrastructure. And if electronic systems go down, the trucks may not be able to crank up. Parts availability for inevitable breakdowns is a necessity. So, the more popular a vehicle is, the more likely I’ll be able to find salvage parts when I need them if I can’t get new parts through stores or dealerships.
    With that reasoning, we can still safely include pretty much all of the domestic manufacturers.
  3. Capability. My BOV has to be able to get me where I need to be, no matter what obstacles come up. I may have to haul several people. My at-home family numbers three, and when you count my mom and dad and 95-year-old grandmother next door, we’re looking at six people. If three days into a blizzard situation someone has a surprise heart attack, I want to be able to get them to a hospital as soon as possible. Can’t depend on ambulances, or even law enforcement vehicles, in a SHTF scenario.
    I may also have to tow a trailer. Or pull someone out of a ditch. We begin to see that four cylinder engines are out…just not enough power without expensive and offbeat turbo or supercharger systems.
    And if I’m hauling six people, a pickup is a no-go. Four wheel drive is a given. So, basically, I’m narrowing the field down to SUV-type vehicles. Enclosed trucks with enough horsepower to carry six people and baggage and tow a trailer over inhospitable terrain.
    But we can’t be too frivolous here. We have to keep in mind that fuel may be in short supply, so overly-wasteful trucks are out. We can mitigate things there by avoiding V8’s. So if we drop the V8’s and we’ve already abandoned the four cylinders, that leaves us with six-bangers and the odd five cylinder GM product if we want to be relatively fuel-efficient.
    But there’s a key word…odd. The Trailblazers and Envoys and other 5-cylinder GM SUV’s are just too out of the common arena to be viable contenders when SHTF. Their ignition systems are overly-complex, and even the ones with no OnStar have circuitry that I’m not too confident isn’t telling somebody somewhere, where I am. Noooope.

So where, exactly, has this brought us to? What vehicles that have made the cut so far are in our list? Let’s see…I may miss a couple, but the way I see it, it looks like this:

  1. Chevrolet S-10 Blazer
  2. Dodge Durango
  3. Ford Bronco II
  4. Ford Explorer
  5. Jeep Cherokee

Now…looking down this list, there are only two that I don’t consider to be “bloated”. That is, a basically good design hampered by over-comfort. The level of comfort required in a vehicle is subjective I know, but I’m comfortable with bare-bones military grade sparsity. So even the least among these are relative leisure wagons. However, we can go ahead and strike the Chevy, the Dodge and the Explorer from the list, leaving only the Ford Bronco II and the Jeep Cherokee.

Looking further for negatives, the Bronco II bowed out in 1990, having only the rather odd 2.9 V6 as its largest offering. Although it gets points for great maneuverability in the woods with its short wheelbase, it falls off the table in cargo capacity and general performance.

Looks like we have a winner, and I hope that you can see, when I followed the logical procession of my particular needs and wants, there really was no other choice.

I began here to get into a long diatribe on the why’s and how’s of choosing different components of the Cherokee. To keep this already-long post from growing ever longer, I’ll just summarize.

  1. Engine – 4.0l six cylinder.
  2. Transmission – AW4 automatic.
  3. Transfer Case – 231.
  4. Front Axle – Dana 30.
  5. Rear Axle – Chrysler 8.25”.

Once I had hashed out the necessities, thanks to several online forum member experiences, I began to examine which years of XJ’s had all of these components. It appears that the 1991 through 1999 models are the ideal targets, and the 1999 is hands-down the favorite among owners as having the very best of the best. Seems as if the 2000-2002 models had head cracking issues, which takes them out of the picture.

So…to end this tonight, I’m going to Craigslist now to set up a filtered search, and monitor posts through email. We’ll see what washes up on the shore.

In future posts I’m going to get into exactly how I’m going to set up the Jeep for SHTF scenarios.

I’m getting there…

Not our car, but it looks just like it. 2004 Ford Taurus SES.

Not to be a slacker here, but I haven’t begun really chatting about disaster preparation equipment because I’ve been busy with other projects. One of those is the lack of functioning headlights on the wife’s car.

And it’s turned into a major mystery. A couple years ago I had the opportunity to salvage parts from a similar vehicle that had burned under the hood. One of those parts was a headlight switch, but it didn’t help in this situation. I also tried another multifunction switch on the column, which has the dimmer function built in. No go, but I’m glad I didn’t have to buy that $100 item…yikes!

Neither the low or high beams will come on. Not even with the “flash to pass” function. Every other light on the car, inside and out, works. The high beam indicator on the instrument cluster is on full time. I just don’t get it…yet.

We had gone to a local restaurant Monday night, and everything was working fine. Went in, ate, came back out, and I cranked the car. It sounded a little…different…when it cranked up, and the exhaust smelled weird. But it was running ok. I twisted the headlight switch knob, and nothing. I drove home, about twelve miles, with no headlights. Emergency flashers only.

I combed the internet, but so far every lead I’ve found has been a bust. I finally found a complete wiring schematic for the lighting system, and so when I have time and daylight I’m going to trace every possible circuit.

Right now my theory is a simple short between a power wire and the high beam circuit, because that’s the only way the high beam indicator can possibly be burning. This isn’t a very complicated wiring setup, and there’s no mysterious black box controlling all of it. Just switches and fuses and relays.

It’s frustrating, but I’ve just got to be patient and follow every possibility. Fortunately, my wife goes into work after daylight and gets home way before dark, so there’s no forced vehicular downtime. It’s just an irritation to my OCD that I’ve got a vehicle that’s not 100% ready for duty.

The boy scout in me is crying.