“Sane Prepping” Car/vehicle selection criteria

I realize there is A LOT of room for debate and preferences on this topic and everyone might be optimizing for slightly different scenarios, but I was curious if there were any top well balanced contenders, or even semi-universal criteria for selection of automotive transportation with an eye towards prepping?  Going with the theme of this site (“sane prepping”) I’m lobbying for criteria biased towards a combination of every day use but also some specialized use, also something that doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb (I am NOT interested in hummers, tactical/mad-max ready vehicles, or even cloth-covered Jeeps with snorkels).  I don’t want/need more than one car so a multitasker is ideal, though I’m open to upgrades like non-stock tires, non-obvious skid-plates, and removable roof cages, etc.

The criteria I’m thinking of so far include a lot of “normal” considerations:

  • Reliability/durability
  • Fuel economy (conceptually open to electric but feel like its still too specialized?)
  • Serviceability
  • Inconspicuousness/affordability
  • Safety/survivability
  • Cargo capacity (probably more than a sub-compact sedan, but nothing crazy big before it eats into fuel economy?)

The “Prepper” related extra considerations:

  • All wheel drive?
  • Higher () than average) ground clearance?
  • upgradability/the availability of upgrades (I imagine some car markets have more options than others?)?
  • at least light off-road capabilities (should be able to go over a curb/through light mud with confidence, maybe over small logs, but not planning on fording a river or scaling a boulder).

Anything obvious I miss?  Anything non-obvious that might be worth thinking about?  Also interested in  “upgrade” suggestions that I haven’t covered that might be generally applicable to any/most choices.

So far my limited research is making me wonder if a Subaru Outback might be worth looking into seriously?  I imagine the Jeep brand is popular, but I’m less sure about that for myself (but open to hearing more if you’re a fan).



  • Comments (7)

    • 5

      I have a built-up Jeep Wrangler for much of the same reasons/criteria you laid out. Partner has a Subaru, which was intentional for the AWD in sedan form, but with known limitations around ground clearance etc.

      This pic is from a recent field test with a Turtleback off-road trailer for an upcoming blog review. 35123523523

      I built it to not stick out as much as other Jeeps of similar capability. Think it turned out pretty well in that regard. If I took off the hi-lift jack and pull-pal (both are for off-road recovery) from the rear — you can see them sticking up above the spare tire — it would definitely not stick out too much.

      But it’s still capable of doing trails rated a 6-7 (out of 9) and is often the most “grayman” Jeep build out on serious trails.

      Since we’re on the topic, here’s some of the recovery gear in the Jeep, although it doesn’t touch on any of the core mechanical upgrades (aftermarket suspension, full skip plate coverage, etc.)

      For example, I put a steering stabilizer in to make the daily highway ride comfortable and controlled (avoiding the lifted-truck “death wobble” problem). It’s on a 2.5″ lift with 35″ tires. Even the tires were chosen to be a good compromise between daily-use and offroading. (I love my tires fwiw, Nitto Ridge Grapplers.)

      There’s an extra 10 gallons of fuel in a caddy behind the spare tire (you can see a black bit between the rear window and tire).

      There’s an air compressor pump under the hood so I can inflate tires, rafts, mattresses, etc.

      Coming back to your criteria… Reliability isn’t always easy to judge/pick ahead of time beyond broad-strokes about brands and models (particularly the powertrain). Obviously Toyota trucks are known to be tanks and I’d rather have a Toyota than something with less of a dependable reputation. But it’s always hit and miss to a degree.

      Regarding aftermarket availability, you’d be hard pressed to find anything better than the Jeep within the US.

      Other than the Wranglers/Gladiators, Toyota Tacoma and Tundras are good, Ford and Ram trucks seem fine (I almost got a Ford Raptor and have had multiple F-series and 1500/3500 Rams), the Land Rover types are great but expensive to keep in the US, and I’m excited to get my hands on the new Ford Bronco.

      If you decide to go the Subaru Outback route, just know that your offroading and clearance will be limited.

    • 3

      I love my Subaru crosstrek, although the trunk space is a bit lacking. The Outback would be a better choice in that area. I just didn’t like the look of it. But the Crosstrek hits all the points I was looking for in a vehicle for a prepper. Safe. AWD, inconspicuous, good gas mileage, decent clearance, nice handling, oil changes are so easy my 11 year old can do them. I’ve also changed several filters and spark plugs myself. Basically all the general maintenance stuff with little difficulty and I’m no mechanic. I rented, I think a Forrester on vacation once. It was a joy to drive with tons of space. I love Subarus. I doubt you’ll be disappointed with the Outback.

    • 3

      I traded my 2005 Tacoma 4wd for a 2018 Crosstrek.  I loved it but realized when the new Rav4 came out that I’m a Toyata loyalist.  So I traded my crosstrek for the 2019 Rav4 Hybrid.  It’s AWD and would meet many needs.  There is an “adventure” model that might be better.  I’m not a real prepper but the RAV 4 has a lot more room to store stuff or stretch out and sleep.  Both get outstanding gas mileage, obviously the RAV hybrid is slightly better.  My brother in law has has a Crosstrek since 2014 and loves it.  I’ve owned Toytotas since 1988 and never needed anything aside from regular maintenance. RAV 4 is very popular and won’t stick out.  If it were the apocalypse I’d be looking to carjack a rig like the Wrangler with Turtleback.  LOL.

    • 5

      My time for shopping for my next vehicle purchase has begun which has coincided with my relatively new interest in being a little more serious about prepping.  I love pick ups, (Tundra especially) but as I think about prepping and my day job, I’ve been going back and forth over whether an enclosed vehicle like an SUV (4runner for example) provides better options vs a pick up with an open bed, lockable cover, or even a cap.

      I’ve owned a Tundra in the past with a cap and that was pretty good for SAR work.  I own an equinox now and only use it for my day job driving around to people’s homes with some work equipment in the back.

      So for my next vehicle do I want everything part of my “cabin” or am I ok with a truck bed being separate?

      Thinking out loud.  Certainly interested in other’s thoughts.

      (BTW, I’ve had an H3 in the past and that was pretty fun- it just looked like a big jeep so it wasn’t too crazy)

      Oh, and pretty cool Jeep John.

      • 5

        I own a 4 runner and think it’s a great vehicle.  I like that you can keep things more secure. Only downside is not the best fuel economy.  However good cargo space,  I use front runner boxes to keep things a little better organized in the back area.  Also the off roading capability is really good even without modifications (though you might want to swap tires from stock.   You can even sleep in it in case of emergency:)  Good luck with your search there are many great options out there!

      • 3

        Thanks for the feedback on the 4 runner!!

    • 3

      Either Rich’s timing in posting this is just right or I happened to see it at just the right time. I’ve just surpassed 120K miles on my 2006 “Taco Ma”. Although it was given some new life -after a series of recalls (brand new frame, leaf springs, etc)- I’ve already started to think about the next vehicle and -of course!- how that vehicle would fit into my prepping. I haven’t settled on anything in particular and all the feedbacks to this post have already given me a lot to consider.