The 5 Best Cars For The Apocalypse
When the end of civilization as we know it comes…what will you drive? That’s one of the first questions to pop to my mind when it comes to The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, The Stand or other post-apocalypse fare. Not to mention the Mad Max series, which pretty much bases itself around this question.
It’s not really that absurd or obsessive a consideration. After all (concerns of long-term fuel availability aside), when it comes to being able to get away from trouble, a vehicle is going to be one of your most important pieces of survival equipment. A car or truck can also provide protection from the elements and help to haul loads that are too heavy to carry.
Everyone’s got a favorite "zombie-fighting" vehicle, of course, but what would you really want to drive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland? The topic has been much discussed over repeat viewings of "The Walking Dead" at my house. Is the key really to jump into the first Humvee or armored HEMMT you can find and not look back? Not necessarily.
I’m not talking about modified battle cars. If you’re going to strap on armor and smash into your enemies, grab up all the Toyota Camrys and Chevy Camaros that you can and go to town. What I’m considering is more fundamental transportation, the vehicle that’s going to carry the most supplies, take you the farthest, and be the most reliable. Adding armor and weapons to protect yourself from hostile mutants is another discussion entirely.
It’s possible that I’ve thought about this more than most. While doing research for the post-apoc novels I wrote, I actually built and drove an after-the-end vehicle for two years. I chopped the roof off a Volvo 240 wagon, renamed it “Chewbacca,” and prepared it for life in the Outback. In the process, I learned a lot about what you really want in a vehicle in your average burned-out wasteland. Hint: it’s not a bunch of metal spikes and a flamethrower.
Reliability and repairability are more important than spikes and armor.
Reliability and repairability are more important than spikes and armor. Give me plentiful parts or ease of modification over a fuel-wasting flamethrower any day. While it’s true you can fabricate anything, given enough time and ingenuity, there’s something to be said for NOT having to re-engineer an exotic suspension component. Part of the reason I chose a Volvo 240 for Chewbacca was the car’s well-earned reputation for bulletproof operation, not to mention relatively plentiful parts stores. That’s changed over the years, unfortunately. The last 240 was built over 20 years ago, so they’re getting scarce. As a result, I’ve had to reconsider my shortlist.
Of course, the pragmatic short answer to the question, "What’s the best car to have after an apocalypse?" is "whatever you have that is running." But, assuming you’re picking through the deserted remains of your home town to find wheels and have your choice of vehicles, here’s some food for thought.
Note: 2015 Ford F-150 pictured here.
Full-size pickups are born workhorses. Now, brand loyalty is a tetchy subject for truck lovers, and I’m not taking sides here. All of the modern full-size pickups are good choices for tough, capable vehicles. The Dodge Ram, Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan are all good trucks as well, but they exist in smaller numbers, and that’s the advantage Ford and Chevy have. No matter where you go, you’re likely to be able to find a truck with matching parts to scavenge from, or even an abandoned Ford or Chevy dealer with parts. It’s also a good idea to select similar vehicles where possible, so that they can share spare parts.
Note: current Jeep Wrangler shown here.
Jeep’s signature SUV is the rawest and most hostile-territory-ready vehicle available off of the showroom floor. The Wrangler has forced its drivers to compromise from the beginning, with a harsh ride, cramped interior and other quirks, and it’s all because it’s been waiting for the day when it’s needed to go overland. A well-driven stock Wrangler will go just about anywhere you need it to go, with mule-like tenacity. Obviously, if you can find a Rubicon, it’s carrying a host of off-road-ready modifications from the factory, and that’s a perk.
Read our speculative review on the 2018 Jeep Wrangler here.
Note: 2005 - 2009 Toyota Hilux shown here.
Moving away from new vehicles, the Toyota pickup’s reputation for being unkillable makes it a good choice as a post-apoc vehicle. The current generation of Toyota Tacoma is a fine truck, but the real gems are the 2005 and older pickups, which still carry the DNA of the legendary Hilux, known worldwide for reliability and tenacity. Toyota uses four- and six-cylinder engines, so these smaller trucks will also be easier on fuel than full-size pickups. An honorable mention goes to the pre-2008 Toyota 4Runner, which also shares its guts with the Hilux.
Read our review of the 2005 - 2009 Toyota Hilux here.
note: 1950 VW Type 2 T1 shown here.
While this definition is mostly shorthand for "original Beetle," the 1950 Volkswagen Type 2 T1 also falls under this category. So does the less common VW Thing, and the much less practical 1955 - 1974 Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia. The biggest advantage of the old Volkswagens is the simplicity of the air-cooled engine, of course. Although old, they’re easy to repair and keep running even if you don’t have a lot of mechanical savvy, and have a reputation for being extremely tolerant of bad conditions and poor fuel. The rear-engine, rear-drive platform is also highly flexible, allowing a wide range of bodies to be adapted to it. Most of the dune buggies you see used as minimalist apocalypse vehicles have Beetle underpinnings.
Read our review on the 1950 Volkswagen Type 2 T1 here.
W114/115/123 Mercedes diesel
Note:1953 - 1976 Mercedes E-class shown here.
Mercedes’ mass-market sedans have always been tanks, but my personal weapon of choice would be a diesel-burner built between 1968 and 1985. That’s a wide range, and Mercedes diesels aren’t always plentiful, considering their age. What they are, is nearly indestructible. Unlike the equally elderly Volvo 240, if you find an old Mercedes diesel, it’s probably running. Mercedes’ classic diesels often outlive their owners, and it seems like an estate sale is about the only way to get ahold of one. But if you find a nice one, you can bomb around the wasteland in relative comfort. The older Mercedes diesels are also easy to convert to run on biodiesel and all manner of found fuels, so you won’t be as dependent on that precious gasoline to keep it running.
Read our review on the 1953 - 1976 Mercedes E-class here..