Like everyone else, I’ve been swept up in the calamity surrounding COVID-19. Before things got really crazy, though, I had the foresight to buy some used exercise equipment in preparation for when the gyms shut down. Then, when the pandemic really started to take hold, I found myself traveling to multiple grocery stores to get friends and family what they needed.
The entire time, my 1998 Chevy Astro van made life a lot easier. Its cavernous cargo area easily swallowed up the gigantic elliptical that I had purchased, and the van carried groceries and supplies for multiple families with ease.
Shortly after the pandemic got underway, an earthquake hit the area where I live. During that time, the Astro Van proved a reliable evacuation transport for me and my pets, as we hurried to check on my elderly parents.
I should also mention that the Astro is an all-wheel-drive (AWD)—so it’s basically the perfect vehicle to own during a disaster or an emergency. The van can go anywhere and haul anything. You could even live in it if necessary.
Driving my van these last couple of weeks got me thinking: What are the best vehicles to own during an emergency or disaster situation? Here’s my take.
1. Chevy Astro AWD Cargo Van
As you can tell from my commentary above, I’m partial to Astro vans—especially those with AWD.
Astros are built on a truck frame and have a reasonably dependable 4.3L V6 engine under the hood. Also, versions of the van with AWD are fairly capable off-road due to their rear-wheel drive-bias layout.
The only downside: Chevy stopped making the Astro in 2005. Because these vans are old now, most of them need work. But if you’re handy with a wrench, they’re pretty easy to keep up and running.
Eventually, I plan on converting my Astro into a camper van.
It’s also worth noting that the Chevy Astro has a twin, the GMC Safari, which is equally as capable.
2. Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4×4 Cargo Van
The Mercedes Sprinter makes the ultimate camper or survival van—if you can afford one. Rear-wheel-drive versions of the Sprinter 2500 start at nearly $35,000, and adding four-wheel drive capability tacks on close to $14,000 more. This makes the van a pretty expensive toy.
But the Sprinter offers unparalleled versatility, thanks to the variety of available wheelbase and roof options. Plus, you can get the van with a 3.0L turbodiesel V6 engine turning out 188 horsepower and 325 lb.-ft. of torque. And the Sprinter 2500 offers up to. 532.6 cu.ft of cargo volume. That means you could convert a Sprinter into a camper, then go live somewhere far away from society (if you wanted to) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
3. Mercedes G-Class SUV
If you’ve got money to burn, the Mercedes G-Class is the perfect vehicle to keep stashed away in case of a disaster. With a base price of over $130,000, the G-Class makes the Sprinter look like a bargain.
Still, despite its massive price tag, the over-the-top SUV has earned a loyal following, in part because there’s nothing else like it—and because it can destroy nearly anything in its path.
Outside, the G-Class sports a brutish appearance, complete with a prominent brush guard surrounding the grill. But inside, it’s pure luxury, with leather upholstery and available massaging seats. So, if you’re stuck inside the cabin for an extended period of time, at least you’ll be comfortable. Also, the G-Class sports four-wheel-drive, locking differentials, and a powerful V8 engine.
Even if society is starting to crumble, the German-built SUV will get you where you need to go.
4. Toyota Tacoma Pickup Truck/4Runner SUV
The Toyota Tacoma pickup truck and its platform-mate, the 4Runner SUV, are two of the most dependable vehicles ever built. It’s this unwavering reliability that makes the pair an excellent choice for surviving a disaster.
Each generation of Tacoma/4Runner seems equally as dependable. Autotrader has documented specimens with well over 500,000 miles on the odometer.
My personal Tacoma, a 2001 4×4, has racked up over 240,000 miles without any serious problems. The truck was given to me by my father and it has never let our family down.
Furthermore, both the Tacoma and the 4Runner offer serious off-road capability. Take, for example, the 2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD-Pro. The truck comes with a locking differential, desert air intake (with an inlet high above the truck’s windshield), and automated crawl control—everything you need to extract yourself from a challenging situation.
5. Ford Transit AWD Cargo Van
Starting in 2020, for the first time ever, the Ford Transit is now available with all-wheel drive. AWD capability transforms the massive cargo van—with its equally massive interior—into a go-anywhere survival machine. Power comes from an available 3.5L EcoBoost V6 engine (a de-tuned version of the same engine that’s in the F-150 Raptor) paired with an advanced 8-speed automatic transmission.
You can also outfit the Transit with the latest technology, such as the SYNC 3 infotainment system and 4G LTE Wi-Fi. That way, you can stay connected if disaster strikes.
The big van definitely offers enough interior space (and enough gadgets) to make a decent temporary shelter.
6. Jeep Wrangler Rubicon SUV
Right out of the box, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is ready to tackle the toughest terrain. The first version of the SUV, which was introduced in 2003, comes with a long list of impressive equipment, including locking front and rear differentials, a factory-installed suspension lift, and 31-inch tires.
The 2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon still comes with lockers at both ends and a suspension lift. Plus, the latest version gets a sway bar disconnect system and 33-inch tires.
In other words, if you need to crawl, forge, or climb to get out of a potentially deadly situation, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon has you covered.
7. AMC Eagle Wagon
Laugh if you must, but I think the American Motor Corporation (AMC) Eagle would do well in a disaster climate—as long as you could find one that actually runs. I mean, just think about it: it’s a wagon, it has four-wheel-drive and an available 8-track player. What more could you ask for?
Seriously though, you could totally throw down a mattress and live inside an Eagle wagon. Also, the Eagle can handle tough terrain because it has a four-wheel-drive system that the now-defunct AMC pillaged from its Jeep line.
Many consider the AMC Eagle to be the first crossover SUV—and I think it could also be a super-handy vehicle to have in a disaster. The only trick would be keeping its 30-plus-year-old drivetrain chugging along.
Drive a disaster-ready vehicle you’re passionate about
During the pandemic, my Astro has given me fleeting moments of happiness and relief. I enjoy driving my van and I take pride in the level of capability it provides. That’s the type of vehicle you want to own during an emergency—one that can both protect you physically and enhance your mental state.