A really tough Bug Out Vehicle (BOV) can be quite expensive, and possibly beyond most people's ability to acquire and prepare. One also needs to ask how "serious" of a BOV can he/she actually afford to buy, maintain, and insure ?
BOVs can be viewed as being on a scale of 1 to 10 .. a Yugo being perhaps a 1, and a specially designed "escape" vehicle being perhaps a 10.
It's probably true that situations most likely to happen, can be handled by a BOV in the 4 - 6 range on that scale.
These would be some things to consider about an "adequate BOV" ...
1. Can get over most debris in the roadway that presents an obstacle
2. Can get through 18" or so of standing water on the roadway
3. Not overly vulnerable to debris in the roadway that could puncture tires
4. Provides decent security from threat by persons in or near the roadway
5. Ability to travel at least 400 miles on one fueling.
6. Can pull a heavy trailer or other load
7. Can carry a lot of gear and/or persons inside the vehicle
8. Moderate cost to purchase
9. Common enough mechanicals that parts can be acquired easily
10. A durable, proven design that has been in production for many years
11. Enough "hi-tech" to make the vehicle useful, but not so much as to make it overly vulnerable
12. Heavy chassis that will take considerable punishment
13. An outward appearance that does not attract attention, and blends into the "crowd" easily
14. Mechanically as simple as possible, using technologies that are as basic as possible.
15. Can go off-road to some extent
Although not the perfect vehicle, and probably vulnerable to EMP, I chose a used 2004 Ford E-150 van, 2-wheel drive, standard length, white in color. This one has the 5.4 L V8 engine (many thousands have been produced), the XLT interior package, privacy window glass, and very little else in the way of extras.
I chose the "window" van because it looks like thousands of others, including Church vans. It presents an appearance that is as American as apple pie. In addition, the E-150 (rather than the E-250 or E-350) is often regarded as "almost a car" rather than a "truck", when it comes to licensing and insurance. This can save you money and make the vehicle less conspicuous. Be aware that the E-150 (even with the changes listed below) can't carry the massive load that an E-350 carries, so don't overload it.
This E-150 didn't cost much to purchase used with about 90,000 miles on it, is fairly inexpensive to insure, and has a great highway safety rating by insurance companies. In one of these vans, when you are in an collision type of accident, it's probably the other vehicle that will be seriously damaged and its occupants injured.
Other reasons I chose this vehicle .. it's a Ford, and that name is fairly well-regarded in America these days. Also, there are so many vans like it on the road that you can easily get lost in the crowd (often a very good thing). In addition, it's a design that goes back to 1975, with the more recent major upgrades in 1992, 1997, 2000, and 2003 (be aware that 2005 and newer Ford E-series vans have the "computerized throttle" rather than the earlier mechanical throttle setup). The fuel tank is located between the frame rails in the center of the vehicle (greatly reducing damage to the tank during a serious collision). The spare tire is located up under the van in the rear, and has a basic locking arrangement. If you've ever owned a van with the spare on the back door or stored inside the van, you will appreciate this feature. Also, the exhaust system is constructed of a type of steel that seems to last almost forever.
This van sits up high off the ground, has a lot of ground clearance, has a very beefy suspension, a fairly large fuel tank (36 gallons), four-wheel disc brakes (easy to service), a seriously good engine cooling system, and a large stout front bumper.
Although there is much that is "right" about the E-150 including a rear-gear ratio that promotes good fuel economy, the stock van needed beefing up. The Ford E-150 van does have its downsides, including: typical difficulty working on the engine, changing spark plugs is especially difficult, is affected by crosswinds out on the highway, marginal fuel economy, weak rear springs, so-so shocks, and a pitifully lightweight rear bumper.
These changes were made to the van, to "beef it up" some, and make it more of a BOV ...
1. 1" thick insulation panels have been placed over most of the windows, painted flat black on the outside of the insulation surface. These provide insulation against heat and cold, and make it impossible to see through that particular window. The privacy-tinted glass makes the insulation panels invisible.
2. Shelf-units were installed inside to store needed items.
3. Water is stored inside, using several 7-gallon plastic containers from Wal-Mart.
4. A "limited-slip differential" was installed, replacing the standard one. This is the best thing since sliced bread. It causes both rear wheels to drive the vehicle ahead in snow and mud conditions. A standard differential will leave you with one spinning rear wheel and the other doing nothing in these conditions. A limited-slip differential has been called "a poor man's four-wheel drive". It is really amazing what a difference this unit makes!
5. Replaced the standard "Load Range C" tires with mud/snow rated "Load Range E" tires. E-range tires are far more puncture-resistant, can carry much more weight, the sidewalls are much more resistant to damage, and the mud/snow tread will get you through some surprisingly rough situations.
6. Increased the load capacity of the rear leaf springs. Any E-150 needs this. Adding a leaf or two is plenty.
7. Added a couple of "spring spacers" to the front coil springs, to firm them up a bit. Replacing the front springs with heavier ones is ideal, but pricey; and an expensive front-end alignment with some modification would be needed.
8. Installed shock absorbers that actually work. In this case, Monroe truck shocks were installed. These keep the vehicle much more stable, especially improving the handling when carrying a lot of weight on board.
9. Dimmed the interior lights that come on when any door is opened. In this van the interior ceiling lights also come on when the engine is turned off ... and there you are in some dangerous place, with the interior so well-lit that you make a great target. Cover the ceiling light lens with aluminum foil tape (from a home supply store), leaving enough of the lens uncovered to provide dim light when the lights come on automatically. These ceiling light fixtures also have separate switch-operated lights that can be used to brightly light the interior.
10. Replaced the standard rear bumper with a "step" bumper. This is a heavy steel bumper that sticks out about 6" away from the rear of the van, and can fend off a fairly strong impact. It's also a great step up into the back door, provides a trailer hitch, and looks great.
All-totaled, I have about $9,000 invested in this BOV. Although it's not a Abrams Tank, it will probably get us through the situations that are most likely to happen.
The changes I've made so far are ones that seemed important .. making the van go through difficult places while carrying a load.
Other changes I'll make later, as finances permit .. include:
1. A battery/inverter system to provide 120 volt AC power.
2. A rudimentary kitchen
3. A simple way to heat the interior safely in cold weather
4. A way to carry at least 10 more gallons of gasoline
5. A bed that doubles as a 2-person seat behind the driver's seat
6. A Fantastic Fan (or its equivalent) in the roof.
JWR Adds: I agree that vans have considerable utility as bug out vehicles. If the van will be a "daily driver" where gas mileage is critical, then I'd recommend a two wheel drive model. But if it is only used occasionally for hauling and family vacations, then I recommend starting with a factory made four wheel drive model. (The transmission and drive shaft reliability of some 4WD conversions is suspect.) With 4WD you'll have much better mobility off road. Also, as previously discussed in SurvivalBlog, carrying a basic set of pioneer tools (axe, shovel and pick) as well as a pair of bolt cutters may make a critical difference in off-road mobility.