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What is a Military Surplus Vehicle, and How Can You Get One?

Military surplus vehicles have become popular among campers in recent years. These all-terrain rides can handle just about anything and make great converted camper vans.

But while they look bad to the bone, these rigs have some drawbacks. 

If you’re up to the challenge, we have everything you need to know to find the perfect military surplus vehicle.

Let’s ride!

What is a Military Surplus Vehicle?

When the armed forces decommission a vehicle, that doesn’t mean it isn’t operational. Sure, it’s probably seen better days, but it still has plenty to offer. Instead of selling them for scrap, the government lists them on auction sites where anyone can buy them.

Many are what you’d expect from the military. High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, or Humvees, are dynamic and robust. They come in different sizes and styles. Some are highly recognizable utility trucks, and others are ambulances. 

Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles, or FMTVs, are another popular option. They look like a shrunken down big rig with a cab and separate trailer.

But you’ll find a lot more than just classic military trucks. School buses, cargo trucks, and even the occasional limousine go up for auction. We even spotted a 1957 Lincoln Premiere Convertible in mind condition!

Plenty of high-mileage sedans, vans, and pickup trucks are also for sale for the more sensible shopper. A military surplus vehicle could be the perfect fit if you’re in the market for a used set of wheels and don’t mind putting a little elbow grease into it.

Camouflage painted with humvee
Look cool cruising about in a Humvee.

Can Anyone Buy a Military Surplus Vehicle?

Laws vary worldwide, but it’s entirely legal for civilians to buy surplus military vehicles in the US. The government often auctions them off, and a quick online search will yield countless results. 

However, some of these rigs aren’t street-legal, so you’ll need to overhaul them to meet certain specifications. Furthermore, many of them have sustained significant damage. Buying from a reputable dealer is essential so you don’t end up with a lemon. 

You’ll also want to ensure it has a valid serial number so you know the purchase is legitimate. 

The Benefits of Military Surplus Vehicles

The most apparent advantage of these vehicles is their size and strength. Humvees are practically indestructible. Their tires have skid-proof tread and withstand wartime conditions, so they can withstand anything an average driver can throw at them.

They handle off-road conditions with ease. Extra high ground clearance and standard four-wheel drive mean you aren’t likely to get stuck in the mud. Not only are they made of rust-proof materials, but their engines are also entirely waterproof. They’ll keep running even when fully submerged. 

Perhaps their greatest strength is their versatility. Many military surplus vehicles are perfect for converting into camper vans. Their large frames and durability make them ideal candidates for RVers, especially those who don’t mind a DIY project.

FMTVs, LMTVs, and M35s are also ideal for refurbishing. Depending on your budget and how much work you’re willing to put into it, any of these machines can become a house on wheels.

Pro Tip: If you’re interested in camping military style, find out What Is A Military Campground?

Humvee driving in desert
There are pros and cons to owning a military surplus vehicle.

The Disadvantages of Military Surplus Vehicles

You’ll want to consider several factors before bidding on an old Humvee. 

First, these vehicles have been through the wringer. They’ve worked through extreme temperatures, water exposure, and sometimes even landmines. There’s no telling what kind of stress they were under or what part may be on its last leg.

And speaking of parts, they can be expensive and hard to find. After all, your local Auto Zone doesn’t stock the right supplies. While you may get lucky and score a military surplus vehicle for a great price, your maintenance costs will quickly negate any initial savings. An oil change alone can be hundreds of dollars. 

To top it off, these rigs get horrendous gas mileage. FMTVs might use twice the fuel of something like a Sprinter van. 

Finally, you won’t want to use one of these for your everyday commute. Most of these rides top out at about 50 miles per hour, so you’ll be out of luck if you need to get somewhere in a hurry.

Pro Tip: Get inspired for your camper remodel from these 10 Best DIY Camper Van Builds.

How to Get Your Hands On One

The internet is the best place to start your search if you’re up to the challenge of maintaining a military surplus vehicle.

The US government partners with multiple online auction sites for public resell. You’ll want to buy from a reputable source. While some auction houses maintain their autos, others simply store them without regard for their care. 

Be mindful of the vehicle’s location. The government doesn’t offer shipping, so you’ll need to travel to get it or make other arrangements for delivery. 

It’s also crucial to get a title. If it’s unavailable, don’t go through with the purchase. Plenty of legitimate options exist, so the last thing you want to do is drop a load of cash on something you can’t legally drive. 

A Costly But Fun Investment

Military surplus vehicles like Humvees are rugged, versatile, and, honestly, just really cool. If you find one in good condition for a fair price, you could soon feel like the king of the road. But they require a lot of costly upkeep, and some people have found them to be more trouble than they’re worth.

However, they can make exceptional camper vans in the right hands! Their unparalleled off-road capabilities mean you’re adventures will never be cut short because of accessibility.

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