Episode 176 – The Basics of Armored Vehicles and Their Use in Protective Services

Hello, and welcome to episode 176 of the Executive Protection and Secure Transportation podcast. Every week we share secure transportation and executive protection knowledge, headlines, trends, and educational content.

The topic for this week’s episode is the basics of armored vehicles and their use in protective services.

Since the Omar García Harfuch Ambush, we (ISDA) have received questions concerning the use of armored vehicles in protective services. For the first part of the podcast, I’ll share some of the 2019 Executive Vehicle & Secure Transportation Survey results where it pertains to armored vehicles.  

Listen to the Podcast

A quick explanation of the ISDA Survey

The surveys have been conducted biennially since 2013.  The 2019 survey includes data on Two-Vehicle Scenarios, the types of vehicles used, the security driving environment they drive through, the use of rental cars, and the vehicle type most often rented. We also collected data on hiring subcontracted security drivers.

Over the last 8 years, the surveys have covered various aspects of secure transportation. The survey aims to examine trends and collect data to develop a broader perspective on the secure transportation profession.

Practitioners who participated in the survey represent the corporate, high net worth, and private security communities. Thirty-seven percent of the participants are from the corporate community, twenty-three percent are from private security, and twenty-one percent are from high net worth. The participants have an average of fifteen years of experience.

The following is an excerpt from ISDA’s 2019 Executive Vehicle & Secure Transportation Survey.  

Sixty-three percent of those who took part in the survey do not use an armored vehicle. Of the thirty-seven percent who use armored vehicles, their vehicles are armored to levels B5 and B6. As a side note, there still seems to be confusion concerning armor levels and the use of the word “bulletproof.” No vehicle is bulletproof, and vehicles marketed as such should be used with caution.

The use of armored vehicles has fluctuated from 15.5% in 2013 to 22.9% in 2015 and 14.1% in 2017. In 2019 the number of participants using armored vehicles jumped to thirty-six percent. That is more than double the amount reported in the last survey (2017) and thirteen percent from the highest usage (2015).

The level of armor can be an indication of the type of risk the vehicle moves through. The higher the level of armor, the higher the perceived risk. The survey indicated that of the thirty-seven percent who use armored vehicles, 29.7% are driving Level B4 vehicles, which are used mostly in a low to medium risk environment. Level B5 vehicles are used by 27.5% (of the 37%) of participants, Level B6 28.6% (of the 37%), and the highest level, B7, was used by the remaining 14.3%.

Renting Armored Vehicles

In the 2019 survey, twenty-six percent of the participants rented armored vehicles; although this number has been consistent over the years, we feel that it is a significant metric. The number of survey participants who rent armored vehicles has stayed relatively the same. We urge caution when renting armored vehicles. Ensure you are getting what you pay for.

2019 Executive Vehicle and Secure Transportation Survey Results Summary

A Great Rental Vehicles and Secure Transportation; Best Practices for a Less-Than-Perfect Solution

ISDA Members can download “Best Practices for Purchasing an Armored Vehicle.

Armored Vehicle Basics

This is not meant to be the definitive guide to purchasing an armored vehicle. It is more to supply basic knowledge that can assist in the decision-making process.

First, the purpose of an armored vehicle is to absorb the initial burst of fire and maintain the capability to drive out of the ambush, protect the occupants from the threat, maintain some level of performance, and be able to function in hostile environments.

All vehicles, including armored vehicles, have characteristics that define their performance. An armored vehicle is a tradeoff between performance and protection – simply the higher the level of protection, the less the performance. At best, it is difficult to build an armored vehicle that has a high-defeat capability (AP rounds), keeps its performance characteristics intact, and has reasonable longevity.

Bullet-resistant glass means only that it is bullet-resistant, not bulletproof. An armored car must be capable of absorbing the initial burst of fire and have the capability to drive away from the attack. Experience shows that if the car is armored, the adversary will concentrate their fire on the glass in short bursts of rounds at a single location. 

The worst possible scenario for any vehicle is to stop in the kill zone, and that includes armored vehicles. If the vehicle is immobilized, the attackers have control over the movement of the target, and that is not a good thing.   If the vehicle stops, you lose.

Things to Consider in the Decision-Making Process

Determine the Threat – Ensure that the armor can defeat the threat

Vehicle Performance – Dynamics, maneuverability 

In Day-to-Day Operation and in an Emergency Situation

Maintenance – If the vehicle is located in a hostile environment and needs maintenance, ensure you have the availability of a backup vehicle.

Performance over an Extended Period of Time – Vehicle performance will degrade over a shorter period of time – be aware.

Vehicle Selection – A vehicle that blends into the environment and can accept the armor’s additional weight.

Load Capacity – Payload is the combined, maximum allowable weight of cargo, occupants, and optional equipment that the vehicle is designed to carry.  Payload is an indication of how much armor the vehicle can accept. A vehicle that significantly exceeds its payload capacity will be hard to maneuver, stop, and accelerate. An excessive payload also decreases the car’s life expectancy and makes it more susceptible to tire blowouts.

For additional information on Payload, refer to ISDA Podcast 174 Payload.

Manufacturing Process – Seams and gaps are a result of the manufacturing process. They are also one of the most critical aspects of the manufacturing process. A seam is created when two pieces of armor are placed end-to-end to cover a section of the vehicle. This seam is vulnerable to the kinetic energy of the bullet. A round that finds a seam will displace the armor and penetrate the vehicle.

Optics – Armored windshields can cause distortion at the points of curvature, which makes it difficult to look left or right. The higher the level of protection, the greater the distortion can be, which can limit nighttime visibility and cause headaches and, in some cases, nausea. Before purchasing an armored vehicle, ensure you test-drive it in the evening. What may not appear distorted in the daytime can sometimes look quite different in the evening.  

Armored Level – Certified Ballistic and Explosive Resistance  – Ballistic standards indicate the type of round the vehicle or material will stop and how many rounds it can withstand. There can be confusion concerning the various ballistic standards, the levels of armor, and what they can and cannot do. Each level indicates the protection provided for  – the type of weapon  – the caliber of round – the distance the round was shot from – the number of rounds fired within a given area.

The problem is that the standards are not the same. For instance, the ballistic capability of Level 2 Armor for one standard may not be the same ballistic capability of Level 2 in another standard. Be sure to ask the provider:

  • What caliber rounds does the armor stop?
  • From what distance will they stop the round?
  • How many rounds will it stop?
  • In what area of the vehicle will they stop them?

We strongly suggest that before considering the purchase of an armored vehicle, educate yourself on ballistic standards & armor defeat levels – Google Ballistic standards, and you will get an abundance of information.

Teijin, an international ballistics standards app, provides up-to-date figures of major international standards for different ballistic protection applications. The app is available for free on Android and iOS platforms.

Other things to consider

Spare Parts – The simple fact is that parts especially brakes, wear out faster on a security vehicle than on a normal vehicle. Ask the provider what, if any, spare parts are offered. The simple fact is that parts wear out quicker than on a normal vehicle, including brakes and hoses.

Tires – Other than the armor, tires are the most important part of an armored vehicle. History shows that most problems with armored vehicles start with the tires (specifically the front tires) being unable to handle the vehicle’s additional weight. The armorer must determine the weight on each tire. Given the cost of the armored vehicle, this is not asking for much.

Run Flats – Run flats provide the ability to drive for miles on a flat tire. The problem is that they are not easy to install or remove. Most often, they come with a special piece of equipment that makes that task easier.

Miscellaneous – Driving 10,000 miles in a non-armored vehicle is not the same as driving 10,000 miles in an armored vehicle. The armor’s additional weight puts a strain on the vehicle systems – brakes, cooling, and transmission – shortening the vehicle’s maintenance cycle.

Ensure that the vehicle’s active safety systems are functional: ABS, traction control, tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), etc.


If you have an interest in going much deeper into these types of topics, I invite you to check out the International Security Driver Association’s website ISDACenter.Org and consider joining the membership to gain access to the encyclopedia of executive protection and secure transportation – The ISDA knowledge center.

The knowledge shared encompasses a wide range of executive protection and secure transportation-focused topics with resources, information, and metrics.

For more information on all of the member benefits, head over to https://isdacenter.org.

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