Bulletproof cars used to be extravagant purchases made by international drug dealers with cash to burn or necessities of life for heads of state in war-torn, third-world countries. They are now more in demand than ever, and they are being driven by local politicians, CEOs, doctors, and people of means. In fact, that nondescript SUV cruising down the highway may very well be a Class IV armored vehicle.
The process of bulletproofing a car is complex and expensive, and the end cost may well exceed the original price of the vehicle. Depending on the level of protection (as measured by its stopping power) and the size of the car, bulletproofing costs can range from $14,000 to over $100,000.
There are plenty of reasons why someone would feel the need to drive a bulletproof car. It frequently boils down to a person’s vocation (e.g., a high-value target like a political leader or a mark associated with wealth) or location (living or working in high-crime or unstable areas). High-level personal security while traveling on the road can be had, but it does come with a hefty price tag.
Here is How Much it Costs to Bulletproof a Car
Since the ultimate objective in bulletproofing a car is to protect the occupants from harm, all potential exposures must be armored. Several factors determine the cost of bulletproofing a car:
- The desired level of ballistic protection – when bulletproofing a vehicle, the first consideration is determining against what type(s) of munitions protection is being sought. Armoring against small-caliber handguns is less costly than stopping armor-piercing rounds fired from a high-powered rifle.
- Vehicle type – armoring materials are expensive, and installation is time-consuming and highly technical. As such, larger vehicles like SUVs will be more expensive to bulletproof than small sedans. Particular makes, such as high-end European brands, tend to require more labor, resulting in higher bulletproofing costs (10 to 20% more).
- Coverage area – armoring only door panels and windows is a less costly option than bulletproofing a full 360° of exposed surfaces all around a vehicle (which would include the pillar posts, headers, and in some cases, the roof and floor).
With these parameters in mind, armor packages protecting only car windows and doors can range from around $28,000 to $43,000. More comprehensive bulletproofing will result in a significantly higher price tag, starting at roughly $58,000 and very possibly exceeding $100,000. It is important to keep in mind that these costs are on top of the vehicle’s original purchase price. (Source: Armormax)
Recognizing the increased demand for armored vehicles globally (there are an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 bulletproof cars being driven around the world today), luxury car brands have discretely made available certain models with bulletproofing performed in-house. Needless to say, the price tags for these vehicles are astronomical:
- Mercedes-Maybach Pullman Guard – $1,600,000
- Range Rover Sentinel – $500,000 (rumored)
- Audi RS7 Sportback – $205,000 (manufacturer claims a top speed of 200 mph)
- BMW X5 Security Plus – $144,000
- Toyota Land Cruiser – $100,000
It is worth noting that the cost of purchasing bulletproof vehicles direct from manufacturers may steer many would-be buyers to specialized armoring outfitters, as discussed above. Even so, depending on the make and model of the car, bringing a vehicle in for custom-bulletproofing can potentially cost over $100,000 (the average job ticket at one major company is around $150,000).
Why Does it Cost So Much to Bulletproof a Car?
Because not only does the armor need to shield the occupants from harm, it also has to protect vital car components from damage so that the vehicle can still be driven away. In conjunction with the high-tech, bullet-stopping materials used to armor a vehicle, an effective defense strategy must include being able to drive away and effect an escape. (Source: Bloomberg)
This is How Cars are Bulletproofed
Armoring a vehicle is a laborious process that entails stripping it down to its frame and installing bulletproofing materials in vulnerable sections to protect both the occupants and vital components of the car to ensure it can be driven away. For many outfitters and manufacturers, the ultimate goal is to achieve perfect discretion so that all the armoring work is undetectable.
Stripping the Vehicle
In order to properly armor a vehicle and make it bulletproof, it basically needs to be completely disassembled. Not only must the doors and body panels be removed, but also:
- All seats
- All electrical wiring
- Inside trim
Only when the car is down to its bare framework can the complex work of bulletproofing begin.
Armoring the Door and Body Panels
Bulletproofing the doors and body surfaces involves the insertion or installation of armored plates and other bullet-stopping materials into all cavities. For the doors, this can involve using Kevlar, ballistic nylon, and other similar materials. The addition of armoring can significantly add to a vehicle’s weight (from 500 to several thousand pounds). In the case of car doors, which must still be opened and closed, the extra weight often requires the installation of additional door hinges. As far as the ceiling and floor, these are typically armored using sheets of bulletproof materials.
Bulletproofing the Windows
Known in the industry as transparent armor, bulletproof glass is made by layering polycarbonates with leaded glass. The result is glass that can still be seen through, but depending on the thickness, can stop a bullet:
- 0.8-inch thickness – can stop a 9 mm round fired from a handgun
- 2-inch thickness – can stop a bullet fired from a high-powered rifle
Because the “windows” are so heavy, bulletproof glass installed in car doors is often fixed (e.g., it can no longer be lowered). Alternatively, more powerful motors must be installed in the doors to lower and raise bulletproof windows.
Protecting Vital Car Components
It is not just the occupants that must be shielded from bullets but vital sections like the engine and transmission. Steel plates are commonly used to bolster the firewall and rear bulkhead, while gas tanks will either be armored or feature some type of self-sealing mechanism in case of a puncture. Some outfitters replace stock bumpers that are designed to absorb impact by crumpling with specially reinforced versions that can act as a battering ram without damaging the car’s radiator.
Making the Armored Vehicle Drive-able
Armoring does not stop with the vehicle’s chassis. The tires are crucial to effecting a safe getaway, so special technologies have been developed to allow them to be driven on even if struck by gunfire. So-called run-flat tires typically feature a solid polymer ring that sits inside an air-filled tire and will allow the vehicle to be driven at highway speed for up to 60 miles with the outer tire punctured.
Another important consideration with armored vehicles is the significant weight that the bulletproofing process adds to the car. All told, the installation of ballistic protection can add several thousand pounds to the vehicle’s standing weight. Not only must suspensions be beefed up to support the added load, but the engine must often be enhanced as well. (Source: Car and Driver; Alpine Armoring)
Vehicle Armor Rating Systems
When it comes to evaluating vehicle armor systems, there are rating schemes that indicate the effectiveness of the armor against various types of armament and different levels of firepower. The two most widely used armor rating scales are implemented by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) for use in the US and the EN 1063 classification system (also known as CEN), which is predominantly used in Europe.
Armor rating systems essentially assign a value (usually a number or letter) to a particular level of ballistic protection, usually indicated as the type of munition(s) that can be stopped. For instance, the NIJ III-A standard (CEN B4 standard) would be assigned to armor capable of stopping bullets fired from handguns ranging in sizes from a .38 special to a .44 magnum.
Here are several other notable ballistic protection levels:
|Ballistic Protection Standard||Weapons Protected Against||Munitions Protected Against|
|NIJ III; CEN B6+||High-powered rifles||Full metal jacket pointed bullet|
|NIJ IV+; CEN B7||Assault rifles||Armor-piercing rounds|
Perhaps it is a sign of the times and a reflection of today’s world, but bulletproof cars have never been so popular and in such high demand. Whatever the reason or rationale, people feel the need to protect themselves while on the move and are willing to pay a fortune for what amounts to driving a fortress on wheels. But if it saves a life, it is without question money well spent.
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