A 4wd Recovery Kit is one of the most important things that you can have in your 4x4. The number of people that I have pulled out from a boggy beach who don’t have any recovery gear is scary. Before you even take your four wheel drive off the bitumen, you should have a basic 4wd Recovery Kit. Along with this, you need to know how to use it safely. Even the best recovery gear in the hands of someone with limited experience is going to be dangerous!
If you get stuck, it is generally considered rude to use other people’s recovery equipment. That’s not to say that people will leave you stuck there, but it is polite to have your own gear! In most cases, a bit of common sense and a few simple items from the 4wd Recovery Kit will have you out and rolling again in no time. Tyre pressures are just one of the many things that make a massive difference to your recovery.
The basic 4wd Recovery Kit
I’ve made a list of the 4wd Recovery Kit that everyone should carry around. This will vary depending on what you do, but it is worth having everything below (but you don’t need the ‘Optional 4wd Recovery Gear’ unless your situation requires it).
Long Handled Shovel
A shovel is one of the most important pieces of gear to carry around, especially if you do a lot of sand driving. A few minutes using a shovel will make the recovery much easier (and in many cases you will just be able to drive out). You want one with a long handle so you can reach under the vehicle, but even a little one is better than nothing. A shovel is very handy for digging around the wheels and chassis if you get bogged. By removing even a little bit of the sand/mud/snow from under your vehicle the recovery will be a lot easier.
Tyre Pressure Gauge
People who go four wheel driving without a good tyre gauge are asking for trouble. Running the right pressures in your tyres when four wheel driving is the best way to prevent a recovery in the first place. You need to know what pressures are being run so you can adjust them accordingly, and ensure that your vehicle isn’t working harder than necessary. A lot of battery powered digital ones are popular today, but if the battery dies then you could be in a spot of trouble. Personally I stick with an old pneumatic pressure gauge, or the ARB EZ Deflators are money well spent.
When you have finished four wheel driving you need to pump your tyres back up for driving on the bitumen. Even 5 minutes driving on the road with low pressures can damage your tyres. You can buy a Bushranger compressor that is very reliable (although not that quick!) for $100, or there are a variety of other compressors. Whether you mount it to the vehicle or leave it portable is up to you, but having a compressor is useful.
Even if you are only travelling with one vehicle, it’s worth having a snatch strap. They are not that expensive, and they are a very handy piece of recovery equipment. Make sure these are kept dry and clean, or they will become unusable quite quickly. Make sure that you check them over before using them too, as they do tend to come to the end of their lives if you are using them regularly. A snatch strap is one of the fastest and safest ways to get a vehicle unstuck. In most situations I will go for a snatch strap over a winch, purely because of how much faster they are to use.
It’s important to carry a few shackles with you. If your recovery points are just lifting eyes then you will need them anyway, but they are useful for hooking onto other vehicles, joining snatch straps (if you HAVE to; you are better off looping the two straps together) and for equalizer straps. Most people carry the 4.75T shackles, but if you have a big four wheel drive (or a trailer too) then it is worth getting the next size up.
Rated Recovery Points
These are very important. A snatch strap or winch isn’t going to be much use if you have nowhere to hook it onto. Make sure they are rated recovery points, and not tie down points. You will see the difference very easily – the tie down points are much thinner. If you recover off one of these you are likely to break something. Many four wheel drives require aftermarket recovery points fitted, and you should have at least one on the back and one on the front of your vehicle. Ideally two recovery points should be fitted to the front and rear of a vehicle, allowing you a greater access for angled recoveries, and the ability to use an equaliser strap. Make sure that they are rated for the recovery you are doing. Many of the hooks that you purchase are only rated at 4.75 tonne, and plenty of recoveries that I have seen would exceed this. What is the point of an 8T snatch strap if your hook is only rated for 4.75? A lot of people recover through the Reece hitch pin, which is fine if you do it correctly. However, you should never use the tow ball to recover off, as they regularly sheer and become dangerous flying objects. If you do a lot of four wheel driving I would recommend a recovery hitch, unless you are towing a trailer. These are just a lump of steel with a shackle that goes through, and they sit where your tow hitch would normally. If you have one of these you no longer have to play under the towbar to get the strap through – you just put it through the shackle and you are done. This makes it easier to recover, especially if you get stuck in the water.
Knowledge of how to use the 4wd Recovery gear
I mentioned above that you want to know how to use the 4wd Recovery Kit that you have. There have been some serious accidents (and fatalities too) from 4wd recoveries that have gone wrong. There is plenty of stress on various components when recovering, and doing it incorrectly is asking for someone to get hurt. Do a 4wd training course if you have to, or learn from someone who knows what they are doing. People who recover off their tow balls do NOT know what they are doing!
Optional 4wd Recovery Gear
If you are a regular four wheel driver, I would also recommend some of the below products. Of course, if you are travelling with only one vehicle it is vital that you can get yourself unstuck every time, without waiting for another car to come past. In the middle of Australia you could be waiting for weeks if you can’t get yourself out!
I’ve always been a big fan of Maxtrax, especially when travelling alone. These are literally the simplest way to get a four wheel drive unstuck (not to mention the safest). You just dig a bit of the material out of the way of your tyres, lay them down and slowly drive onto them and out. They work brilliantly in sand and mud, and many people also use them in snow. Have a look at the post I wrote about Maxtrax to find out more.
Winch and accessories
For anyone doing remote touring, or four wheel driving by themselves a winch is a good idea. Most people opt for an electric (12V) one, but there are still a number of people that use a hand winch. If you have recovery chains and a high lift jack then you can use the two as a winch as well (although this is quite awkward). A Winch is a very controlled way of recovering your four wheel drive. It can be done slowly and with great control. However, you need to be careful of the amount you are winching, and watch the temperature of the winch (if it is electric – if not then make sure you don’t overheat!) Along with a Winch, snatch blocks, recovery dampeners, tree trunk protectors and gloves are well worth having. In many cases, rather than working your winch hard, you can double the wire (or rope) up and you get a 2:1, 3:1 or even 4:1 ratio. This makes it much easier for the winch to work and you can quickly and safely a heavy Land Cruiser or Patrol towing a trailer out of the bog.
High Lift Jack
A high lift jack is also a regular sight on the back of four wheel drives that are in the bush regularly. These are used to lift a part of a four wheel drive up, to put logs under the wheel, change a tyre or they can be used as a winch. However, if you are going to change a tyre with one you should put something solid under the axle once you have it jacked up. High lift jacks are well known for falling over sideways, as you will find out when you set one up; they are not very stable. If you have one of these, it’s worth carrying a chunk of timber around too, to jack off. If you try to use one in soft terrain you will find the car stays where it is and the jack just buries itself. With a block of wood under the jack you increase the surface area and it won’t sink as much.
In WA this doesn’t seem to be a very common accessory, but I believe for those in the east of Australia a Chainsaw is a very important part of the 4wd Recovery Kit. Of course, a bow saw is the cheaper option, but then you might regret not spending the money if you come across a big tree branch blocking the road. A chainsaw is primarily used to move any fallen trees or branches that are blocking tracks, but they can also be used to cut firewood up.
Stay calm and think the recovery through
The more 4wd recoveries I do, the more ways I find for doing them. If you are rushing around you tend not to think about the safest way to get your vehicle out, which ultimately is the most important factor. Unless the tide is coming in, you have time to stop and consider what the best options are. Do you recover the vehicle from the front, or back? Do you lift the vehicle up and chock the wheels? Do you flatten the track a bit with a shovel? Do you use the winch or a snatch strap? What could possibly go wrong? How much momentum do I need? Will letting my tyres down help the recovery? Is anyone at risk? Is everyone at least 20 metres away from a snatch or winching recovery? Do I have a dampening bag in place in case it breaks? Could I get rid of any metal objects in the recovery? Is my 4wd Recovery Kit in good condition? It is a regular occurrence to see people rushing into 4wd recoveries and as a result not thinking about what they could do differently. Fortunately, I have never seen anyone get injured from one of these, but I have heard of some terrible stories. Four Wheel driving is a lot of fun, but you will ruin your day if you have something break and smash into your car, or a person. Before you go ahead and do the recovery, both owners of the vehicles need to get out and inspect it, to ensure they are happy with it. Generally, if something goes wrong it is the owner of the recovery gear’s fault. If you are unhappy with a recovery, voice up about it.
Don’t spin the wheels
I’ve never been a fan of wheel spinning in any situation, especially in 4wd recoveries. If you are spinning your wheels then you are just digging yourself further down, and potentially damaging the track and your tyres. The main reason people get stuck on a beach is because they continue to turn the wheels, and their car just goes down and down. In a recovery, try to keep the wheel spin to a minimum, because if it suddenly grips you can damage your car, or put yourself in an even worse situation!
Minimize the metal objects used
4wd Recoveries are dangerous enough without introducing unnecessary metal objects. Shackles are known as grenades, and if you don’t need them in the recovery then get rid of them. The less chance that there is of something heavy going flying the better.
Consider the ratings on 4wd Recovery Gear
How much does your vehicle weigh? If you are towing a trailer there is a good chance that you are going to need some serious recovery gear, recovery points and knowledge of what is safe. A 4.75T recovery hook (the standard ones) don’t cut it for serious recoveries. You need to get something properly engineered for the purpose.
Take it easy with the recovery
A recovery should be done slowly and carefully. I have never understood why some people take the biggest run up possible when using a snatch strap on the first go. Unless there is a reason, just take up the slack and give them a light tug. If this doesn’t work, go back a metre more and give it another go. Why put excess stress on your recovery when you don’t need to?
Buying a 4wd Recovery Kit
Most people will build up their kits over time, by buying the items individually. However, you will save a fair bit of money if you purchase a kit which includes snatch straps, shackles, dampeners, tree trunk protectors, a recovery bag, snatch blocks and bags. The kits vary considerably with what is included, but if you add up the total cost when buying the parts individually you will come out ahead. I would suggest having a look on ebay for 4WD Recovery Kits as they often have good deals available.
A 4wd Recovery Kit is a very valuable piece of equipment in any four wheel drive. However, as you have probably picked up by my rambling knowing how to use the kit is just as important. Have you seen any recoveries being done incorrectly? Tell me about your experience with 4wd Recoveries below!