Mud; your 4WD’s worst enemy

You make the trek out to the local 4WD tracks, after a heap of rain, grinning from ear to ear as you see the puddles start to get bigger and bigger. The next minute, you arrive at the mother of all mud runs.

What now? Do you get out, check the mud hole, let your tyres down, lock the hubs and plough through it in 2nd low? Or do you find another way around?

V8 cruiser mud splash
Do you smash through it, or drive around?

Mud has long been a favourite amongst 4WDers, and on the WA 4WD Tracks, its only really seen for a small portion of the year – from May to September. After that, you wait until winter again. The thought of mud always puts a grin on my face, although lately I’m starting to see that maybe, just maybe, I should avoid it a bit more!

You see, as fun as it is to plough into a sticky, sloppy mud hole, mud is the worst thing you can do for your 4WD. There was a meme going around for a while online; a moment of fun in mud means a lifetime of pain when you work underneath it.

Every time I get under my 4WD and undo something, or bump something, you get a face full of grit as it falls off the car. Yeah, so its a minor thing, but that’s just the start of a long list of negatives from driving through mud.

What’s wrong with 4WDing in mud?

Filthy car

By far, the most obvious thing that hurts when you come back from a days 4WDing in the mud is the filthy car. To clean it properly, you are looking at a good couple of hours. That is of course, assuming you have somewhere to clean it. For a lot of people, they simply don’t have the room or the ability to dump half a tonne of mud on their driveway.

Car washes are somewhat of an option, providing you find one that accepts dirty 4WD’s! Just remember, don’t spray high pressure water anywhere under your vehicle, especially where there are seals (swivel hubs, transfer case, gearbox etc) as the water forces grit and mud behind the seals and into your sensitive 4WD components.

Most of us can live with having to clean our cars when we come back from a days mudding, but what if I told you there are many more costs?

Mud driving in a 4WD
The more fun you have, the longer the cleaning takes!

What happens when you get stuck?

If you’ve never been stuck in a mud hole that is deeper than your sills, its something I’d highly recommend you AVOID AT ALL COSTS! A while back, we got bogged in a water/mud hole out the back of Lake Jasper, and by the time we were pulled out, a fair amount of our carpet was wet. We were lucky though; the water was relatively clean, didn’t stink and didn’t wet any of the dashboard or our seats.

Still, it was a lot of work to pull the front seats out, lift the carpets, clean and dry them and put them all back down again. If you get bogged in a deep mud puddle, its not hard to write your vehicle off, especially if you have lots of electrics that once wet, seem to be impossible to fix.

Our 80 bogged
Not one of my fondest memories

Salt content

Believe it or not, salt is very present in mud. Obviously, this depends on where you are 4WDing, but mud is not good for your panels, chassis or anything else metallic in your vehicle. If you leave it in there for long enough, it will start to cause rust, which is well known as cancer of the car; not something you want to have to deal with. You wouldn’t (I hope) Drive your 4WD through salt water, so avoid the mud that can do the same thing.

Mud in places you can’t wash out easily

No matter how many times and how many hours you spend under your car with the hose and a snorkeling mask on, you aren’t going to get all of the mud out. You might get most of it out, but there will always be mud somewhere; I’ve washed my car plenty of times many weeks after its been cleaned from mudding, and you still get the clay coming out.

Electrical problems

Water in general in an engine bay doesn’t do your electrics any favours. This is especially the case if you have a petrol vehicle. If you manage to get truly stuck in a mud hole and get mud into sensitive electrics, you can be in for a world of pain trying to find the little electrical gremlins! Anywhere that water can get to, it will. Distributors, leads and computers are extremely susceptible to water damage.

Your alternator plays a very important role in your 4WD, by keeping the batteries charged. Mud and alternators though, are not a good mix. Many vehicles have the alternators in a location that easily cops a gut full of mud, and that’s all it takes to kill your alternator (or if you are lucky, make it not work but still able to be repaired).

Electric issues Holland Track
Water and mud don’t mix well with electrics

Mechanical problems

This is probably the most expensive part of driving through mud. Mud is basically fine grit mixed in with water, which means it pretty well gets into anything and everything. It will chew out your seals and bearings, get into the alternator and water pump and anything it can, and wreck it.

In the time I had our Hilux, I never once had a problem, and we took it through plenty of mud. I;m pretty sure the recent mud driving in our 80 killed the water pump though, and I’ve seen mud clog radiators up so bad the car overheats as soon as you get out of the mud hole.

Mud is not friendly. Ask your mechanic how much they hate working on 4WD’s that have done a lot of mud driving. I make a special effort to clean the underneath of mine before I send it to the mechanics; there’s nothing worse than struggling underneath a vehicle, while you get bits of dried mud fall down your shirt and into your eyes!

4WD bogged in mud aftermath
It gets in everywhere

Weigh it up!

I’m not for a second suggesting you never drive through any mud again. I think that’s unreasonable. However, I hope you are aware of the potential costs of getting mud everywhere on and in your 4WD. As a general rule, I wont go through anything that is over wheel height, and even more so if I know there’s a good chance of getting stuck.

If there is a way around a big mud run, I’ll usually take it. I prefer to use the money I could spend on replacing alternators getting away and exploring this magical country of ours.

Mud on the Holland Track
Is it worth it?

I’m sorry if this post makes you sad; I know how much fun mud driving is. Still, I bet if you’ve done a lot of it you would know exactly how expensive it can be too!

What about you? Do you care about the damage mud can do to your car, or just plough straight through every mud run you can find?

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  1. Hey Jacko,

    I’ve been there mate. I feel your pain. You’ll have to rip them out and dry them. I’ve used rice in the car along with a heater (but don’t leave it running in there)

    All the best

  2. I have a gq I paid $3k for. Loved hitting the mud until Saturday. Got stuck in muddy water up to the windows and the poor old girl runs rough now. The ecu got a gutfull of water and I dried that out. The carpets are absolutely soaked. There’s no warm weather to dry them out either. Bugger.

  3. Hey Ayden,

    Yep, absolutely. Lots of fun in the moment, and I don’t mind a bit of mud, but I try and stay away from anything that can wreck your seals and alternator etc.

    All the best

  4. Fair points! But I love mud! And I purchased a 4×4 to hit any terrain and deal with the consequences, nothing worse then people with lifted utes that don’t use them properly!

  5. Hey Laurence,

    Yep, totally right. It’s always a bit of fun though!


  6. Laurence McCarthy says:

    Excellent comments Arron .Yes mud is fun ,but the best way to kill your best asset !!I always try to avoid mud ,but like you say unavoidable at times especially out back driving .