When you get stuck off road, what do you do? Do you reach around for the snatch strap, or tyre gauge, or just plant your foot on the accelerator?
Getting a bogged 4WD moving again is actually really simple, and safe when you take the time to do it correctly. I won’t dwell on safety too much (as that should be a given), but there should be a conscious effort put into ensuring what you are doing is safe.
Why did you get stuck?
The first thing you should do when you get stuck is work out why. Perhaps you forgot to lock the hubs, or let your tyres down, or your differentials are sitting on a big hump. Sometimes its super obvious, and other times you have to get out and actually take a bit of a look around your 4WD.
Knowing what’s made you stuck allows you to make a plan that is safe, easy and simple. The idea is to get your 4WD moving again with little risk, little effort and limited time.
I’ve seen people struggle for hours trying to get moving on a soft beach after sinking down, and its all because they don’t understand why they got bogged in the first place. If they realised that their tyre pressures were simply too high, and let them down some more they would crawl out in no time at all.
Are your tyre pressures set correctly, or should you go lower?
As above, 4WD tyre pressures are super critical. There is nothing more important when you go off road (especially on a beach) than tyre pressures. The wrong ones will have you stuck for hours on end, struggling to make progress down the beach, and the right ones will see you comfortably drive along, with no problem at all.
In many cases, when a 4WD gets bogged (providing they don’t bury themselves trying to get out!) simply removing some more air from the tyres is enough.
You literally hop out, let more air out and hop back in, taking off nice and gently. This is the ultimate way to recover a bogged 4WD; it takes 5 minutes, is completely risk free and its not difficult, or hard work.
Is your 4WD actually engaged in low or high range?
You wouldn’t be the first person to get stuck off road, not having put their vehicle in 4WD, or having locked their front hubs, or activated the centre diff lock. You need to understand how your 4WD works, and have it in high or low range, with the right settings for where you are driving.
Luckily, its easy to fix if you forget, but your mates will get a good laugh out of it!
How quickly do you need to get moving again?
In many cases, there’s a false sense of urgency surrounding 4WD recoveries. Unless your 4WD is filling with water, or getting washed away by the waves, there really is no reason to rush around in a 4WD recovery.
Even then, your 4WD isn’t worth nearly the value of your friends and families lives, so do things safely.
What have you got to get unstuck
If your tyre pressures are correct, and the 4WD is actually in 4WD, the next step is to consider what you have to perform a recovery. If its nothing at all, then you deserve the situation you are in. You should never go off road without a basic recovery kit.
There are lots of ways to recover a bogged 4WD, and a lot of them depend on what gear you have. Consider the different methods you could use to get moving again, and rank them in terms of safety, ease of use and simplicity.
One of the easiest ways to mess a 4WD recovery up is not to talk to those around you. Take the time to come up with a clear plan, and execute it with one person directing the show. 4WD recoveries turn to absolute mayhem when you have several people trying to direct what is going on.
The right order of 4WD recoveries
In my mind, this is the correct order of 4WD recoveries
We’ve mentioned this above – tyre pressures are king. If you get stuck, this should be the first thing you stop and check, and reduce if possible.
You don’t see too many people using shovels in 4WD recoveries anymore, and its a shame; a few minutes digging around the tyres and chassis can allow you to drive out with zero assistance.
Recovery boards, or traction aids are quite possibly the best way to recover a bogged 4WD. You simple dig around the tyres a bit, wedge them in and drive very slowly onto them. The boards get pulled under the wheels, the 4WD pops up and away you go.
There are lots of different traction aids on the market today, with Maxtrax being the clear winner in terms of quality and functionality. Treds are popular these days, as are the Bull recovery boards and a few others. If you do a lot of solo travel, there’s not much that beats a set of 4 recovery boards.
Mounting a winch on your 4WD has been a popular accessory for a long time, and there’s good reason behind it. They are super useful for extracting bogged 4WD’s, amongst other things. That said, they can involve a substantial amount of force, which is why they are one of the last methods of 4WD recoveries.
You should know how to safely use one; winch dampeners, rated recovery points, rated gear in good condition, double line pulls and the list goes on. Winches are far more preferable for badly bogged 4WD’s, particularly in mud as the force is applied slowly, giving the mud time to release its suction.
If you’ve ever stepped in deep mud, you will know that its almost impossible to yank your foot out in a split second. Instead, its much easier to slowly lift it up and out.
Winches deserve a lot of respect; bystanders need to be well out of the way, dampeners are an absolute must and you need to take serious care when using them.
For me, Snatch straps are last on the list of best ways to recover a 4WD. They have their place, but in my opinion are far too commonly used when they shouldn’t be. Snatch straps are seriously dangerous bits of kit, and many 4WD deaths in Australia involved the use of a snatch strap. When should you use a snatch strap?
The way they work is simple; one vehicle is attached to another, and when it takes off the strap stretches, applying force to both 4WD’s in a much more gentle way than it would if you tried to use a normal, non elastic rope.
The problem with snatch straps is that they get used in situations when too much force is required, or they are attached to points that are not rated.
Snatch straps break regularly, and even a strap has enough force in it to badly injure or kill you. However, if where you’ve attached the strap to breaks off things get far nastier. Anything with a bit of weight behind it will flick through the air at up to around 400km/h, and what ever it hits will get badly damaged.
Just last week there was a post of strap pulling the recovery point off a 4WD, and sending a shackle through the rear windscreen of a Ute, brushing the shoulder of the driver and then smashing the front windscreen too. If that’d been a few centimetres one way, we may have lost another person to a 4WD recovery.
Snatch straps are fantastic, when used in the right way and for the right recovery. If this isn’t done though, they are one of the most dangerous pieces of equipment in the 4WD game.
Think about your recovery, and do it in the right order
Take the time to really think about your 4WD recovery. If you aren’t 100% sure that its safe, re-consider what you are doing. The easiest way to make it safe is to recovery your 4WD in the right order. In many cases, snatch straps and winches don’t even need to be used!