Now, despite all the best advice, you are stuck fast. What now? Getting stuck has to be regarded as part and parcel of off-road driving. You should have with you all the necessary equipment to enable a safe and effective extraction from all but the most impossible situations. If you are on your own it is vital you have sufficient means to effect self-recovery. If in the company of others you should then, between you, have all the equipment needed.
Experience is the flip side of training. Only with both can you be competent at vehicle recovery. The best way to get experience (at least initially) is to recover stranded vehicles under the watchful eye of someone who knows a lot more than you do.
SURVEY THE SCENE
The first priority with any recovery is to establish just why you are stuck – though it may be pretty obvious if you’ve just driven into a mud bog and sunk up to your axles.
If you find any obstructions, you have to deal with them. It is quite amazing how many times buried logs or rocks get in the way of a straightforward recovery. Should a large boulder be ahead of you, then recovery would be better done backwards. Likewise an obstruction behind may demand recovery forwards. Don’t be tempted to simply drag your vehicle over large rocks and the like because the consequences could be very expensive indeed and could render your 4WD inoperable.
Most obstructions can be removed by digging. If not, consider jacking up the vehicle and placing stones, rocks or logs beneath the wheels to raise it clear. Put some effort into fixing the problem so that your first attempt at recovery is the one that works.
The important thing to remember is do not keep spinning the wheels when you are truly stuck. Spinning wheels will only dig the vehicle in deeper and make recovery more difficult.
Are you really stuck?
Your 4WD may have stopped going forwards and it may not even respond in reverse gear, but that does not necessarily mean that you are indeed stuck. Get out and have a look to see if by turning the front wheels on to full lock either left or right they may get a grip on to some firm ground and lift the front end of your 4WD clear of the ground it is bellied on.
The chassis and body of a 4WD with independent suspension will rise a little if the vehicle is unloaded of all of its passengers and gear. To do this may be all that is required to get you out of a predicament. They can help by pushing the vehicle or pulling on a towrope, but co-ordinate this effort so that you are not reversing when your help is pushing forward! Always be aware of your helpers’ whereabouts when they are near the vehicle. And when you are travelling as part of a group, 99 times out of 100 a tow strap is all that is needed to recover the most deeply entrenched vehicle. But this doesn’t mean that additional equipment such as power or hand winches can be left at home. You never know when that single instance will arise!
In mud, snow and sand, the first thing to do is try to reverse out of the problem. Stick to your own wheel tracks because this will offer better traction, and avoid large throttle openings. Remember that there are two reverse gears in 4WDs, high and low. Sometimes using reverse in high range will free a stuck vehicle, while using reverse in low range may just spin the wheels. If you have diff locks at either end, now is the time to engage them. If this doesn’t work, try gently rocking the vehicle backward and forward by using a reverse and then a forward gear until you make real progress in one direction or the other. Digging built up sand, mud or gravel from in front and behind the wheels may allow you to make further progress.
Lower tyre pressures to around 125kPa (18psi) to give a larger tyre footprint on the ground and give it another go.
Carpet strips, floor mats, brush, dry grass, rocks or, if you are desperate, clothing or sleeping bags can be placed as traction aids under the tyres. Chains will help in snow and some types of mud. Do not use live plants or trees to stuff under the wheels – this is environmental vandalism. Likewise, avoid using material that could spike and deflate a tyre. Don’t leave lengths of wood in the hole you have extracted your 4WD from because they can cause damage to other vehicles driving into that same hole.