Before you continue, If your new to 4wd and offroading or are not sure what equipment to take out with you on your adventures, make sure to check out the Off Road Aussies Essential 4×4 Equipment List where I have taken the time to review and recommend the equipment I use.
If you kit yourself out correctly you will be able to tackle everything that your new adventures will throw at you.
There is any number of different methods of recovering a 4wd vehicle when it’s stuck. Some are more dangerous than others when not performed correctly, and risk of damage to people and vehicles can be quite high.
The other day, I was lucky enough to be included on a 4wd awareness day with the 4wd club that I am a member of. We met up at Wilbinga Grove, which is a road-side parking bay about 45 kms north of Wanneroo and, after a discussion on basic 4wd equipment and driving techniques, we headed off towards the coast.
Now in Western Australia, one thing we have a lot of is sand. And our Wilbinga adventure was not going to be an exception. Sand, sand and more sand.
And of course, with sand comes being bogged. And a couple of us experienced this first hand. But it was all part of the fun, and learning about the effects of changing your tyre pressures and how to drive on sand was the whole idea of the day.
One of the other major learning activities of the day and the subject of this article was 4wd vehicle recovery.
Recovering a 4wd vehicle that is bogged is not difficult if done correctly. And it’s not dangerous if you do it properly.
However, if it is not done correctly then the situation can become extremely dangerous. All too often I see articles in the newspaper or on the internet about someone who has become injured or even died because they did not use proper techniques to recover a stuck vehicle. So read on to find out what I’ve learned about vehicle recovery. The intention of this article isn’t to provide you with all the answers. And nothing replaces real-life education. So read this, but make sure you also get out and get some experience with someone who knows what they’re doing.
Different types of 4wd Vehicle Recovery
So you’re out there on the tracks with your 4wd and your good friends. Either your taking your family on a nice trip down to that secret beach location, or your plowing through deep mud on your favourite bush track. You feel your car start to struggle and you give it a little more from the right foot. Before you know it, you’re losing momentum and grinding to a halt. Stuck. Bogged. So what do you do now?
Well the first thing you should do is get into your car fridge and pull out a non-alcoholic beverage. Slow down, relax and have a think. Our first reaction when we’re stuck is that our adrenaline starts to pump and we grab the nearest snatch strap and start yanking. But take your time. It’s very rare that a vehicle needs to be recovered immediately. In most cases, the car’s not going anywhere so take your time. Think first about your safety and the safety of others and perform your recovery effectively.
In real terms you have endless options. But in more general terms, there are only two. These options I’m going to call Single Vehicle Recovery and Multi-Vehicle Recovery. These are terms I’ve made up myself through my observations of 4wd vehicle recovery. There are probably better names for them but we’ll go with this for now.
Single Vehicle Recovery
Lets start with Single Vehicle Recovery. In this case the only vehicle involved is the one that is stuck. It is probably the most physical on you, but is also what I consider the safest of the two options. Basically, it involves using strategies such as:
- Reducing tyre pressure
- Getting the shovel out and digging
- Using a high-lift jack (Heres a great how-to guide on safely using a high lift jack )so that you can pack branches and leaves under the wheels
- Getting the Max Trax off the roof and giving them a shot
Multi-Vehicle Recovery are dangerous if they’re not performed correctly. But more of that in a moment.
In a Multi-Vehicle Recovery, the stuck vehicle is quickly and violently moved in some manner. Most commonly this will be with a snatch strap connected to another vehicle. But could also be with the use of a winch or some other method.
Unfortunately, the Multi-Vehicle Recovery method is what most people go for first. But if you think about what is actually involved in these kinds of recovery strategies, you’ll probably start to lean towards the slower but safer recovery methods.
Let’s consider the very common strategy of using a snatch strap. You connect two very heavy vehicles together, one of those is stuck already. You strap them together using a large elastic band (your snatch strap). You prepare yourself by attaching your strap to your recovery points. You communicate with each other and you’re ready to go. The leading car revs it up and suddenly the tension on the snatch strap kicks in. It stretches a significant amount and is under some very significant tension.
Just think about the dynamic forces at play here. Two heavy vehicles… One stuck to the axles in the mud… One yanking hard on a giant elastic band… Place this kind of force on your car regularly and eventually, something’s going to break. What if those recovery point bolts were a little rusted? What if you didn’t see where the other person connected the shackle and they actually attached it to the factory tie-down point? What if the snatch strap was attached to a tow-ball instead of a proper recovery block?
BANG! As whatever it is breaks, the slingshot effect takes over and launches the heavy, metal object through the air. And where is it going to head? Well straight along the line of the snatch strap, straight towards the other vehicle… Like a bullet… Do a Google search for 4wd recovery death and you’ll see that it’s a very, very real risk if it’s done incorrectly and without thought.
I’ve also included using a winch in Dynamic Vehicle Recovery because it still involves moving the vehicle using something other than the vehicles own power, so to speak. Once again, when using a winch, there are tremendous forces put on your vehicle, and there is the potential for launching razor sharp winch cable through the air like a slicing whip.
So when I’m out getting bogged, my first recovery strategy will always be my trusty Max Trax.