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July 2011 Firing Order

Posted in Features on July 1, 2011
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Like death and taxes, it’s an inevitable occurrence for anyone who ventures into the backcountry on a regular basis: the vehicular malady characterized by a pronounced inability to move forward, backward, or anywhere else. It’s often (but not always) accompanied by thick mud, deep water, or rocks the size of your living room. Having wheeled on all sorts of trails across the country for more years than I care to count, and having attended Top Truck Challenge since 1993, I’ve seen just about every kind of Worst Stuck you can imagine (and some you probably can’t) and just about every type of unsuccessful retrieval—from the guy whose never-used, never-lubed-in-20-years Hi-Lift decides to seize up when he finally needs it, to the TTC competitor who attempts to winch off a boulder in the Mini-Rubicon (witnessed hundreds of times, all futile), to the stuck guy who hastily wraps his tow strap around his buddy’s trailer ball . . . you’ve probably seen it all too, if you’re like me.

Worst Stucks can occur anywhere you don’t expect them. And usually, they do.

One thing I’ve learned is that you really can’t be too well-prepared or well-educated for dealing with a stuck situation in the outback, and that’s why one of the most valuable four-wheeling skills one can master (besides the obvious ones of driving, spotting, and field-fixing) is the art of vehicle recovery. Of course, that also means winching. How much you’ll need to use a winch (if ever) depends on the kind of trails you drive, and your driving skills, too. But if your tastes run towards technically difficult trails, or you like to drive where there’s water and mud, or if you wheel solo anywhere, a winch—and the ability to use it, safely—is a near-necessity on your rig.

Knowing how your winch is built, and what it can reasonably be expected to do, is of equal importance, so this month we’re also reviewing the basics of winch construction, how all the components work together, and what line speeds and load ratings are likely to work best on your particular vehicle, with an eye on examining some of the conventional wisdom. Hint: Contrary to popular belief, when it comes to winches, bigger isn’t necessarily better.

On a related note, something else we’re doing differently in this issue is a little “destructive testing.” It’s something that engineers at the aftermarket companies do all the time—namely, stressing a component beyond its intended limits under controlled, repeatable conditions in order to find its weakest link and to reverse-engineer improvements. We did this recently with a bunch of tires, and you’ll read about that gash-fest in an upcoming issue. This month, however, we dispatched feature editor Robin Stover to our top-secret proving grounds with eight of the best known 9,000- to 9,500-pound winches on the market, along with instructions to smoke as many motors and grenade as many planetary gearsets as it took to discover the absolute toughest winch for four-wheel drives. You can read his findings starting on page 48—they’re quite enlightening.

Finally, we figured it was time for us to hold another Worst Stuck Contest, in which we publish photos of readers’ rides (including, maybe, yours) that are stuck, broken, upside down or under water. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve done this, so this month, we’re announcing another contest. Out of the submissions we receive from you, we’ll pick a lucky winner, who’ll receive an ARB portable air compressor, and all other readers whose entries appear in the magazine will receive a box of FW schwag for their efforts. So, if you’d like a chance to score some goodies from us, take a look at the contest rules on page 102 and send in your worst (i.e., best) examples of immovable objects meeting irresistible force to: Four Wheeler Worst Stucks, 831 S. Douglas St., El Segundo CA 90245, or via email to Of course, we prefer high-res digital images (no thumbnails, hint, hint), and if you’ve got a good story explaining your vehicular misfortune that you’d like to share with your fellow readers, please send it. We’ll publish the best examples of your worst-case scenarios a few months from now.

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