Modern vehicle recovery tools are amazing and they can make recovering a vehicle incredibly simple. But if you’re on a budget, those items may be out of your reach. If they are, relax, because for almost every modern recovery item there’s a low-buck, and sometimes even free, option. Most require a bit more physical investment, but the end result is the same.
Four Wheeler Editor John Cappa, Technical Editor Ali Mansour, and Senior Editor Ken Brubaker weighed in with a few of our favorite low-buck recovery tips. These suggestions will help you free your 4x4 from nature’s grip, while allowing you to keep more of your hard-earned cash.
If you need to attach a tow strap to the rear of your 4x4, but you don’t have towhooks or a hitch receiver hook or D-ring, use your rigs trailer hitch receiver as a connection point. Simply place the tow strap end loop into the receiver and then install your hitch pin in the normal way and through the strap end loop.
If your 4x4 has an open rear differential you know that only one wheel is delivering power to the ground. When stuck, this becomes a problem. Sand veteran Mansour notes that you can force your rigs open differential to deliver power to the opposite wheel, which may have better traction, by slightly engaging your 4x4’s e-brake or modulating the brake pedal.
A vehicle being used to winch another vehicle can sometimes be dragged toward the vehicle that is stuck, even with the winching vehicles brakes engaged. If you don’t have a tow strap to affix the winching vehicle to a solid object, you can bury a couple of tires on the anchor vehicle. With the tires buried (it doesn’t have to be super deep, just enough to help keep the vehicle stationary), the vehicle will be planted and you can use four-wheel drive to power out when finished. Lodging one or more of the winching vehicles tires against a large rock, tree stump, or other immovable object will also serve to help anchor the vehicle.
Lower Air Pressure
Stuck in the sand? The first tip is to get off the throttle before you sink the rig to its axles and frame. Sinking it just makes the recovery more difficult. The second tip is to lower the air pressure to low single digits. You may have to pull the valve cores to make this happen. With the air pressure lowered, gently apply throttle and drive out. Cappa says he has driven out of nasty sand using this method. Naturally, you’ll need to air up your rigs tires before continuing on.
A hand winch can do the same job as an electric or hydraulic winch, only your arms are the power source. Here are a couple of examples. The ARB Magnum (www.arbusa.com) has a lifting capacity of 3,500 pounds and a pulling capacity of 5,300 pounds. The Magnum’s dimensions are only 21.5x11x4 inches, so it’s easy to transport and it comes with 65.5 feet of steel cable. The Magnum has a street price of approximately $245 at time of print, which may not seem low-buck, but remember that you won’t need to purchase a winch mount or bumper and electrical parts and cables. Another option is The More Power Puller from The Wyeth-Scott Company (www.wyeth-scott.com). The More Power Puller has been in production since 1934, and this iron and steel unit is available in 4,000- and 6,000-pound models. The 6,000-pound model has a dead lift rating (double line) of 6,000 pounds and a pull/drag rating (double line) of 12,000 pounds. The More Power Puller is available in both steel cable and Amsteel Blue synthetic rope models (the latter shown in the accompanying photo). The Wyeth-Scott website is showing a price of $240.10 for the 6,000-pound model with steel cable and a price of $322.85 for the 6,000-pound model with synthetic rope at the time of this writing. One of the low-buck leaders in hand winches is the Harbor Freight (www.harborfreight.com) 8,000-pound cable puller equipped with 10 feet of steel cable for only $24.99 at time of print.
Another low-buck way to drag your rig out of trouble is a Hi-Lift jack (www.hi-lift.com) or comparable product. Unlike a hand winch that has a length of cable or rope you will have to make adjustments to the tow straps once you have drawn the vehicle the usable length of the jack.
Double Winch Power
For the low price of a snatch block you can double the power of your winch. Smittybilt (www.smittybilt.com) has an 18,000-pound capacity unit for only $24.99 at time of print. Simply run your winch cable through the snatch block and back to your rig. This double-line method of winching is slower but doubles the pulling power of your winch, whether it’s electric, hydraulic, or hand powered.
Floor Mats in Action
Your rig’s floor mats can be used as traction devices much the same way as modern traction pads. Simply use ’em under the tire(s) that are digging in and you may be able to drive out. Then, simply clean ’em up and put ’em back on the floor.
Small, foldable tools are great, but a less expensive option is to purchase non-foldable tools. They take up more space, but accomplish the same purpose. Like Cappa says about a shovel, “Early roads were made with not much more and with enough time you can dig anything out.” At the time of this writing, Harbor Freight (www.harborfreight.com) offers three shovels ranging from $7.99 to $10.99, axes from $9.99 to $27.99, and a variety of saws for under $10.
When winching, a cable weight should always be used to deaden the cable’s stored energy in the event it breaks. A jacket or towel can be used in lieu of a commercially available cable weight.
The low buck alternative to a portable winch anchor is a deadman anchor. It’s not near as easy as a portable winch anchor, but it’s free and could get you out of a bind. Construction methods can vary, but the simple explanation is that you connect a tree strap or chain to a large object like a log, rock, or even your spare tire, and you bury said item in a direct line some distance from your rig (so you can spool out a decent amount of cable for a strong pull). Angle the object away from your rig for greater resistance before you bury it. The deeper you bury the object the better. When you’ve recovered your rig, retrieve your anchor, refill the hole, and get a drink. You’ll probably need it.
If your 4x4 gets hung up on a rock, log, or other solid object, and you don’t have a winch, simply use a Hi-Lift jack (www.hi-lift.com) or comparable item to raise the vehicle so you can stack rocks or shovel dirt under the tires to increase the ground clearance and clear the obstacle.
Safe Vehicle Recovery
Low-buck vehicle recovery is great, but we would be remiss if we didn’t stress the importance of safety. Recovering a vehicle inexpensively must be paired with recovering a vehicle safely. For example, just because you’re using a hand winch doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear thick leather gloves. And don’t use a device over its load rating. Recovering a vehicle is serious business and should be approached with a well thought out, safe plan.