Everybody gets stuck. It’s part of the off-road hobby. Regardless of your talents behind the wheel or how built your 4x4 is, sooner or later, Mother Nature is going to get the best of you. From rollovers to sunken machines, we’ve witnessed, participated in, and regretfully, been the cause of more than one off-road mishap. Making sure you are using the right tools and methods to get out of those sticky situations safely is the key.
In many cases, a little know-how will set you free faster and safer than a barrel of rope and your local AAA wrecker. In this article, we’ve put together common off-road recovery scenarios and the easy way to approach each. Have a bad stuck experience (and photos to prove it)? Send them to us as firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most vehicle-recovery winches are electric-powered units with ratings as high as 16,500 pounds. To determine which winch is right for the job and your rig, we use the rule of 1½. Multiply your vehicles weight by 1½. For example, a rig that weighs 5,000 pounds would be well suited with an 8,000-pound winch. An average winch drum can hold around 90 to 100 feet of cable or rope. If the object or vehicle you are attempting to pull is at the max rating of the winch, use snatch blocks to double and triple the winch rigging to provide additional leverage. Never use a winch cable or rope instead of a strap. Winching should be a very controlled process. Using your winch as a snatch strap can cause damage and potentially result in equipment failure.
Witnessing a rollover is almost as nerve-racking as being in the vehicle. The most important thing is to make sure the occupants are safe. Now is the time to keep your wits about you. Before you attempt to right the rig, check for the following: First, make sure the vehicle has been placed in park (put in gear if it’s a manual) and the transfer case is still engaged. If the rig has an E-brake, use it. Once you have established the drivelines are intact and nothing is broken or hanging down, clear the area of people and formulate a recovery plan. When possible, attach a tree strap to the rig and use a winch to slowly roll it back on all fours.
After your rig has been righted, take a few minutes to carefully examine its components. There’s an excellent chance you’ve lost fluids from some or all your pans and containers -- check every one. Another possibility is that your engine’s cylinders have filled with fuel or oil. We’ve often found by removing the spark plugs and spinning over the engine a few times, you can vacate any bypassed fluids. Failure to do so could result in a hydrolocked engine.
If your rig becomes high-centered, climb out and closely examine what you are stuck on. Your rigs oil pans are often the first items to be destroyed when you go off course. Before winching or attempting to drive out, double check that your desired course won’t crush your thin pans. Make sure your alternate path is wheelbase and driveline friendly, too. Using a Hi-Lift or bottle jack to reposition your rig in the rocks is an excellent way to avoid damaging an oil pan. Rock stacking and using a jack to reposition the rig is time well spent. Or would you rather replace a costly driveline?
Ensure the spot you are attaching your strap or hook to is up to the task. Avoid hooking to axles and suspension components. If no tow hooks are present, look under the framerails, as many vehicles are equipped with factory transportation tie-ins or attachment openings.
You would be amazed how many people get stuck in the sand and snow due to too much air pressure. Dropping your rig into the 10- to 12-pound range can mean the difference between getting out or going down. And be mindful of your valve stem. Many late-model 4x4s are equipped with steel TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring Sensors) that thread into the wheel. Unlike a traditional valve stem that has a bit of give and flex, the steel sensors often break when they encounter an obstacle.
Just because you can’t see the buried boulder, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Remember, seeing, isn’t looking. It’s always better to get out of the rig and investigate the path ahead and below.
A self-recovery winch is an excellent tool to equip your vehicle with. Equally as important as the winch is knowing how to use it safely. Regardless, if you are using steel cable or a synthetic rope, using a winch weight will make the process safer. Winch dampeners, such as the kind shown here from ARB are used as a draw-in point if the cable or rope breaks. Something as simple as a floor mat or heavy jacket can even work in a pinch.
In most bogging scenarios, a recovery rope or strap is all you need. Most of what you are fighting against is suction. Using a winch would extend the recovery time, but is still a great option. We are fans of kinetic energy-style ropes. They allow more give and plenty of room to build momentum, which means they are easier on parts and still very effective. Companies like Bubba Rope offer special coatings designed to help the ropes withstand muddy conditions better than a conventional recovery rope.
In tight and technical boulder fields, there isn’t much room to use a strap, so the winch is the tool of choice. And since your rig is more vulnerable to damage in the rocks, the slow and controlled process of winching is worth the time. The use of a tree saver is especially effective when a lead or anchor vehicle is unavailable.
The power of man is not to be underestimated. Attaching a recovery strap to your rig and having a group of guys keep tension on the other side can be extremely helpful in off-camber situations. These scenarios can be especially dangerous, so always designate one spotter to communicate with the driver and strap holders. Common sense dictates to always wear gloves, and if the rig does start to roll, let go of the rope, so you are not pulled into the mess!