How to recover a bogged 4WD vehicle
With the highs of jumping into a 4WD and exploring areas the everyday passenger car just isn't built to reach, come the lows of every 4WD driver's nightmare: getting bogged.
You may have driven a range of different vehicles across your lifetime and have many years of experience behind the wheel but, if you're new to off-roading, the chance of finding yourself in an emergency from bogging is very real. In other words, it pays to be prepared.
If your intention from the get-go is to enjoy some serious 4WD adventuring, having a high-quality winch fitted to your 4x4 is worth the investment. Being able to winch yourself out of a sticky spot can be an effective way of getting back on track and arriving safely at your destination. Relying on a winch should never be your first option, though. There are some real and present dangers associated with using a winch, so make sure you try other alternatives list below first.
Along with fitting a winch, know your 4x4s clearance heights before you leave home. The higher the ground clearance, the rougher the terrain you'll be able to negotiate without scraping parts of your vehicle against the ground and rocks on hill-climbs and uneven tracks. Knowing your vehicle's front and rear recovery points will also help you get out of trouble without damaging your 4x4 if you need to be towed or winched to safety.
Never leave home without packing must-have safety items in your car or trailer:
- Recovery tracks (also known as recovery boards)
- Tyre pressure deflator and gauge, and portable air compressor
- A jack
- A shovel
- Phone/GPS chargers
- Protective gloves
As your off-road driving skills improve, you'll be able to add or remove items from your recovery kit based on what works best for your preferred four-wheel-driving areas or the terrain around your favourite camping spots. However, as a beginner, these items should be considered your non-negotiable travelling companions.
Let's look at them in more detail...
Recovery tracks are an essential part of your 4x4 recovery kit. Recovery tracks, also known as recovery boards, give your tyres the traction they need to get you out of sticky situations. They can also play a role in helping winch your 4WD, or someone else's, to safety.
Tyre pressure deflator and portable air compressor
A jack that's weight-rated to safely lift your 4WD for tyre-changing, placing recovery tracks or boosting wheels suspended in a crevice is also vital, so don't leave home without one. If you plan on doing a lot of sand driving, you might also want to consider a jack base specifically for use in sandy conditions.
Although some recovery tracks double as shovels, having a purpose-designed shovel available can come in handy for digging sand, mud and snow from around tyres.
Being able to let emergency services or other cars in your travelling group know you're stuck and unable to recover yourself is important. Being low on battery charge is definitely a situation you'll want to avoid, so having plenty of spare battery power available is the answer.
It's a good idea to always wear some form of protective gloves to avoid possible injury while recovering your 4WD.
SO, YOU'RE BOGGED... WHAT DO YOU DO FIRST?
It's easy to say this from the cheap seats but the first thing you should do when bogged is take a breath and relax. Sure, it's frustrating but losing your cool won't get you unstuck any faster and, if anxiety takes hold, it's harder to think clearly enough to get yourself back on your way.
Don't jump on the accelerator and try spinning your way out of trouble. In most circumstances, you're only digging yourself (literally) into a deeper hole and making your eventual recovery tougher. Try reversing or driving forward slowly and turn the steering wheel to the left and right to see if the tyres can find some traction. If you can't generate any movement, stop driving.
Next, get an understanding of why you're bogged. Knowing why you're bogged ensures you use the right recovery technique. There are three main causes that can lead to getting bogged: bottoming out, loss of traction and drivetrain faults:
Getting stuck in ruts or channels in water crossings that run deeper than your 4x4 height clearance, as well as rocks or tree stumps that exceed the height clearance, is known as bottoming out. Basically, one or more of your vehicle's wheels have lost contact with the ground. You're not going anywhere in a hurry.
Loss of traction
Your tyres can't grip a solid surface and move you forward (or back). Spinning your wheels when you can't get traction may also lead to bottoming out. Tyres can also end up with too much mud or debris in the tread for them to grip and give you the traction you need.
While they're made tough, some drivers find a way to test the limits of their 4x4's chassis or drivetrain. 4WDs rely on engine power being distributed evenly between the four wheels. If you snap an axle or wreck your CV joint, (apart from doing some serious damage to your vehicle) you won't get the right amount of power from all four wheels.
THE STEPS FOR RECOVERING YOUR 4X4
Not every situation is the same but, if you talk to seasoned 4WD experts, you'll find the following methods for getting your 4x4 out of the muck are the safest and most effective.
Firstly, check that your tyre pressures are where they should be for the terrain (our handy guide can help). Often, tyres aren't getting enough purchase on solid ground to give you the right level of traction. Dropping the psi (pounds-per-square-inch) in your tyres improves your traction level and can see you safely on your way in no time.
If you've already reduced the psi level in your tyres, try letting out some more air. For example, in sandy conditions, you can lower your air pressure to as low as 6 psi per tyre. Always reinflate your tyres once you've cleared the bog.
Shovelling some sand or mud away from the tyres might give you just the right traction to drive out. After clearing away muck, engage your differential lock and try accelerating slowly to get the wheels moving again. If you're no closer to getting out of the bog, stop spinning the wheels and turn to your recovery boards instead.
In cases where you've bottomed out on rocks, take a walk around and, if you can, take up a collection of smaller rocks and stones. Pile these up under and around the wheel that's lost contact with solid ground. This could provide the right amount of traction you need to get your vehicle's chassis off a rock or large boulder and get all four wheels back on solid ground.
In many instances, recovery tracks or recovery boards are the best solution to bogging. Grab your recovery tracks and, using your shovel, dig away the excess mud or sand (whichever is holding you in place). If there's a lot of mud in the tread of your tyres, clear some of that away as well.
When you've cleared everything away from the tyre, wedge the recovery boards under the front part of the wheels. The recovery boards should give you enough traction to move forward and pop your 4x4 on top of the terrain. Again, engage your differential lock, go easy on the throttle and gently move your vehicle forward and back onto solid ground.
If you're still not getting enough traction, this is where you use your winch comes into play or you can get another vehicle in your group to essentially drag you out with a snatch strap. The dangers associated with snatch straps - both serious personal injury and damage to your 4x4 - are significant, so snatch straps should only ever be used as a last resort.
Once your vehicle is free, increase your tyre pressures to a safe psi for the terrain. If you're unable to drive because of broken parts, contact an emergency assistance service or, if you're handy with mechanical work, do some repairs to make it to the next town or major campsite.
Knowing how to extricate yourself from a rut in a stream, sand dunes, snow, mud or rocky terrain is an important part of developing your four-wheel-driving skillset.
With a clear head and the right equipment, getting out of trouble is almost as easy as it is to get into trouble in the first place.