Getting Unstuck

25 Tips and Tricks to Get You Moving Again

Nov. 01, 2002 By Rick Sieman

If you're an off-roader, the question is not WHAT IF I GET STUCK? The question is what do I do WHEN I GET STUCK? Sooner or later, if you dare to wander off-road, you are going to bury that sucker right up to the frame rails.

With this in mind, here are some time proven tips and tricks that will help get you rolling again:

  1. AIR DOWN. The very first thing you should do when you get stopped in mud, sand, or any other soft stuff, is to let air out of the tires. How much? You can safely drop the air pressure to 10 pounds and gain plenty of traction. In deep sand, I have personally dropped the pressure to four pounds without having the tires slip off the rims. Of course, you should air back up as soon as possible.
  2. ROCK IT. As soon as your vehicle ceases forward motion, stop and study the situation. If you're not buried deeply, you can often get out by using the old Low-to-Reverse trick. Here's how it works: Put the trans into reverse and raise the engine speed with the brakes on. Then roll backwards a bit, and quickly slip the tranny into low. Repeat the process, and if the tires don't start sinking deeper, chances are you can work your way out.
      So you're stuck in the sand, dummy. What's the best way to get out?.
    If you've got a shovel, dig a nice graduated exit from the sand. Do it in front of all four tires.
  3. DIGGING OUT. When buried in sand (or mud or gravel), remove the sand directly in front of all of the tires. This removes the immediate barrier that impedes rolling.
  4. ARE YOU LOCKED UP? Don't laugh, many is the time the driver simply forgot to lock the hubs, or the lockers were not fully engaged.
  5. CARRY A SHOVEL. It can be a real hassle trying to dig out of sand with your bare hands. Always carry some sort of shovel in your 4x4. The short handled camper types are good, but the folding military fox-hole diggers take up less room.
      Jack the rig up in the air until the tire clears. Rocks, twigs, branches and anything else you can find can be placed under the tire for some traction.
    No shovel? Use a license place, a chunk of wood, or whatever … like this rowing oar.
  6. EMERGENCY SCOOPERS. You can used a wide variety of things to help dig out, including a wheel cover, a chunk of wood, or even the license plate from your rig.
  7. QUICK TRACTION. If your wheels are spinning, hunt around for something to put under the tires. Sticks, brush, stones, tin cans, pieces of wood, trash, rags, or just about anything that will offer traction, will help.
  8. JACK IT UP. If the tires are buried, get your jack out, raise the vehicle and shovel dirt (or most anything else) under all of the tires.
      Savvy off-roaders carry a chunk of carpet or shop comfort pads rolled up somewhere in the rig. Jack the tire up, slide it underneath and …
    … gas it gently. Once you're moving, keep moving and aim for hard-packed ground.
  9. EASY DOES IT. When trying to get free, do not hammer the throttle. More often than not, easing on the gas will keep the tires from digging in. By using a combination of the brakes and throttle, you can control the wheel spin.
  10. AVOID CHATTER. Once you start moving, you can give more gas to the throttle, but avoid too much throttle. How much is too much? Once the wheels start hopping and chattering, you not only lose traction, you can break drive line parts.
  11. Sometimes if you're really stuck bad, a serious winch is the only way out.
    KEEP MOMENTUM. As your stuck 4x4 gets moving, don't back off the throttle. Once a vehicle starts moving, it's easy to keep it moving, or to accelerate gently.
  12. KEEP THE WHEELS STRAIGHT. Before you try to extract yourself from an "unstuck" situation, make sure that your front wheels are perfectly straight. The more they're turned, the greater resistance they'll offer to rolling. Don't try to turn at all until you get up to a reasonable speed.
  13. AIM IT. As soon as you get moving, try to aim for firmer ground. Often, this means simply moving to the edge of the trail, or just out of the ruts.
  14. FINDING FIRMER GROUND. If you see weeds, brush or rocks, head for that. The ground will always be more solid there.
  15. WINCHING IT. If you're lucky enough to have a winch on your 4x4, hook it up and pull. Winches work best when there's another person inside the cab giving a steady application of power while the winch is working.
  16. SAFETY TIP. When using a winch, put a jacket, towel or floor mat over the cable. This way, if the cable breaks, or comes loose from its mooring, it won't jump back and blow out your windshield, or worse.
  17. PORTABLE POWER. If you can't afford a winch, a Come-a-long is a handy tool that's small enough to carry in your 4x4, and prices start at around thirty bucks. Make sure you get one that's capable of at least 2000 pounds pull.
      You might not need a winch if you air your tires way down and utilize the increased footprint and traction. I've gone to the 4-6 p.s.i. range at times.
    Rocking back and forth often helps.
  18. INCREASED LEVERAGE. You can double the pulling power of your winch (or Come-a-long) by using a snatchblock.
  19. WINCH WARNINGS. If you're being winched out by another vehicle, don't attach the cable to your bumpers, hitch balls, suspension parts, axles, or axle shafts. Attach to a built-in tow hook, or to the frame rails, or cross members.
  20. LIFTING TOOLS. You gotta have a good jack, and one of the time-proven favorites is the Hi-Lift. It's capable of hoisting literally tons of vehicle three feet vertically.

  21. SINK-PROOF. Smart off-roaders carry a small block of wood to place under the jack to keep it from sinking into the soft ground.
  22. TOW STRAPS. A stout tow strap is a must for any off-roader. One end can be hooked to a towing vehicle, and the other to the stuck rig. The towing vehicle can use a technique called "yanking" to help extract a stuck vehicle. It's done by leaving a small amount of slack in the tow strap, getting a run, and literally yanking the vehicle out of its trap.
  23. HIGH-CENTERED. This is a condition where the vehicle is supported on the frame rails and the differentials, and the wheels are virtually free-spinning. The only way out of this is to jack the 4x4 up one end at a time, and place dirt, sand, rocks, brush or anything else you can find under each wheel to lift the frame clear.
      You can hook the winch line to a heavy log, or a stout tree to pull out.
    If you're in sand and not near a tree, there are all kinds of anchoring devices that will bite deep into the sand and let you winch out.
  24. THE RIGHT RANGE. While trying to get unstuck, you're going to abuse your trans and drive train. To reduce the stress, make sure that you're in 4-Low. This will give you the stump pulling power you need to overcome the Worst Stuck scenario.
  25. BE PREPARED. It's too late to wish for the equipment you need to get unstuck when you're buried up to the hubs. Serious off-roaders prepare for the worst stuck situations. A stout winch will extract just about any vehicle. Newsletter
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