January 12, 2014

10 ways to get home again

There are still plenty of stories about 4WDs getting stuck with dire consequences, including injury or vehicle loss. Unlike on-road, where according to the government slowing down is the answer to everything, there are all sorts of other ways to get into trouble (but there were no injuries or dents from the recovery above). Experienced off roaders already know this. They know to travel in a group of at least two or three vehicles. To make sure one or more of the group really does know about off-road recovery techniques; there are self-proclaimed experts out there who have a knack of just making things worse. And also:

1. If where you’re going is out of cellphone range, carry a locator beacon or a sat-phone. Seriously: one or other may be a life saver if everything else goes wrong.

Don’t panic. If you get stuck, step back and think through how best to get out. Rushing often makes the predicament worse. If someone in the group has strong knowledge of recovery techniques, let him take charge. Many recoveries are screwed up because everyone thinks he or she knows best.

Adapters are available to hook a high-lift jack onto wheel rims and bumpers. Go to a good 4WD supplies shop and see if something will fit your vehicle. It’s still the off-roader’s Swiss army knife.

If you can’t high-lift, get a decent scissors or hydraulic jack, probably one better than what comes with the vehicle. Get one with a long arm or handle, or carry something that can be used as an extension. Carry a decent slab of wood to put the jack on so it won’t sink and will help distribute the load.

Carry a spade and maybe also a shovel. It’s surprising how often you can get the rig unstuck with some judicious track modification. Those foldable “army-style” spades seem like a good idea, but they’re really pretty useless when called to the front.

6. Carry a tyre gauge because deflating the tyres, perhaps to around 18psi or less (but if you want to go crazy and drop your tubeless tyres to 5psi, be our guest), can be of help in some situations, such as stuck in mud. Carry a good inflater to pump them up later. 

Carry strips of old carpet, mats or anything that can work as a friction surface under tyres. A better but costly alternative is a set of vehicle recovery tracks of tough plastic. Wriggled under stuck wheels, they provide traction of “thank God” proportion.

8. Get a winch. You don’t need a bolted-on winch for occasional use; get a good hand winch, often known as a Tirfor. That’s the name of the company that invented this type of winch but now it’s generic for a portable puller that takes a lot of muscle power to work – the heavier and more stuck the 4WD the harder – but it will get you out. It will also pull front, back or sideways.

Don’t think that one of those little ratchet winches meant for pulling a few hundred kilograms will do the job. You’re in man’s country now; it’ll just break and really ruin the day.

Don’t get stuck in the first place. There’s more to off-roading than just aiming and hoping. Stop and read the terrain; what are the options? Is there another way? Would a bit of precautionary digging or sawing make an obstacle passable? Have someone outside to act as a guide through tight spots. Check out the depth of water holes before entering.

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