Four-wheel drives become stuck for all manner of reasons: encounters with a big rock, lots of little rocks (on a slope), a log, a steep slope, deep mud, deeper water or any combination of the above.
Water on the wrong sort of surface – such as clay – can make even a gentle slope impassable. Even a dry, solid surface can defeat a vehicle weighing well over two tonnes: about a 30° slope is the most you’ll climb on an unsealed surface at the best of times.
There are many things you can do in advance to minimise the risks: plan your route, travel with another vehicle, undertake a course in offroad driving to gain confidence and knowledge, and, if you do get stuck, don’t act like a boofhead and proceed to make it worse.
Yet, even if you can tick off all those boxes, you’re still going to need some basic equipment to get yourself out of trouble.
The basic tools
Good 4WD recovery kits provide basic tools for many driving dilemmas and are readily available from several manufacturers.
Such kits should include a pair of sturdy rigger’s gloves, a snatch strap, a winch extension strap, a tree trunk protector, a snatch block, a pair of rated bow shackles, and a recovery damper.
The rigger’s gloves protect your hands, especially while handling things like winch cables, where broken strands sticking out can cause nasty cuts, and are also useful around fires and other activities offroad.
A snatch strap
The snatch strap is an elasticised webbing strap with a reinforced loop at each end. Essentially, a recovery vehicle can assist in pulling a stranded vehicle from all kinds of problems by allowing a length of the strap to lie on the ground between the vehicles. The recovery vehicle drives away at a modest speed creating a pull that’s stored within the elastic strap until there is enough force to free the bogged vehicle.
While these straps are commonly used to great effect, extreme care should be taken, as a broken strap or connecting hardware at either end can produce a missile that can seriously maim or kill.
Use only specially designed rated shackles, connect only to designated winching points (not tow bars) ensure a damper “blanket” is placed over the strap near its mid-point and that all onlookers are out of both vehicles and are well clear. A snatch strap has a limited life and will eventually lose its elasticity and become liable to break.
A winch extension
A winch extension strap looks similar to a snatch strap without the elastic characteristics and should be used as a straight pulling medium. It can be used, as the name suggests, to extend the reach of a winch rope or cable or for straight towing situations. Never use a snatch strap for this purpose as it will destroy its elastic characteristics and, thus, its greatest value.
A tree trunk protector
A tree trunk protector allows you to use a trunk as an anchor point minimising harm to the tree. It can also be used as a mounting point for a snatch block. Snatch blocks can increase a winch’s effective pulling power, or redirect the pull from one point off at an angle to another anchor point.
A drag chain
A drag chain is useful in pulling fallen timber out of the way or other situations where heavy hauling is necessary over the ground or rough surfaces.
OTHER RECOVERY GEAR
A shovel is another vital recovery tool which is especially useful when travelling over soft sand.
A traction device
Traction devices such as MaxTrax pads placed under wheels provide grip on soft surfaces. Check the materials, as poor quality plastic can melt, leaving your wheels spinning on a shiny surface. Using strips of old carpet or rubber or stacked branches of lengths of wood is an alternative fix or anything that will spread the load.
A good jack is also a handy item, either a hi-lift jack or an exhaust jack, which raises the vehicle using a heavy duty bag inflated from the vehicle’s exhaust. A flat, metal plate or sturdy ply about 300mm square helps support the jack on boggy or soft ground. Make sure you never raise the vehicle beyond its point of stability and never get beneath a vehicle that is not separately supported.
A winch is not a necessity but it sure is handy, and always remember that the proper use is vital and a 4WD recovery course is strongly recommended. While you can buy hand-winches for a few hundred dollars, they’re hard work and put the wincher at the point of greatest risk.
Electric or power take-off (mechanical or hydraulic operation) winches allow you to stand clear or operate the winch from the driver’s seat and are mounted to the bull bar or front of the chassis. Proven winches can cost up to a couple of thousand dollars from reputable retailers.
Check out the full feature in issue #87 April 2015 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine.