Vehicle recovery is more about common sense and using your equipment smartly. Should your initial attempts fail, stop, have something cool to drink and try to analyze why the vehicle cannot be freed.
The golden rules of vehicle recovery:
• Stop spinning your wheels the moment it appears you are stuck. Trying too hard only makes things more difficult. Every unnecessary rotation of the wheels digs the vehicle in deeper.
• Are the tyre pressures right for the conditions? If not, change them.
• Establish if any part of the vehicle’s weight is resting on anything other than the wheels. If so jack up the vehicle and correct this first.
• Take a close look at all four wheels and establish which one is halting progress. Work on this wheel first.
• Take a second look at each wheel. Any other wheels that do not have a clear path ahead of them must be worked on next.
• Do not be tempted to try to drive out after a half-hearted attempt to de-bog a vehicle. Failure means that all the work done the first time will have to be redone.
• Use all the resources at your disposal. These include all areas behind or in front of the wheels that are firm (push the vehicle in that direction), a slight slope (gravity can be a major ally).
• Look out for things that will hinder progress. These include a slight slope (gravity can also be an enemy), front and rear wheels dropping into a ditch simultaneously (arrange things so that wheels drop alternately).
• Adapt your equipment to be used in more ways than meets the eye.
• Never use a tow ball with a winch or snatch strap. Should it break it will become a lethal missile.
Using a spade
Using a spade to dig out a vehicle may appear like common sense, but there is more to it when in the field. Bear in mind that in 90% of all recovery operations some digging or clearing of the path in front of the vehicle should be undertaken. In many cases a little digging is all that is needed.
On the beach
Assuming that the tyres have been deflated to the required pressure, bogging on the beach can easily be overcome with a little digging, as long as the driver hasn’t got the vehicle in so deep that the axle is buried and the vehicle has grounded. Once the vehicle has stopped, dig out a good measure of sand from all four wheels and attempt to reverse out. If this fails and a kinetic strap or winch is to be used, always clear a path with your spade.
Over-extending the vehicle’s wheel articulation, creating a situation where a wheel has no weight on it, is a common way of getting bogged. The most common practice is to place material under the spinning wheels. This is far less effective than digging under the
wheel in the opposite corner which has the most weight on it.
By doing so you are reducing the required axle articulation. In effect you are placing the vehicle’s own weight on the wheels that are airborne and spinning.
When a vehicle attempts to traverse uneven terrain and exceeds its break-over angle and the chassis between the front and rear axles touches the ground the vehicle has ‘grounded’ or is ‘hung up’. This is very much an unforgivable situation because the cautious driver should have had someone marshaling the obstacle from the outside who could warn of impending disaster. The recovery procedure is to dig away the ground from under the vehicle or to raise the vehicle with a high-lift jack and place material under the wheels. Do not climb under a vehicle supported only by a high-lift jack.
One vehicle pulling another using a non-stretch rope or chain will require good traction to be able to exert a meaningful pull. A four-wheel drive will easily spin its wheels on firm gravel or sand even if pulling a vehicle that is only lightly bogged. When attempting a direct pull, always look for an advantage, like a slope or a surface where the wheels will get a better grip. Be careful that the recovery vehicle does not bog down while attempting the recovery.
Purpose made safety loops are a relatively new addition to the range of 4×4 recovery equipment. They are used to arrest the cable or strap in the event that it, or the mount on the vehicle, breaks. They are attached by looping themselves over themselves. No shackles are used. The pictures on the left illustrate how they are used. These loops are so effective that no other items need to be draped over the cable. A set of two loops is required.
The use of winches
The first safety rule when using a winch is that a single individual must be put in charge of the winch. This person will be the ONLY one to use the switch – and the ONLY one handling the recovery of the winch cable once the winching operation is complete. This is done to prevent anyone losing fingers – a common injury when the cable handler lets someone else operate the switch.
The following video shows the very first time I used a winch. I made all the mistakes… and more. Namibia, 1984.
Winches are potentially hazardous. Study these key points:
• Before winching have everyone stand well clear. The slingshot effect caused by a cable break under load can cause serious injury.
• Wear gloves when handling winch cable and use a cable guide when feeding in loose cable.
• The winch cable should be cared for and wound neatly on the drum under tension.
• Always have five turns of cable wound around the drum before winching. Less than five turns could mean the cable clamp on the drum coming undone.
• Be aware of the condition of the winch cable. Damage, as illustrated on the left, severely reduces the breaking strain of the cable. Damaged cable is also the best reason for wearing leather gloves.
• Never stand in the ‘V’ of a winching layout under tension.
• If you are not in control of the recovery operation, avoid stepping over a strap or cable after it has been attached, even when it appears to be lying harmlessly on the ground.
• Never hook a winch cable around an object and then back on itself. This is a common cause of cable breakages among the inexperienced. Anchor straps are used to prevent this.
• When a winch gets hot, let it rest.
• Ensure that the winch cable does not bunch on one side.
• Look after the winch cable and pack it tightly on the drum
• NEVER have one person hold the switch and another feed in
cable. This is the single most common cause of injury during