Driving off-road, or a little off on the shoulder? Maybe you had to pull off the road for a break or a break-down. Or the last stretch to a camp ground or scenic vista turned out to be unpaved. Or you just love the beach. It’s easy for a car, RV, or even a 4-wheel-drive vehicle to get stuck in mud, dirt, or sand.
You know mud’s slippery, but did you know that dry sand “flows?” Driving on either can be skidding in a sharp turn on wet pavement. Once you’ve lost traction spinning your wheels just digs your tires in deeper without any added traction. Let’s see how to avoid getting stuck, and what to do if that does happen.
Avoid Getting Stuck in the First Place
The simple and obvious solution is to not drive on unpaved areas. But sometimes you just don’t have a choice. When you see potential problems ahead, if at all possible park and have a closer look first. Get out of your vehicle and inspect the path ahead. If there’s wet or muddy areas or deep sand and you can’t take an alternate route, remind yourself of the following precautions.
- Let a little air out of your tires to flatten them just a little bit. This increases traction by increasing their “foot print” and by making them more flexible. Don’t go below 15 psi, and be sure to bring them back up to the proper pressure as soon as possible.
- Keep a slow but steady speed, avoiding any sudden changes.
- Avoid using your brakes as much as possible. Let your vehicle gradually slow down on its own instead.
- Many drivers recommend not using low gears in mud and suggest lowering the throttle if you start to loose traction.
- Slowly moving the steering wheel slightly right and left may help.
- If you see an old rut with hard-packed dirt, use that. Otherwise stay out of recent single tracks.
- Don’t just blindly follow someone. They may have deflated their tires or have 4WD.
And never drive into flooded areas. Running water just a foot deep can push a passenger vehicle. And the water may be much deeper than you think, especially if the roadway has been undermined or washed away.
When You’re Stuck
If you do get your vehicle stuck in mud, dirt or sand get out and assess the situation. Is there some obstacle such as a rock that’s blocking you?
If not you can use a car’s floor mat or a scrap of rug to help get you out. Place an edge just under the stuck tire with the rest in front of the wheel. Then drive forward slowly. You may have to keep repeating this until you’re out of the boggy or sandy area.
Alternatively you could add sand or gravel to the mud. Or have one person driving and one person pushing. If your wheels have spun out and dug themselves in, with a little skill and patience you can gently rock the vehicle back and forth until it makes its way out of the depression.
When all else fails, call a tow truck! We’ll be happy to help with a winch-out or other assistance.
It’s always good to be well prepared. It’s a bit much to keep sand or gravel in the trunk. But it’s a great idea to stow away some old carpet scraps or cardboard. You can also buy wheel tracks such as Trac-Grabber, made especially to help you avoid getting stuck. They’re much like snow chains, but for muck and mire instead.