How to Mud Driving Part 4 – Driving techniques in mud
In How To: Mud Driving Part 1 we discussed why you should avoid mud if at all possible and in Part 2 we examined the different types of mud you’re likely to encounter when four-wheel driving. In Part 3 we looked at the best ways to get ready to drive through the mucky stuff and now, in How To Mud Driving Part 4, we’re going to get down and dirty…
Diving in… cautiously
Faced with a long muddy section on a track, you would have already scoped out an exit point, looked for anchor points in case you needed to winch out, checked the depth of the mud and the condition of the base beneath the surface, made sure your recovery gear was easily accessible, engaged low-range and made sure your hubs (if fitted) were locked and selected the appropriate off-road mode (if fitted) and engaged your diff locks (if fitted).
Once you’ve done all of the above, select a gear that will provide enough momentum to get you through the muddy section but one that’s not so low that you’ll end up spinning your wheels without going anywhere. Depending on your vehicle’s overall gearing, you’ll probably find that the best gear is low-range second or low-range third.
As you enter the muddy section, keep revs up and try to avoid any gear changes if you’re driving a 4X4 with a manual gearbox, because as soon as you put your foot on the clutch pedal you’ll lose momentum and possibly be sucked down into the mud.
By keeping revs up in the slippery stuff, you’ll likely feel the wheels will start to spin, which is a good thing, as the rotational forces should help to clear mud from the tyres’ tread blocks, which will give them a better chance of gaining some grip.
Try to keep a steady pace through the muddy section without going to wild with the throttle, but if you start to lose momentum and you can still feel the wheels spinning, move the steering wheel back and forth in a rapid see-sawing action; hopefully this will help the front tyres to bite into the sides of the ruts, which should help to pull the vehicle through the muddy section.
Uphill and downhill
When climbing muddy tracks momentum is your friend, so if you’re driving up a steep, section, you’ll want to employ the aforementioned techniques but with a bit more gusto. Don’t be afraid to let the tyres spin a bit through the mud, but don’t go overboard. You want just enough speed to get you through the mud but not so much that you might lose vehicle control.
Descending steep muddy tracks can be quite scary. Before you tackle a muddy downhill section, have a good look at the wheel ruts. If they’re not too deep, driving in the ruts will aid directional control, but if you reckon you might run out of ground clearance, you’ll have to carefully straddle the ruts. Make sure your vehicle is in low-range and carefully start the descent. If you apply too much braking pressure when descending slippery mud sections you’ll likely lock up the wheels and lose steering capability – this can even be the case with vehicles equipped with ABS – so even if it feels counterintuitive, get ready to apply some throttle if you start to lose steering feel. Once your wheels are turning again you’ll be able to steer the vehicle.
Getting out of strife
The first thing to do if you get stuck in mud is to try and reverse out. If the mud is particularly deep, it may have built up in front of your tyres, so if you can reverse a few metres you’ll be able to have another crack at the muddy section with a bit more momentum. If you’re unsuccessful, don’t be afraid to have several attempts, with a bit more momentum each time, but if your vehicle appears to be bogging down even more, it’s time to take another approach.
When you get to a point where you can’t move in either direction, it’ll be because too much mud has built up under the vehicle, so it’s time to grab the shovel and start moving some of that mud. Clear away in front of and behind the tyres, beneath the bash plate, under the diffs and anywhere else where mud is contacting the underside of your vehicle. Once you’ve cleared away as much mud as possible you can have another go at driving out, but take it easy and try to build up momentum gradually or you might just dig yourself in even deeper. Further lowering tyre pressures at this point may help the situation too.
If you’re still stuck, now is a good time to use recovery tracks, such as MaxTrax, Exitrax or Tred brands. If you’re going to drive forwards, wedge a pair of recovery boards in front of the front tyres, but if you’re going to back out wedge them behind the rear tyres; if you have four recovery boards you can place one in front of each wheel in the direction of travel. Select low-range first gear (or reverse) drive up and on to the recovery tracks trying not to spin the wheels, but once you have some momentum, apply more throttle and keep going until you’re on to firmer ground. This can take more than one attempt, but you’ll need to persist until you’re out of strife.
If you’re travelling with other vehicles and they’re within range, you can always perform a snatch recovery to get out of the mud, or if you have a winch and something to winch off, this is another way to get out of the mud. Always follow correct usage and safety procedures when performing a vehicle recovery.
Once you’re out…
As mentioned in How To: Mud Driving Part 1, mud isn’t good for your vehicle, so once you’re out of the stuff you’ll want to clean your rig as best you can. Immediately after a deep muddy section, clear away mud from under wheel arches and, if you can, from around the wheels themselves, as mud can throw your wheel balance right out. You’ll also want to have a good look under your rig to check for any damage.
Once you’re back on the blacktop, make sure your number plates are clean enough to be visible and that your lights are clean enough to be effective, and when you get back home give your vehicle a thorough clean, both inside and out.
If you’ve been driving in deep mud for extended periods of time, you’ll also want to give your vehicle a thorough service, replacing oils, fluids and filters, and checking bearings, CV boots and suspension components.