How to safely recover your four-wheel drive

By Evan Spence 6 Min Read

Accidents are sometimes unavoidable in day-to-day life. When it comes to safe four-wheel drive recoveries, accidents should be absolutely avoidable if you do things the right way. What we do want to achieve with this article is to highlight five straightforward key points for you to remember and execute every time the need for a vehicle recovery presents itself. If this saves just one close call, we’ll consider it worthwhile.

Your recovery gear

Recovery straps have a limited lifespan, so you should never use them more than 8-10 times (this is brand specific so it pays to check).

Always wash and inspect recovery straps after use. It is easier to replace them while at home before a trip than finding unserviceable items while in the bush.

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Rated recovery points are a must on any four-wheel drive. Don’t buy that 40in LED light bar you have been eyeing off until you have rated points front and rear fitted first.

Buy the best quality gear you can afford; cheap recovery gear is usually just that – cheap. A good tip is to ask driver trainers what their preferred brands of gear are, as they are the ones using this equipment day in and day out.

Use rated recovery equipment, which is useable to your situation. You don’t need a 12,000kg snatch strap if you drive a Suzuki Jimny, nor will a 6,000kg item be suitable for a fully loaded Nissan Patrol. If you tow a camper trailer, factor this into your equation too.

Assess the situation

Assessing the situation before diving in is the most important aspect of a safe recovery. Ensure nobody is hurt, and ascertain if the vehicle is safe to be recovered.

What terrain are you attempting to recover from? If you are in soft, boggy terrain such as sand or mud, will you be able to go forward or is backwards the only way? If stuck on rocks or in ruts, could track building be a better option, allowing you to continue driving? Don’t be afraid to drop a few more psi from the tyres if you think it’ll help, too.

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Remove any debris blocking smooth progress, such as logs, excess mud or loose rocks. This makes the path of recovery far less severe, putting less strain on both the recovery devices and the vehicle.

Decide what is needed to get out of the situation. Will a snatch recovery be necessary, or is winching the best plan of attack? Will a shovel and a few people pushing extract the vehicle, or does a member of your travelling party have traction aids on hand?

If you decide to winch, is there a suitable anchor close by, such as a tree or another vehicle? If not, this could limit your ability to self-recover and another plan of attack could be the best option.

Don’t rush

Unless you are bogged on an incoming tide, there is no rush. You are not in a competition situation; the goal is to get you and your vehicle mobile again safely.

Talk through a plan of attack, identify hazards and take the time to assess the situation and all risks thoroughly.

Appoint a leader – the person who makes the calls. As many eyes and ears as possible is a good thing, but too many people yelling commands makes a stressful situation even more so. In fact, everybody who is not a direct contributor to the recovery should be directed to stand well clear of the vehicles involved in the recovery.

Don’t go at it like a bull out of a gate; if winching or snatching there is no need to be running around madly. You will only wear yourself out, and the potential to slip and injure yourself is greater.

Once the vehicles are safely recovered, take the time to debrief. Look over the equipment used, check the vehicle for any damage and ensure everybody is safe and well. It only takes a few moments.

Winching sins

Never winch directly off a tree. Tree truck protectors aren’t expensive and don’t take up much space after all.

Never step over a live winch cable with tension on it. NEVER!

Don’t shock load your winch by trying to drive while winching. Let your winch do the work, you are not in a hurry.

Don’t run your winch flat out. Use it in bursts – some recommend 10 seconds on, 30 seconds off. Use that as a guideline to avoid excess heat build-up and strain on your electrical system.

Perform regular maintenance your winch – once a year is a smart plan, or more if it has been dunked regularly in mud or water and left to sit.

How to use a snatch strap

NEVER, EVER use a towball as a recovery point!

Always have all onlookers a safe distance away from the vehicles.

Try to clear obstacles from the path of the vehicle being recovered.

Always have a recovery blanket or damper over the snatch strap.

Only use quality and correctly rated recovery straps.



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