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February 2019 Issue
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Spinning wheels

This diagram shows how to perform a snatch-tow of a stuck vehicle. Image: Sam Moore
Anyone visiting the backcountry will know things don’t always go to plan. Mark Wilson shares some tips for when your 4WD becomes stuck.

If the route you are taking to the start of your adventure is on a formed gravel or clay track and you drive to the conditions, you’re no more likely to need assistance than you would on a highway. But once you venture onto a riverbed or a track with muddy ruts, getting stuck becomes part of the deal – some would say
part of the fun – of going off-road.

Do it right: The key to getting unstuck is ‘steady as she goes’ – don’t take your frustrations out on the engine, clutch and gearbox. Instead, get out and check exactly what the problem is. Put some effort into fixing it so that your first attempt at recovery is the one that works.

Spinning wheels: If your wheels are spinning rather than gripping in mud, sand or snow, or they are sinking, try reducing the tyre pressure to increases the surface area each tyre covers. You can reduce your tyre pressure by about 20 per cent without any issues (add a tyre pressure gauge to your kit) but you will need to re-inflate them at the first garage once you are back on tarseal as the lower pressure will
affect vehicle handling and fuel economy.

Us a shovel: Getting your shovel out is another good option. Dig in front of the wheels, or jack them up and lay down stones, branches or bits of wood for the tyres to grip on. Push them under the wheels if possible. Don’t start off in too low a gear or the wheels will spin again. Once moving, don’t stop or change gear until you are back on firm ground.

Tow: The quickest way to recover a stuck truck is by a ‘snatch’ tow from another truck, which is why it is such a good idea to travel at least in pairs. A snatch tow uses the elasticity of special nylon ropes or straps to increase the amount of pull on the vehicle that is stuck. The stuck vehicle is then being pulled not only by the momentum of the towing vehicle, but also by the energy stored in the stretched rope. Snatch-towing puts the rope and attachment points under extreme strain – up to 7000kg – hence the need for properly mounted recovery hooks. These are readily available from stockists of 4WD accessories, as are snatch ropes.

– Mark Wilson is the author of 4WD South: 115 Off Road Adventures in NZ’s South Island.

How to perform a snatch-tow

  • Attach the proper snatch-towing rope and drive the towing vehicle forward until you have taken up any slack.
  • Reverse the towing vehiclea short distance to allow a run-up.
  • Engage low-ratio second gear and drive away. All going well, the rope will stretch and the stuck vehicle will pop free.
  • If the vehicle stays stuck, dig around it before trying again. Break the suction holding the wheels by jacking them up and putting something firm underneath.