Car Advice

Be Like Bear Grylls With Basic 4WD Recovery Techniques

Top tips on how to self-recover your 4WD when it’s stuck out in the bush, mud, snow or sand.

(SPONSORED) DRIVING OFF-ROAD is a whole lot of fun and can be very safe provided you know what you’re doing and where you’re going. The key to avoiding having to self-recover is to be aware of your surroundings; be mindful about following tracks around a boggy section of the track as this will just lead to the creation of another boggy section of track overtime and result in another side track, or ‘chicken track’ being carved out and the environment suffering. If there’s nothing else for it, then use the side track, but do ask yourself the question, do I really need to attempt this track on my own?

Off-roading should be more about the destination rather than heading into the bush to try and find your 4WD’s limits and become stuck… and especially not when you’re on your own. Indeed, the photos in this article were only taken because we had a second, recovery vehicle nearby.

But, let’s say you’ve decided to explore a side track on your own and have become stuck. Here are a few of the things you can try if you’re all on your own with very little recovery gear in the back of your 4WD.

Be like Bear Grylls…

The most important tool in your 4WD recovery kit is your own brain and internet access on your smartphone. Always use the former but the latter can be helpful for when you run out of ideas. And, above all else, don’t panic.

You’re driving a 4×4… so use everything it’s got

So, use your vehicle the way it was intended. All modern 4×4 wagons, like the Ford Everest, have different driving modes; but few are as advanced as the system in the Everest 4WD, so make the most of all the modes at your disposal.

Here’s a very brief explanation of how the different modes in the Ford Everest 4WD work:

Normal mode – This mode is for on-road conditions and should be used on hard road surfaces, or once the need for any of the off-road modes has passed.

Mud/Snow/Grass – This mode should be used where a firm surface is covered with loose or slippery material. This includes gravel, shallow mud, wet grass or snow covered road.

Sand – This mode should be used for crossing deep sand or deep sticky mud.

Rock – This mode gives low speed controllability for crawling over rocks. Low range must be selected before this mode can be activated.

In low-range only Normal and Rock can be selected, and the vehicle will not up-change from first-gear low in Rock mode – you need to manually select higher gears. As usual with mud/snow (and grass) modes these are not suited for use in deep, soft conditions such as snow more than about 100mm deep or thick mud. Think of them more as ‘slippery surface’ modes, and that’s why Ford recommends Sand mode for when driving across deep mud.

The Ford Everest 4WD’s Terrain Management System allows you to tailor your vehicle for the right track condition… minimise your chance of becoming stuck by using the correct setting and engaging 4WD low-range when necessary.
The Ford Everest 4WD’s Terrain Management System allows you to tailor your vehicle for the right track condition… minimise your chance of becoming stuck by using the correct setting and engaging 4WD low-range when necessary.

Sometimes, knowing which seemingly disconnected Mode will work in the situation you’ve got yourself in is a case of trial and error, but did you know rock mode is great in some sand situations, and so on?

It might be using, or not using, the rear-axle locking differential, low range or not. And the first thing you should check is that the car is in its best 4WD mode, if you’re driving an Everest 4WD then make sure you’ve selected the correct Terrain Management Setting; you might have accidentally left it in Normal. Sometimes, locking the rear differential (if your vehicle has such a feature), or switching off the car and engaging 4×4 again can be the difference between being stuck and making it out.

Consult the owner’s manual, the manual for the Ford Everest 4WD contains some very handy off-roading hints, or just keep trying different options, even if they seem silly.

Stuck in a dead end…

Quite often when you’re driving off-road you can get stuck in a track that goes nowhere. Indeed, just the other day I had to reverse back down a track for more than two kilometres. There was no indication from my maps that there was a gate at the end of it… more than that, the track was overgrown and so turning around just wasn’t an option without having to bulldoze a section of bush and scratch up the front and sides of my Ford Everest 4WD. In the end, using a combination of the reversing camera and my mirrors I could reverse back down the track slowly and carefully until I found a spot where I could turn the vehicle around.

Indeed, if you feel like the track is closing in or the going becoming a little harder and the light is failing, then backing off and reversing back from where you are will have the effect of keeping you from getting stuck in the first place. The same applies to hill climbs or maybe not driving through that boggy section of mud and finding a path around it.

You can see the rutted track to the right-hand side, the mud was very thick and the tyres were already caked thick with mud, so, taking the path on the left was the best way to avoid becoming stuck. As it’s within the boundaries of the track, taking this path is acceptable… if a track had been cut through the grass around the bog, then the best advice would be to either drive the bog and not risk damaging the environment, or not driving the bog… preferably not when you’re on your own.
You can see the rutted track to the right-hand side, the mud was very thick, so, taking the path on the left was the best way to avoid becoming stuck. As it’s within the boundaries of the track taking this path is acceptable… if a track had been cut through the grass around the bog, then the best advice would be to either drive the bog and not risk damaging the environment, or not driving the bog… preferably not when you’re on your own.

Get your hands dirty

Sometimes all it takes to help your vehicle clamber up and over an obstacle is a little bit of help. So, before you start to panic, get out of your car and have a look at the area that’s preventing progress along the track. It might be that a fist-sized rock placed in front of a wheel is enough to help the vehicle drive up and over… Building a ramp in front of each wheel is often the difference between being stuck and making it up and out.

The key issues here will usually be ground clearance and traction, and by building on the track you can help stack the odds in your vehicles favour.

You can see how a handful of stones stacked at the base of the rock ledge can be the difference between the bumper catching and the vehicle having to climb a vertical surface, and one that creates a ramp to climb up the ledge… 
You can see how a handful of stones stacked at the base of the rock ledge can be the difference between the bumper catching and the vehicle having to climb a vertical surface, and one that creates a ramp to climb up the ledge…

Fill in holes where the tyres spin, and reduce the height of anything the car is grounding on. If you’re smart, you’ll do both at the same time. You may need to sacrifice the internal floor mats or other trim. Use rocks rather than wood to build as wood is slippery and can break and stake the tyre causing it to go flat, and then you’ll have another problem to deal with. And, if you’ve got one, some sort of duffle bag filled with rocks can also help; just make sure you place the bag where it needs to go and bring the rocks to it rather than filling it and trying to carry it to where it needs to be.

Stuck in soft sand… or mud

Then lowering your tyre pressures can often help to get the traction needed to get your vehicle out of its sand trap. But, if you do decide to let the air out of your tyre and you don’t have a portable air compressor with you then you’re going to need to be extremely careful. Let out enough air to flatten the tyre and get you unstuck, but then you need to remember to keep the speed right down to avoid overheating your tyre and breaking the bead. If you manage to make it out and back to the bitumen, it might be worth stopping and calling for someone to come and help with the portable air compressor you should have had in the back of your vehicle.

One issue with travelling on a wet muddy road is that your tyres can become caked with mud losing all grip. If you’re not careful and the track is sloping to one side, these mud-caked tyres can cause you to slip sideways on the track… Always use low-range in thick mud like this, and dropping the tyre pressures down to around 18-20psi is also recommended, but only if you have a way to reinflate them.
One issue with travelling on a wet muddy road is that your tyres can become caked with mud losing all grip. If you’re not careful and the track is sloping to one side, these mud-caked tyres can cause you to slip sideways on the track… Always use low-range in thick mud like this, and dropping the tyre pressures down to around 18-20psi is also recommended, but only if you have a way to reinflate them.

If you’re stuck in mud… well, you might end up having to get dirty. You can refer to the ‘track building’ ideas above for help with mud… in mud there’s almost no traction, so, you can help your vehicle out by placing stuff at the front of the wheels to help give them a bit of grip. Another trick is to use reverse and then forwards gear to try and rock your vehicle forwards, and you can see-saw at the steering wheel with the aim of trying to grab the side of the boggy ruts you’re in; these usually offer more grip and hopefully the tyre’s shoulder won’t have become caked with mud, allowing it to grab against the wall of the rut and help you to inch your way out of the bog. By steering side to side while driving forwards it helps to push the slick mud away from the tyre and hopefully down to a harder, grippier surface. And lowering your tyre pressures and providing the tyre with a longer tread pattern and thus more grip can also help.

If you must drive through a boggy, rutted section of track then make sure you stick to the ruts rather than straddling them as you would on a dry, rutted section of track. In the wet, you’ll end up sliding back into the ruts, so it’s best to start in them from the beginning.
If you must drive through a boggy, rutted section of track then make sure you stick to the ruts rather than straddling them as you would on a dry, rutted section of track. In the wet, you’ll end up sliding back into the ruts, so it’s best to start in them from the beginning.

In the end…

Common sense and making use of your 4WD to its full potential, like using the right Terrain Management Setting on the Ford Everest 4WD, will allow you to self-recover from most difficult situations. That said, investing in a basic recovery kit and leaving it in the back of your 4WD will make life easier if you do get yourself stuck. And don’t ever head into the bush with only a quarter of a tank of fuel… you don’t want running out of fuel to be the reason you get stuck. It’s much easier to build up a section of track than to find fuel when you’re a long way from anywhere and have just noticed you’ve got no phone reception.

Question: Have you ever become stuck while off-road alone? How did you recover your vehicle, share your tips by leaving a comment.


  • amiaq

    Make sure you let some one know where you are going, for how long and when you will be back. Always have extra drinking water, 1-2 cans of bake bean and toilet rolls. What’s the toilet paper for? You can thank me later.

  • Andrew Riles

    On a few occasions I’ve half planned the recovery in my head before attempting an obstacle….so i knew that I at least had the right gear with me to get unbogged should I not make it….

    Knowing your worst case scenario is a good thing too…..if you have phone reception then a phone call to a mate (and a trip to the bottle-o on the way home) to come and help get you out is always a handy plan B….

  • SgtCarlMc

    Buy just a case of water bottles, cheap cheap at Coles or Woolies, place behind passenger seat until needed, replace before expiry date, 24 bottles will last a while. Make up a goody box, every Artillery truck had one, containing pkt soup, dry biscuits, toot paper, hydrated pkts of vegies, soup lentils, should you break down these along with your water supplies will last for two weeks

  • trackdaze

    Air compressors can fail. I use an old Malcom Douglas trick and pump my spares up to maximum 80psi for LT’s and carry enough hose to get to the fronts.

    When I’m back on road I will often use the compressor on the fronts and start the backs on the excess in the spares.

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