Perhaps the most common question I see on entering the world of driving off-road and 4WDing is what equipment do I need.
In short, the stuff you need is often the stuff you don’t have. Check out Tools of a bush mechanic
“I suppose the message is that you never really know what you may need on the track”
However, there are ways that you can avoid looking like a complete ‘numpty’ when it comes to getting stuck and needing a hand.
But, first… why do I emphasise self-recovery here? Well, you don’t always travel with someone (somewhat unwise if you’re starting out or in high risk situations) and there are times when you’re on a road, track or beach and there are not many others around to lend that helping hand.
Additionally, I am of the view that, even if you are travelling with others it may be better to decline the immediate offers of help and simply try and nut it out yourself. I say this because it can be good practice. For me, I’ll often politely decline the rapid response from mates of ‘Let’s hook the snatch-em straps up and I’ll drag you out’ and opt to dig and perhaps use recovery tracks.
Naturally, if the tide is coming in, the sun is setting, it’s raining, the kids are crying, the partner is a little peeved, and / or your mates are trying to push on (for a good reason), then might be a good time to just drag the bugger out and move on.
So, lets look at what the escalating steps may be in self-recovery process.
Firstly, lets look at the passive side of things. I say passive because they sit there ready to go. These are things like recovery points for the car (and trailer). They can cost a bit, but they are essential if you want to be extracted safely.
Recovery at the rear is somewhat simple in that you can get hitch receivers with rated ‘D’ shackles that slide into your tow ball receivers on the towbar. Have a chat with the technical people in store and see what’s best for your tow rig and trailer.
Recovery from the front is a little trickier as the hold-down points that came with the car are just that – hold-down points. These hooks are not rated (generally) and shouldn’t be used for recovery. You’ll need to check out what you can get for your car to suit your needs.
These could be considered as not being true ‘self’ recovery items, but they are essential if you’re wanting someone to pull you out when all else fails.
Other things like vehicle lifts and bash plates could also come under passive equipment. Again, they may not assist in the recovery itself, but you’ll attract a lot less attention if you’ve taken preventative measures.
Then there’s snatch-straps and rated shackles to think about. You may not know how to use them… BUT, if someone offers to help get you out, the chances are that they’ll ask to use your stuff so that they don’t bugger theirs. After all, one rule on the track is if theirs breaks – you’ve just bought it.
One last thing on the passive side is to keep a few spare $20 notes somewhere in the car. If someone does help you, it is the best way to show your heartfelt appreciation. It’s not a must or a ‘have to’ – its just nice to offer. Chances are too that your ofer will most likely be politely refused. This is when you have a spare stubbie on board too.
Now we start getting into the heart of things. The equipment themselves may not be active – but you will be.
Buy yourself a long-handled shovel. This is a great item to have on board as I’m sure that you’ll use it more around the fire and the latrine than you will in a recovery digging out in front of the tyre and under the car / trailer. But, its a great first step.
I say long-handled because this will allow you to get under the wheels and the car body without getting under the car or bending too far.
The other thing I’ve seen in the books (but never done) on using a shovel is to place it under the tow ball of a disconnected trailer and tie the handle end to the recovery strap. In this way, the shovel acts as a slide under which the trailer can be dragged out of a bog etc. Anyway, keep that in the back of your mind.
Link 1 will take you directly to Tentworld’s Shovels.
Next on the list would be recovery tracks (be they Maxtrax, TREDs or some other brand). Besides giving you a firm base to drive up on to and get a running start out of a soft sand or bog situation, these can be used to level the camping vehicle when on uneven ground, lifting a flat tyre to gain access underneath when you have a flat tyre, building a bridge to get over a rut, using as a safe base for a jack or just make your car look tougher in the car park.
Treat these as a consumable. They won’t remain in pristine condition all of your life as they bend and twist. You can spend hundreds of dollars on them and I’m sure that there are degrees of quality in the material – and outcome. But, just think that not so long ago, campers used to take bits of carpet on holidays with them for this same very reason. I personally have a couple of cheap imported tracks that I use on my camper.
Link 2 to the rhs will take you to Tentword Recovery Tracks
Tentworld Recovery Tracks
Yes, you probably have a jack that came with the car. Chances are though that this will struggle with a travel load and be a little unstable.
I recently had to use my factory jack to get under the rear axle when I had a flat. My bottle jack wouldn’t fit under the axle at the suspension and the axle was so low that the screw thread and the lifting arms just couldn’t get leverage. I solved this by lifting at the axle itself closer to the bell housing and putting the bottle jack under the shock absorber once I had some height.
So, you may need to pack a bottle jack too.
People often espouse the benefits of high-lift jacks. These are the jacks you see getting about that are about a metre high (or so), painted red or yellow and have a ratchet device with a long handle to lift and lower the vehicle. Possibly the same number of people that recommend them will also tell you to be extremely careful with them. The need for care here comes in because they can lift the vehicle so high, they can be somewhat unstable and the lifting and lowering process can cause the handle to fly back and hit you in all sorts of places. Again, I haven’t used one and I don’t carry one.
These jacks can sometimes be seen on TV to be used to lift a car and actually realign it on the track by pushing the whole lot sideways – not for me sorry.
Watch for other videos too, as you can use these jacks as a pulley / winch also. Again, I’ve not done this.
Also, these look good on the roof of the car in the car park.
Tentworld High Lift Jack
When we talk jacks, we need to consider base plates to give you a good footing for the point load you’re going to impact on the soft / boggy ground. You could go out and buy a proprietary base plate (like I did recently) or just use a solid piece of timber that you can carry round and use for other things like filleting fish.
These are effectively big vinyl bags that you fill with air from a compressor or from your car’s exhaust. These offer a slow / safe lift that allows you to dig out under the car, place some recovery tracks or get a jack under. Personally, I wouldn’t go anywhere near under one of these, but I have used mine to get out of a tricky situation in sand.
Tyre pressure is paramount in many situations off-road. So much so, that I nearly didn’t add it here because you shouldn’t be in this situation without the correct (whatever that is – and people’s views differ) tyre pressures.
You’ll find that the helpers that help the helpless will be far more understanding if you have an idea of tyre pressures and you have a way to re-inflate them.
Link 6 and you will find Tentworld’s Compressors
A little nick-knack that I have in the car is a rubber block with a nylon strap and velcro. It’s something that you may have seen on the interweb. The idea is that the block sits on the tread of the tyre and the strap goes around the walls of the tyre and through the holes / spokes of the tyre’s rim. Then as you try to drive off, the block acts as a ‘paddle-wheel’ and gives you extra traction.
So, ‘odds and sods’ is about having whatever items you can throw into your quiver of tools to do everything you can thing of to get you out of that situation – as the tide rises, the sun sets, the temperature drops and the rain starts….
Same goes for knowledge. The more you’ve read, watched or listened, the better off you’ll be when the sand hits the fan.
Now we’re starting to get a bit more serious… If you’ve dipped your toe in the water, sand or mud and you’ve found you like it, give a thought to a winch. A winch is usually mounted on the bull bar (so you’ll need one of them too) and you run off your car’s battery (so be sure to have a good one and good wiring) to wind a cable in to pull your car out of the situation. You can winch off other cars (so, you’ll need one of them), you can winch off trees (one of those would be handy if you’ve got one – plus a tree protector strap) and you can use a pulley to double back to the car (using your rated recovery point) to increase the ratio of the pull and lessen the load on the winch.
This is a whole new world and perhaps beyond what I want to cover off on here.
But, if you’ve tried all the above and find you need a winch, you either know what you’re doing already or you’re in a world of hurt. This is not the world for beginners by themselves – I’d suggest.
I’ll let you chose on where to draw the line on the above list and in what order. But note there will be lots of other stuff (like tyre plugs, spare valves and tyre sealant plus maybe a chainsaw – oh and perhaps a drag chain) but, this will all come with time.
So, every little bit helps when it comes to escalating self-recovery.
Have fun and give it a go – but have some level of preparedness.