4wd Recovery Safety Techniques
Half the fun of a 4wd is that you can take it almost anywhere. Rivers, rough ground or thick bush that would defeat a normal car… no worries, just drive on through. A well set up off road vehicle can really get around. Of course it’s not invincible and if you enjoy getting away from it all then sooner or later you’re going to find you’re stuck. Now here’s a nice test of your outdoor abilities – can you get moving again?
Most of us have at least some recovery gear in our off road transport, even if it’s only a jack. Some carry a lot more (we do.) Snatch straps, shovels and sand channels are all good kit to have when you’re faced with an unscheduled stop in the outback. Having a winch mounted on your vehicle is a great feeling at those times, too. A properly equipped 4x4 has all the gear you need to extract yourself from almost any situation. The next question is, can you use it all safely? A recovery operation on a big, heavy vehicle can be dangerous. There are heavy weights and huge forces involved and if you get in their way the results can be serious, even fatal. Before you head off anywhere that could involve self-recovery you need to know the safe way to use all your equipment. That applies to everything of course, but recovery gear most of all.
The first thing to be aware of is the locations on your vehicle that are safe for recovery use. That mainly applies to two things – safe places for a jack and suitable locations for attaching tow straps or cables. Jacking points will be listed in the owner’s handbook for your vehicle and you shouldn’t use a standard jack anywhere else. Of course an exhaust jack gives you a bit more flexibility on where to lift and has some other advantages too – we’ll cover those. When it comes to attaching cables and straps it’s vital you only use proper recovery points. Your vehicle’s towing points or properly installed after market recovery fittings will do. Anything else, no matter how solid it seems, won’t. Even bumpers and bull bars can rip loose if you try and haul yourself out with them, so stick with recovery points. If the point you’re using needs a shackle make sure you use a properly rated one – we think 3.25 tonnes is a good start. When fastening shackles tighten the pin fully then loosen it one turn to prevent it seizing when a load goes on it.
Snatch straps and winch cables are dangerous. They can store an immense amount of energy and if they snap it’s released instantly. The first step in avoiding that is making sure your strap or cable is strong enough. Aim for a rating at least twice the weight of the lightest vehicle involved in the recovery – three times is better if you can do it. The same applies to any fittings you’re using. Hang a damper over the strap before applying tension – a tent or heavy blanket will help, but a purpose made damper is better. That will reduce the hazard if it snaps. If at all possible never cross a tensioned strap, but if you have to don’t step across it – stand on it as you go over. That sounds odd, but if it breaks while you’re half way across the energy release will throw you clear. That’s going to hurt, but it’s better than having one end come up between your legs and whip off the crown jewels. Keep anyone who’s not involved in the recovery inside a vehicle or at least one and a half times the length of the unstretched strap away from the action.
Don’t get any part of your body under a vehicle unless it’s securely jacked. Be aware that jacks can suddenly sink into soft ground. Where possible brace them on something. A mat of branches or brush will do, but we prefer something like a Tough Track or Tred. Exhaust jacks have an advantage here because they naturally resist being forced into the ground. There are times you’ll have to get under the vehicle to dig, so make absolutely sure it’s not going to sink on top of you. Even if you’re not crushed it’s easy to get into trouble that way, especially around water.
When you’re pulling a bogged vehicle out, try to pull from directly to the front or rear. Whether you’re using a winch or another vehicle doesn’t matter; just do your best to bring it out straight. If you’re pulling one end round there’s a chance of knocking a tyre off its rim, and with high pressures involved that can be extremely risky.
Before using any item of recovery equipment read the manual carefully and make sure you understand everything it says. Do that, and remember our basic safety tips, and you should be able to recover your vehicle from any situation with the minimum of risks. Just take it steadily and don’t do anything unless you know your kit can handle it, and you’ll do fine.