10 things you should not do in a 4×4 recovery

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1. Ignore your tyre pressures

Tyre pressures are the most critical thing you can control when 4×4’ing. There’s a very good chance that the tyre pressures of the vehicle you are recovering are incorrect, so check the pressure and adjust. In sand especially, this is the easiest way to make a recovery simple, safe and quick. Don’t be afraid to let your tyres down a bit more if needed; it makes a huge difference.

2. Use the tow bar ball

NEVER use a tow ball to snatch or winch a vehicle. It can create a heavy piece of metal flying through the air at speed similar to a bullet. Luckily, this fact has been published a lot more in recent years, but people still seem to think it is OK.

3. Stand close to the action

A mistake so many people make when recovering a vehicle is to stand close to the recovery. Yes, it is exciting, and you want to see what is happening, but you need to be at least TWO times the length of the strap away from the recovery. This ensures that if something does go wrong you aren’t going to get hit with a piece of recovery gear.

4. Use unrated recovery gear

All recovery gear must be rated and have a data label on it. On the data label you should be able to see the Manufacturer details and the WLL (working load limit). All rated shackles will be stamped with their WLL. Using something that isn’t rated could lead to a breakage, which is something you really, really want to avoid.

5. Use a snatch strap on a vehicle badly stuck in mud

A matter of opinion, but in general, a vehicle that is badly stuck in mud is not one that should be recovered by a snatch strap. Instead, a winch, Maxtrax and plenty of hard work on the shovel are the better option. If you’ve ever been badly stuck in mud this will make sense; mud has a level of suction that is truly incredible. The moment you stop moving, the mud sucks down on your vehicle and refuses to let go. The problem is that a snatch strap applies a lot of force in a very short period of time. If it manages to pull the vehicle out then you are fine, but if it doesn’t, all of that force goes through your chassis, snatch strap and recovery points. A winch is a much better option, as it gradually applies pressure until the suction is broken and the vehicle starts moving. The best thing to do is dig as much mud away as possible, lay your Maxtrax down and winch out. Again, not everyone has a winch, so you have to make do with what you’ve got available. I’m not suggesting you throw your snatch strap out when going 4×4’ing in the mud, just be aware of the extra stress you can put on your vehicle if you use it when badly stuck!

6. Ignore the second recovery point

It’s good recovery practice to recover off two points. Ideally, you should have two recovery points on the front and the rear of your 4×4. If you are recovering, or being recovered, you should use a Bridle strap/ rope in-between both points, with the winch or snatch strap attached to this. The load is then spread over two recovery points, and puts a more even force on your chassis. A bent chassis is the last thing you want from a day’s 4×4’ing!

7. Use recovery equipment that isn’t suited for your vehicle

A range of different-sized snatch straps, winches and other recovery gear are available. If you have a Suzuki Jimny, you shouldn’t be using the same snatch strap as someone with a Toyota Land Cruiser. Make sure the recovery gear suits your vehicle; if it is too light you risk breaking the recovery gear and in general something flying in the air. If it is too heavy you risk possible damage to the vehicle.

8. Ignoring the dampener

It’s a good idea to use a dampener when recovering a stuck vehicle by winch or snatch strap. It is there purely to reduce the recoil, should something break. You don’t have to buy a dampener; a towel or heavy jacket works just as well, but it’s worth putting one (or two) on the line before you start the recovery.

9. Choke a strap

Whether it is a snatch strap, bridle straps or any strap/rope, it is a bad idea to choke a strap. What I mean by this is putting the eye of one strap through the other, and pulling it tight around something (like most dog collars). By doing this, you drastically reduce the strength of the strap, and it may break. It is advised to make it a basket around the item – feed one end around and attach the strap or winch onto both equal length ends of the strap.

10. Spin your wheels

When you get stuck, the worst thing you can do is put your foot down on the accelerator. Ironically, this is usually the first thing people do when they get stuck. If your wheels turn and you don’t move forward, you are going to sink. The longer you stay on the accelerator, the deeper your hole gets, and the harder it is to be recovered. This is the same as when you are being recovered; a gentle turn of the wheels is a good idea as it helps to pop you back onto hard ground, but there’s no need to have your car revving to the limiter!


This series of articles is written by vehicle recovery specialist Jacques Coetzee, co-owner of Wild Dog 4×4, and a manufacturer of a variety of recovery equipment.

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