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Trail Savvy: Mud Driving


The dark and slippery art of mud driving is a difficult subject to tackle, primarily because there are so many different types of mud. Sandy mud, black cotton soil, layered clay and waterlogged mud all have different characteristics and require a different approach, so this article will cover the basic techniques required for most instances, but can’t hope to cover every situation.

Look before you leap

Mud must be approached with caution, just like any other challenging surface. It’s best to stop before entering a deep bog rather than ploughing into it without knowing its depth or length.

Check to see how thick the mud is, how slippery or sticky it is, and make your judgement on the way forward based on that.

The obvious is not always the correct approach. For example, if muddy water covers a slippery road, driving straight through the deepest section of the water instead of trying to slip around the shallower edge may be the best option, as deeper water often hides a hard surface underneath.

When the wheels spin

If the vehicle does dig itself to a halt, remember not to spin your wheels, as this will simply dig you deeper into the mud and make recovery difficult.

One of the major factors that’ll get you stuck in mud is a pile of the stuff building up in front of your tyres. For this reason, narrower tyres are often better in mud: they produce less build-up than wider tyres, clear their tread more easily, and may continue to cut through the mud to a hard base with traction below. (The complexities of mud-terrain tyre design versus a more closed-block all-terrain pattern is a full debate for another article.)

If you do get bogged, your best bet is to attempt to reverse out of the predicament in the tracks you’ve already made. In this situation, where ruts are formed, keep the steering straight; and, if necessary, remove piles of mud from behind the wheels before you attempt to reverse.

Sawing left and right at the wheel is not effective in ruts as it adds resistance, but can help to find traction on slippery inclines.

When you are descending a slippery hill, it is vital to keep the wheels turning under engine power to maintain control of your direction. Standing on the brakes will lock up the wheels and remove all control from your steering, and may also cause the uncontrolled slide to accelerate.

The chances of getting bogged down in mud are high, so plan your escape wisely, or modify the route before entry by packing the track with stones, recovery tracks or even sand.

You’ll want to lower the tyre pressures to around 70% of road pressure to lengthen your footprint, too.

Types of mud

Generally, liquid mud is easier to traverse − sticky, dense mud creates a huge amount of resistance and clogs up treads. An example of this is the terribly sticky black cotton clay found in many parts of Botswana and further north in South Africa. This clay will coat tyres, and suck your vehicle down, making self-recovery nearly impossible.

If mud is dense and deep, missing the obstacle entirely may be a better option than attempting something that will almost certainly get you stuck.

After driving in mud, it is imperative to clean your vehicle so that the acids in the mud don’t damage your paint. Mud tends to dry like cement underneath your vehicle, and becomes more difficult to remove as time goes by. When aggregated on moving items, it may unbalance them or impair movement, causing accelerated wear on universal joints, bearings, steering mechanisms or suspension components.