4-Wheel Freedom
4x4 Driving Tips
   Drawing of Jeep in mud.
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4-Wheel Freedom.
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The most recent tips are at the top of the list.
     Vince Sweeney, of Roanoke, Virginia, is an offroad racer and has extensive experience racing a number of vehicles, including Pinzgauer 6X6s. He has some good advice about avoiding broken axles and using lockers:
  "People with a machine like a Pinzgauer need to understand some VERY important things about using lockers.
  "NEVER use it, or allow the locker to stay engaged, when turning on a hard surface, especially on asphalt!!! Imagine how much stress this is putting on the shafts/splines! It's surprising they hold up like they do! Not to mention the front joints and the "wrap up" that is going on between the two diffs via your drive-shaft and transfer gears.
  "And NEVER (well, almost never) use your rear lockers when your rig is sitting sideways (leaning) on a hill and you need to drive to the top by turning. Having the rear locker engaged will turn both rear tires resulting in the rig trying to slide sideways when you try to move forward while turning up the hill. ( But having the fronts locked may be necessary and can help you steer in the direction they are pointed. I know there are exceptions to this... but it can make for a very dangerous roll-over situation if done wrong.
  "One thing I have seen break a tough axle shaft on a modified D-90 Rover was in Moab. The guy locked up all four (ARB lockers) and tried to get out of one of the "Tea Cup" slick-rock holes out there. He was about to come out of the hole when the truck slipped backwards and the passenger side rear tire caught a rock surface that was protruding out. This stopped that tire instantly but since it was locked up... you know what happened then.
  "The other common break is when a tire is spinning and airborne or has little traction... and then suddenly gets traction. If it is done when unlocked, the tires will try to sort of equalize themselves, but if locked... something has to give. (Hopefully not a diff!)
  "The Pinz axle is super tough and seems in design to be stronger than any I have seen otherwise. (Maybe except for Mog axles). I don't think it warrants carrying a spare axle around for your Pinz (at least not for me).
  "If anyone has seen an older Toyota Land Cruiser axle... you can see that even the big stuff breaks. Those things look really tough and are huge, but they are a common break.
  "The other factor that makes the Pinz and Mog axles so strong is the Portal design and the high gear ratios in the diffs, which all help in reducing torque stresses on the shafts."
  Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, Vince. Be sure to visit Vince's website at http://www.real4x4.com.

     Brandon Roth, of Morgan Hill, California, suggests: "If you find yourself stuck in the mud but spent your extra money on beer and the opposite sex instead of on a winch, tie a rope around the rim and tire closest to the direction you want to go and tie the other end around a nearby tree. Bring the rope out from the bottom of the tire. Leave a little slack and start to go in the direction you tied yourself to. This slowly wraps your rope around the tire and might pull you free. Just be very careful not to get it caught on anything under your vehicle. this works either forward or backward, but your rig has to be lined straight up with the rope and tree."
Thanks, Brandon.

     Another tip from Brandon Roth: "Carry a bag of kitty-litter with you (no joke). If you're stuck in the mud without a winch or nothing to hook a winch to, put your rig in reverse to expose some of the rut in front of your tires. Once you have a space, pour the kitty-litter into the ruts. The water from the mud will harden the kitty-litter into a miniature concrete slab that might give you enough grip to get out!"
Thanks again, Brandon.

     Kyle Spalding, of Rockledge, Florida says: "My tip is to always start in two wheel drive. This way, when you get stuck, you can slam it in four wheel drive and walk right out of the mud whole. It always works for me."
Good idea, Kyle. But sometimes after you get stuck, it's difficult to get 4-wheel drive to engage if the rig isn't moving forward at least a little bit. So if you can anticipate by at least a few feet, it might help.

     Charles, of Henderson, Nevada, reminds us again: "Keep your thumbs out of the inside of your steering wheel so if you hit an unexpected bump and your steering wheel jerks it won't break your thumbs!"
Thanks, Charles.

     Noel Foss of West Farmington, Maine, suggests: "If you do start to bog down, but it's relatively solid soil, like clay or hardpacked dirt under the mud, then don't be afraid to feed the engine some gas to help you dig down to the solid base. It's always better to get your truck a little muddy from throwing muck around than to get yourself dirty because you were afraid to push the gas."
Thanks, Noel.

     Jim Graham of Spotsylvania, VA, advises: "When 'crabbing' in a deeply rutted trail where your rear end has fallen in the ruts and front end is still out, don't turn your front wheels in the direction you are trying to go. The rear wheels tend to make the fronts slide sideways into the ruts. Turn the front wheels out and away from the ruts, they may even get enough traction to pull the rear out, and if not, you can still crab along until the trail is more managable."
Thanks, Jim.

Robert's Ranger
Robert's bone stock '91 Ford Ranger 4x4, called "Reboot"
  Robert Bruton, Jr., from Fredericksburg, VA, says: "Momentum is your best friend. Once you get going, don't stop unless you are unsure of what you are getting into. Even the slightest forward movement is eventually enough to get you to the top of a muddy hill."
Thanks a lot, Robert.

     Tim Reynolds, of Kittery, Maine, says: "To keep your engine from jumping when your foot is bouncing on and off your accelerator, press the side of your foot against the hump that is raised over your engine/transmission. This way you can control the throttle when off-roading."
Tim also has some ideas about electric versus hydraulic winches:
"I also think hydraulic is better. I don't think milemarker advertises like the more popular electric winches. The electric winch will stop working if it gets wet in a river crossing, or overheats. The milemarker is a sealed unit that will work under water. It will not overheat either. If your engine stalls because water got in it, your electric winch could be toast too. They both have pros and cons. I have weighed them and chose hydraulic. I didn't want to upgrade my electrical system. I just wanted a winch. I haven't been stranded yet and I have seen some bad stucks with the 35x13.5s I run. A tip to live by: If you're going to go off-road, get some kind of winch, either electric or hydraulic. Keep an extra 50-100' of cable wrapped up somewhere, It saves alot of frustration. And never enter a sticky situation if your cable won't reach an anchoring point."
Thanks a lot, Tim, for those thoughts.

     Mackin Johnson, of Jackson Mississippi, advises: "Get a hydraulic winch instead of an electric model. Electric winches overheat and burn up. I have a 10,500 pound Mile Marker hydraulic. A few weeks ago a friend of mine got stuck at a little place called Lost Rabbit. The 9,000 pound Warn on his truck and his friend's 9,000 Warn put together couldn't get him out - couldn't even budge him. So the next morning he called me. I went down there and winched him out in 10 minutes with my Mile Marker. The military uses hydraulic winches, and if a 10,500 hydraulic winch will pull out an 8,500 pound Hummer, it'll pull out anything. Go hydraulic, not electric." Thanks for that point of view, Mackin.
  (Some folks like an electric winch, though, because if your engine gets flooded in the middle of a stream, you may still have enough battery power to use your electric winch to get you out. With a hydraulic winch, you're dead in the water if your engine quits. I'd like to hear from some other readers regarding the electric/hydraulic winch choice. -- BD)

     Richard Widman, in Bolivia, has two suggestions for crossing deep water:
  After you cross deep water, plan to change the oil in your differentials, or plan ahead by running a thin tube from the vent to some place high, preferably in the engine compartment, to keep the water out of the diffs in the first place.
  If you know you'll be crossing high water frequently, buy a vehicle with a diesel engine. There are no spark plugs to get wet, so you can take it up to the air intake. If that is not deep enough, there are aftermarket snorkels you can buy to raise the air intake to the level of the roof. Thanks, Richard.

   Vince's Pinzgauer
Vince's 710M Pinzgauer.
Vince's Pinzgauer
Vince on the ramp.
  Vince Sweeney, of Roanoke, Virginia, has made hundreds of vehicle rescue calls with the fire service over the last ten years. He advises, "Keep your seat belt fastened! Some people don't fasten their seat belt and shoulder harness because they think they'll be trapped inside a burning vehicle by these restraints. However, you've got a much better chance of escaping a burning vehicle if you're wearing a seat belt, because it will have kept you conscious and functioning. Without the belt, you'll probably be unconscious and unable to escape. You've got a much better chance with the seat belt and shoulder harness than without them!" Thanks, Vince. Excellent advice.
     Robert Ball of Stockton, California, says, "Use tire chains for soft mud, especially if your rig has "all terrain" tires. The mud will fill the tread and then your running slicks! It takes less time to slip the chains on while on dry ground than to dig out in the middle of a mud hole or slow moving stream. You can put chains on all four wheels for improved traction in snow, ice, or mud." Thanks, Robert.
     Dan Vaughan, of Pierce, Idaho, tells us his MRHE (most recent horrible experience): "I got my three-quarter ton Chevy pickup stuck in a muddy ditch. I didn't have a winch, so I tried to rock it out by spinning it forward and backward, but it just dug in deeper. I spent a cold night in the rig with my dog, and got free in the morning by hi-lifting each corner and packing logs and brush under each wheel.
"I hadn't noticed that the mud contained tiny particles of pulverized granite. When I got home, I discovered that when I was spinning the wheels, the abrasive mud had worked its way into my brakes and had completely destroyed the front rotors and the rear drums. I had to buy entirely new brakes for all four wheels.
"The lesson is, if you're driving in abrasive mud, with ground-up rocks in it, don't spin the wheels. Use a winch, pack brush under the wheels, or get a tow from someone. But don't spin the wheels, unless you like throwing dollars into mudholes!!" Thanks, Dan, for sharing a tough lesson with us.

     If you have a grass fire around your vehicle, Brian Norris, of Fayetteville, Georgia, recommends: "If you do not have a fire extinguisher on hand, use a green limb from a pine tree to put the fire out. The green pine limbs will not catch fire readily and can be used to beat the flames out. This works well on grass fires but is not very effective in confined spaces like an engine compartment." Thanks, Brian.
     Matt Flynt, Springdale, AR, suggests: "When crossing a fast moving stream try not stop. The rocks will be slick and will push your 4wheel down stream. If you stop, it maybe hard to get going up stream again. Turn your wheels back and forth to power you up in the right direction." Thanks, Matt.
     Cory Raines, from the Sir Sandford Fleming College, gives us a tip that applies to all off-road driving: "Take someone with you. Don't go out alone. I've learned that 4x4ing is 90% driver and 10% vehicle. Anyone can drive into a hole but only good drivers can make it through. If you get into a deep hole by yourself and you can't get out, you've got to walk the trail to find a buddy to pull you out. But by the time you get back, your truck could be completely submerged. If you had a buddy with a tow strap along with you in the first place, it might have been an easy rescue." Thanks, Cory.
     Here are some tips from Levi Britten, of Conyers, Georgia, and Tampa, Florida: "When going through mud, feather your thottle repeatedly. This causes the tires to spin hard briefly, cleaning the mud from the tread, then slows them to get traction with clean tread.
Levi's Jeep
Levi's '92 Wrangler with an 8 inch lift, using 16x35 Boggers.

  "When you start to get bogged down, work your steering side to side full locks (we call it scratchin' and diggin'). This helps to generate extra traction and seems to me to actually pull the vehicle.

     "If you get stuck, stop trying as soon as you stop moving if not sooner. A truck sitting on the axles is a lot easier to yank out than one sitting on its frame. (I learned that the hard way).   "Creep into an unknown hole, even one you do know if you have not been through it in awhile. You can usually creep back out if it gets too hairy.
  "As far as water goes, unless you are equiped with a snorkle, my rule of thumb is if it's to the top of my tires it's time to back out. Discretion is the better part of valor after all. Don't try to be a hero. That's when you get in trouble.
Levi's Jeep
Levi's '83 Toyota, "The Swampthing," on 33" BFG Mud/Terrains.
     "Don't let your buddies pressure you into anything you're not comfortable with. They're the ones who will be high and dry laughing at you when you and your truck on 33" tires are stuck in the hole the truck on 44" tires just rooted up.
"Don't let anybody pull on your badly stuck vehicle at too great an angle. Frame damage can occur if they have to snatch hard. (Also learned the hard way.)
"I don't care what anybody says, in mud, the bigger the tire, the farther you will go, exclusive of all else (ie, lockers, engine, etc). And in the bottomless FL swamp, wider is also better, whether the truck is light or heavy."
  Thanks, Levi. Good ideas!

     Lynn and David Pendergrass have a good suggestion: "If your engine starts to overheat, blast your heater to take some heat out of the engine." Good idea. Thanks. That tip might just get you through a bad situation when your engine's working hard in mud or sand.
     Ryan Howard, of Grande Prairie,Alberta, reminds us: "If you have a 4-wheel drive truck and you think you can go 4-wheeling think again! You can only go so far before you get stuck really bad. When you do, you're stuck twice as bad because you went twice as far as you would have if you only had a 2-wheel drive truck."
Thanks, Ryan

     Here's some advice from Rik Dent, of Berkshire, England: "Steering in mud can be difficult. To get better control try 'blipping' the gas pedal up and down. This makes tyre side lugs grip and pulls the nose of the vehicle in the direction of steer. You must be in a low enough gear for this to work. It also requires practice." Thanks, Rik
     Wayne Turcotte and Cameron warn: "If you suddenly come on an unexpected mudhole, make sure your hubs are locked in before you start across. The last thing you want to do is have to get out of your rig in the middle of the mud and lock in the hubs!!" Thanks, Wayne and Cameron.
     "Spray your fender wells with WD40 before you go out in the mud," says Chris Martinson, of Everett, Washington. "The mud will come off much easier afterward, and the WD40 won't damage the fender wells." This would probably work for the driveshafts as well.
  However, some 'wheelers have objected to this idea because WD40 is petroleum-based, and isn't good for the environment. Maybe one of the no-stick cooking sprays would work as well. Since they're corn oil or olive oil based, they'd be kinder to the outdoors. Thanks, Chris, for the tip, and thanks to all of you who commented on this idea.
     If you have to use wheel spinning to clean your tire treads so they can grip the mud and pull you forward, Barry Albertson suggests: "Spray tire dressing all over your tires, including the tread. Then your tires will release all the mud when you're spinning, giving you more traction."
     Cory, in New Jersey, suggests: "If for some reason, you MUST stop in the mud, and you can not get going again, before you resort to winching yourself out, and walking through the mud, try this: Put the truck in reverse, and slowly spin the wheels. This will force some mud and gravel in front of the wheels so that when you try to go forward again, you have a little bit more to grab the tires. This may be just enough to get you moving. If that doesn't work, have fun in the mud!!!" Thanks, Cory.
     Todd DeBerg of Kamiah, Idaho, warns: "Use caution if you’re the first one across the muddy stretch. A large rock or log lying on the bottom can trash your oil pan or diffs, or a heavy stick can penetrate the oil pan or even the floorboards.
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  4-Wheel Freedom: The Art of Off-Road Driving. By Dr. Brad DeLong.
The definitive book on 4x4s, off-road recreation, and all-weather driving.
ORDER NOW at 1-800-4X4ROAD (494-7623). Copyright Symbol copyright Dr. Brad DeLong 2005