Off-Road Driving Info Sheet and FAQ | Offroaders.com
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Off-Road Driving Info Sheet and FAQ

DEPARTMENT OF:  Cheap Tricks & Useful Tips ...

1 Why an ORDFAQ?

2 Where to get it

3 Lawyer Drivel

4 Sharing the blame

5 Future Plans

6 What can you do to help?

7 History

8 Vehicle Familiarization

9 Safety Check

10 Safety Gear

10.1 Minimum Gear

10.2 Remote Gear

11 Trail Ettiquette

11.1 General tips on Treading Lightly

11.2 Rocks

11.3 Forest

11.4 Right Of Way

12 General OR Driving Hints

13 Getting Unstuck

13.1 Winches

13.2 Winch Alternatives

13.3 Traction Pads

13.4 Jack Tricks

13.5 Slingshot Extraction

14 To Spot, or Not To Spot? The battle rages

15 Obstacles

15.1 A note regarding obstacles

15.2 Steep Climbs

15.3 Steep Decents

15.4 Stalling on a Steep Grade

15.5 Water Crossings

15.6 Deep Mud/Snow

16 Mud

17 What if? Dealing with emergencies

17.1 Lost!

17.2 Stranded!

18 Supplies

18.1 What’s the big deal about a Hi-Lift jack?

18.2 Do I really need a tow rope if I’m driving alone?

18.3 What kind of fire extinguisher do I need?

18.4 Which Winch is Winchiest?

18.4.1 PTO Winches

18.4.2 Electric Winches

18.4.3 Hydraulic Winches

 

 

1 Why an ORDFAQ?

At the time that I purchased my LandCruiser, My off-road experience had
been limited to dirtbikes. I knew that there were significant differences
between off-roading on a dirtbike, and off-roading on four wheels, but I
couldn’t find a source for hints on how to get up that gravel wash without
spinning back down again, or how to cross a slope of tuff without holing a
tire. This FAQ is an attempt to rectify that situation.
Why not just have this information in the standard Off-road FAQ? Well,
it’s just not there, now, and besides, I felt that compiling this FAQ would
help me learn about off-roading on four wheels. It has.
Note, please, that this FAQ is not intended to be the be-all and end-all of
Off-road information. Many aspects of off-road driving simply cannot be
learned from the printed page, but rather must be learned from the untrodden
path itself.

2 Where to get it

The ORDFAQ is available for download through the world wide web by
connecting to:
<http://www.off-road.com/~mike/index.html>

The above mentioned web page also has an on-line version of the ORDFAQ
which allows you to scroll through it on-line.


3 Lawyer Drivel

Here we go.

There is no guarantee, expressed or implied, that this information is
either useful, or accurate, or both. It is merely the personal opinion of
the applicable author. Use it at your own risk. I could be a psychotic
delusional who delights in the thought that other people are going to wreck
their trucks trying to follow my advice. Use your own discretion, and go
slow until you know what you’re doing, then you can assess the risks for
yourself.

This collection of information is copyrighted by myself, Mike Graham. You
can look at it, share it, collect it and trade it with your friends, but you
can’t try to sell it, or make money off of it without my expressed
permission.

4 Sharing the blame

The following have contributed (officially, or unofficially):

– Chris Siano <csiano@banyan.com>
– Jim Hassi <jhassi@foothill.net>
– Dean Waters <dwaters@off-road.com>
– John Donovan <jdonovan@newbridge.com>
– Timothy W. Welden <tim@ai.com>
– Guy Hammer <guyh@teleport.com>
– Dave Dannenberg <suedave@pond.com>
– Chase Gregory <cgregory@surfsouth.com>
– Greg Spangler <spangler@noclant.navy.mil>
– Kendra Cook <kendra07@4x44u.com>
– Mark Whatley <cruiser@akcache.com>
– Dmitry Struve <dmitry@uask4it-101.eng.sun.com>
– Christian Falzon <christian@mail.waldonet.net.mt>
– Runar Sigurjonsson <runars@isbank.is>

5 Future Plans

I didn’t deal with anything mechanical, really, but I’d like to see hints
on common trail-side repairs and jury-rigs.

Ultimately I’d like to see a section of the ORDFAQ dedicated to trail
problems. For instance, if you were planning on running a popular trail, you
would check the listing in the ORDFAQ and find out whether it would be a
really good idea to take an extra spare tire, or iron rods to use as a
winch anchor. It’s a way to share knowledge. Also, I’d like information on
whether full-size vehicles can make it through, or only ‘Zukis and chopped
Broncos.

6 What can you do to help?

Point-form trail reports would be nice. If you know a trail that isn’t
listed in the FAQ yet (or if you know information missing from the
description in the FAQ) then let me know! Here’s a list of headings to
choose from to fill in for trail info:

Trail Name: Whatever the standard name is (or names are)

Location: City/area/country other info to help (like 5 miles north
on the I-5 from Hampton, Conn or something). If you know
the coordinates of the trailhead (for the guys with GPS
equipment) then please add it.

Difficulty Rating:
Specify also, what the rating base is (Rubicon? Alaska?)
and preferably also give a general description.

Scenery Rating:
Just a number from 1 to 10 describing how scenic you feel
the trail is. Some highly technical forest trails have
nearly zero scenery, and that’s fine if you’re just after
a challenge, but if a person is looking for a nice view,
they should be able to find one.

Restrictions: Short wheel base only? Skinny trucks only? Summer only?
Lockers only? Winch a must-have?


General Terrain:
Just a vague bit of info to let people know what they
might be getting themselves into. Like ‘Desert and scrub,
some rocks, but nothing serious.’

Special Problems:
Real easy to hole a tire? Deep water crossing?

Overall Impression:
Did you enjoy the trail? Was it too relentless, too much
easy driving between hideous obstacles?


In addition I really need info on taking automatic transmissions off-road
(is the compression braking sufficient to take you down a hill?) and info on
obstacles that I’m not familiar with (sand, cane, tricks for bog/muskeg etc.)
I need suggestions for the ‘Trail Etiquette’ section. That’s a section
that I never even thought of, yet it is very important. I just tossed it
together prior to posting 0.00b (turns out 0.00a only went to list members
who are set up as ‘realtime’). Any input is appreciated.

7 History

– 0.00a 8/26/96
First Pre-release to the Off-Road list.

– 0.00b 8/29/96
Second Pre-release. This release added the ‘Trail Etiquette’
section, and the ‘Getting Unstuck’ section. Many other little
upgrades, as evidenced by the number of additions to the ‘Sharing the
Blame’ section.

– 0.00c 9/05/96
Third Pre-release. I’m not getting as much feedback as I’d like,
so I’m sticking with pre-releases for now. No one has mentioned a
desire to write an article on driving in specific conditions (snow/mud
whatever) and I’d like to have those articles done before I release
1.00. This version has had the section on winches added, and the
‘Etiquette’ section increased. Several valuable additions to the
‘obstacles’ section, as well.

– 1.00 9/19/96
First official release. It doesn’t have all that I want in it, but
it’s time to put it in long pants. I’ve added the section on
slingshot extractions, and expanded the Mud section (thanks to the
Great Lake Extraction of ’96) as well as some info on using a Hi-Lift
jack for extractions (which I am now an expert at 8-/)

– 1.01 10/21/96
A slew of new info has come in in the form of an excellent article
on water crossings by Runar Sigurjonsson. Additional information
dealing with automatic transmissions and CB antennas crept in when I
wasn’t looking.

– 1.2
03/31/97
Lots of slippery-conditions info. Now that winter is here, I am
doing a lot of testing regarding driving on slick surfaces. The
underlying format of the FAQ has been changed. Instead of
using a word processor as has been the case in the past, I am now
editing it directly in the text version. A bit simpler in the long
run.

8 Vehicle Familiarization

Before you can safely point your wheels at the great beyond you need to be
familiar with your vehicle, and take some precautions.
What is your ground clearance? How big a rock can you drive over without
worrying about it hitting something tender, like a gas tank?
Is everything strapped down? If you roll, you don’t want to get smoked in
the head by your toolbox. Is the battery restrained? If the battery jumps
out of its housing it can short against the hood, or another engine
component, causing big grief.
What is your approach angle? If your bumper hits the slope before your
wheels do you’ll have to come at it from an angle.
Similarly, what is your departure angle? If you exceed your departure
angle then your rear bumper will hang up on the hill and your rear wheels
will leave the ground.
Where are your differentials? Drivers side? In the middle? This is
important to consider when you’re going over obstacles.
Can your engine run at an angle? If it’s carbuerated, a steep grade can
drown it post haste. Fuel injected vehicles generally handle steep grades
better. Diesels and cylinder-injected gas trucks can pretty much run upside
down without dying.
Does your vehicle have a high center of gravity, making it more susceptible
to tipping and rolling? Most jeep-like vehicles share this fault to various
degrees.
Do you have full wheel travel without hitting the fenders? If you have
monster meats on your truck, it’s quite possible that before the axle hits
the bump-stop the tire hits the fender. Jack up one front wheel high enough
for the axle to hit the bump-stop and run your hand around the tire to see if
it’s hitting anything. Now turn the wheel full to the left and check. Now
turn it to the right. If it hits anything then you have to decide whether
you want to tear up your tires or not by doing serious off-roading. Check a
rear wheel, too.
Does your vehicle have a big, long 6′ whip antenna that’s going to injure a
bystander or spotter? Long whip antennas aren’t even allowed on some
trails due to the damage to the environment that they can inflict.

9 Safety Check

Now is the time to consider whether any of your fluids are low. Got enough
power steering fluid? Enough oil? Enough coolant? How about windshield
washer fluid? Have your brakes been checked fairly recently, or might you
need to replace the pads/shoes? If you’re traveling in a group at night,
it’s worth checking your taillights. Even alone at night you want headlights
and reversing lights that work.

10 Safety Gear

The amount of safety gear that you need will depend on several factors.
The first is how hard-core the off-roading is that you’re doing, the second
is how remote an area you’re going to, and the third is based on the climate
of the area you’re going to.
When I’m just booting around in my back field I don’t bother taking much.
If I get stuck or broke, I just walk back home and get the tractor. If,
however, I was doing a four-day solo enduro through Death Valley, I would be
taking significant precautions.
If you’re traveling as one vehicle in a party, then the danger is obviously
not so acute. You can get a lift back home with someone else and come back
with spare parts later (hoping against hope that no unscrupulous type finds
your truck in the meantime).

10.1 Minimum Gear

This is the stuff that should be kept in the truck at all times. Add to it
when you’re doing more serious off-roading.

– Spare tire

– Jack and handle (stock jack is fine)

– Lug wrench that FITS. (been there, done that, didn’t like it.)

– Blanket

– Fire extinguisher (1A/5BC or other approved for auto)


10.2 Remote Gear

If you’re going back of beyond (especially by yourself) then you really
should take precautions. Any mechanical breakdown that you can’t fix or
jury-rig could leave you stranded. Don’t scrimp on the navigational
equipment if it’s unfamiliar turf; you can’t always count on your St.
Christopher medallion to get you home on time. 😎

– First Aid kit AND THE KNOWLEDGE TO USE IT!

– Do yourself a favor and take along some food and water for
emergencies, and waterproof lifeboat matches.

– Tire irons and an inner tube or an extra spare.

– Compressor or manual tire pump

– 2 Gallons of water for the rad (or a filter to strain groundwater if
it’s available)

– 1 Gallon of engine oil

– 5 Gallons of spare gas/diesel in a jerry can

– Appropriate manuals for the vehicle to aid in trail-side repairs

– A CLEAR understanding of where you’re going, or at least how to get
back.

– Navigation gear (map&compass, GPS, local guide, whatever)

– Replace regular jack with a Hi-Lift jack (or Jack-all) 48″ min.

– Jack pad sufficient for the vehicle’s size and terrain traveled

– If using a Hi-Lift as a winch, you need blocks to keep the truck from
rolling backwards during the ‘taking in the slack’ phases.

– A tow-rope is still a good idea, even alone.

11 Trail Ettiquette

In this day of trail closures and EPA pressures, it is more crucial than
ever to tread lightly. To this end, I have assembled some guidelines divided
by terrain type.

11.1 General tips on Treading Lightly

None of us want to see our trails closed down. Few of us want to see our
environment destroyed, either. It is the duty of all off-roaders to consider
the ramifications of leaving a beer can, or shredded spare tire lying on the
trail. Would you want a news crew with their cameras catching your garbage
and suggesting that all off-roaders are insensitive to environmental
issues? It has happened before, and it will happen again. Don’t let it be
your mess.

To contact the groups dedicated to keeping our trails open, see these
websites:

Tread Lightly:
<http://www.treadlightly.org/>

United Four Wheel Drive Association:
<http://www.ufwda.org/>

BlueRibbon Coalition:
Site is under construction. You can get information at
<http://www.4x44u.com/pub/k2/am4x44u/events/clubs/blue_rib.htm>

– Don’t spin your tires.

– Don’t run more aggressive tires than you need (lugs chew up the
ground)

– Don’t litter (cigarette packs, drink cans, oil containers, etc.)

– Don’t play obnoxiously loud music when others are around.

– Don’t blaze a new trail; stay on the established path.

– Always use a tree strap when using a tree as an anchor.

11.2 Rocks

– If you need to pile stones up to get over an obstacle, then put the
stones back where you found them afterwards.

– Don’t leave oil spills, shredded tires, or other materials on the
trail. Clean it up and pack it out.

– Try not to scrape up the rocks.

11.3 Forest

– Don’t cut down trees, and try not to tear branches off while driving.

– Your vision is limited by the trees; don’t go flying around a bend
only to smash into a disabled vehicle, or run over a hiker.

– Keep to the trail. If the mud is too deep to get through, then you
shouldn’t be on the trail in the first place. If everyone cuts a new
set of ruts, the trail starts to look like a battlefield. Use a winch
to get through.

11.4 Right Of Way

The right of way on a trail is basically like that on the ocean.
Generally, everyone just stays out of everyone else’s way. Pass on the
right, veer right in head-to-head situations, etc. If there’s only room for
one vehicle at a time, then channel rules take over and the more maneuverable
vehicle should make way. If it’s a situation where only one vehicle can pass
at a time, then the drivers must decide amongst themselves who goes first.
Usually this amounts to just a ‘waving through’, but sometimes it requires a
bit of discussion on foot.
In the event that you find yourself head-to-head with someone on a single
line, so that one person has to back up or move aside to let the other pass,
the more capable vehicle should get out of the way, as the less capable
vehicle might not be able to make it back on the trail.
Sometimes these rules don’t work so well; if the guy driving a stock Sammy
knows his stuff he can easily outmaneuver a modified Jeep driven by someone
who isn’t really familiar with off-road situations. The primary thing to
remember is that bad things happen when people don’t know what’s going on;
make sure there is clear communication, and the other driver knows that
it’s your turn to go.
When two vehicles meet on a grade, the vehicle traveling uphill should
have the right of way, as it is much more difficult to get going again when
you’re pointing uphill as opposed to downhill, and backing up uphill is safer
than backing up downhill (as long as it’s done smoothly so as not to stress
the front axle).
When two vehicle meet head to head, they may need to pass on the left.
When there is a sharp shoulder dropping to a deep ditch, for instance, you
need to drive with the drop at the driver’s side so that you can see more
clearly where the edge is.
Again, these ‘right of way’ rules are general at best! Unless both parties
know what’s going on, and accident can happen. Make sure there is
communication. If needed, get out of the truck and chat for a while. Maybe
the rules have to be bent to avoid a truck being bent. You can’t just chug on
assuming that the other truck will move just because you are supposed to have
the right of way.

12 General OR Driving Hints

Friction is your friend. With friction, you can move. Without it, you are
stuck.
There are two kinds of friction; static, and dynamic. Static friction is
the kind you have when your wheel surface is not moving relative to the
surface you are driving on (i.e. when you are not skidding). Dynamic
friction is what you have when you are skidding. Static friction is much
more powerful than dynamic friction. It is for this reason that threshold
braking will stop you quicker than just stomping on the brake pedal and
skidding to a stop. So the key in the vast majority of situations is to try
very hard not to spin your wheels.

Don’t drive with your thumbs wrapped around the steering wheel. Even if
you have power steering it’s possible for the wheels to fall into a rut or
something that will crank the steering wheel to one side, and possibly break
a thumb. Nasty.

Driving off-road isn’t like driving on-road; you can’t just choose a line
and insist upon it; the truck will let you know what it wants to do. Keep it
more or less where you want to be and just ‘suggest’ directions to it.
Anyone who rides a horse knows what I’m talking about.

“Drive as slowly as possible, and as fast as necessary.” Andy Philpot

Don’t straddle rocks or they’ll smoke your diffs; ride the wheels over them
to raise everything out of harm’s way.

Ditches and ridges should be crossed at an angle (like railroad tracks) to
keep you from getting bogged down when both front or back wheels drop into
the ditch.

Be wary of water crossings. What you don’t know can hurt you. See the
section on water crossings below.

Airing down your tires to 15psi or so will increase your contact patch and
increase friction. Don’t do it unless you have some way to re-inflate your
tires, though. In some technical rock-crawling situations people will air
down to next to nothing (2 pounds or so), but I wouldn’t advise this for the
uninitiated as you could blow a bead.

Maintaining speed on bumpy terrain can be very difficult because the
pitching of the truck throws your foot (via momentum) into the gas pedal,
causing the truck to surge, causing more momentum, causing your foot to get
thrown harder into the gas pedal… It’s ugly. There are two regular
solutions: the good way, and the sort-of-works-most-of-the-time way. The
good way is to have a hand throttle. A hand throttle will keep your vehicle
moving as smoothly as possible. The other way is to keep the side of your
foot planted against the transmission mound, operating the gas pedal only
with the ball of the foot. This keeps your foot planted, so it can’t go
flailing into the gas pedal. At least, not as much.

If you drive a late-model truck with air conditioning, it might be worth
shutting the AC off when you’re in a tight crawling situation, as the AC
compressor will kick in at odd moments and cause the idle speed to jump,
which is at best a pain, and at worst could pitch you off of your line and
drop you on a rock.

Some hints from Chris Siano:
[BEGIN]
Driving posture is something I’ve never seen printed fully
anywhere.
Things like, seat up, sit a little closer to the steering wheel,
thumbs out of the wheel, foot resting on the transmission hump to
keep vehicle from surging as it bounces over the trail. Seat belt!

Prepare for getting stuck. If you and your buddy are going out,
and you have an old CJ and he has a Cummins Dodge, there is no way
you are going to pull his truck out of bumper deep mud. Therefore,
don’t get into bumper deep mud. If the strap is 30′ long and the
mud is 200′, there is no way you can pull anyone out of the middle.
I guess, the best way to sum it up is to be sure to look before you
leap. It only takes one big stuck and a 4×4 wrecker or tractor
extraction to realize how important this is.

Lastly, a new driver really needs to know the size of his vehicle.
If you don’t know where the tires are, you can’t put them on the
rocks. Only takes an hour in an empty parking lot with some cones
to learn how wide your rig is, and how tight you can turn it. This
is especially useful in full size trucks as you can’t see anything
on the passenger front any closer than about 10 feet away. This
time spent can easily save lots of time and $$ in damages to a new
truck.
[END]

This point about knowing where your tires are is very important. Most
people use points on their hood to estimate where their tires are. This
works fine as long as your head is always in more or less the same place.
This means you should have a standard off-road seat location and seat-back
angle and stick to it. With your head in the same place all the time,
you’ll be able to judge your tire location much more effectively.

13 Getting Unstuck

Everyone gets stuck. You ever seen a tank winch? Well I have. Even they
get stuck. So how do you get unstuck? Lots of ways.

13.1 Winches

The easiest, fastest way most of the time is to use a winch. See the
section in the FAQ on “Which Winch Is Winchiest?” for info on the pros and
cons on the different types.

With a winch, a snatch block (a pulley with a hook on it), a tree strap (to
keep from maiming the local flora), and SOME LEATHER GLOVES, you can get
yourself out pretty quick from just about anything.
Normally you just need to single-line your way out. Just switch the winch
to freewheel, pull out the line to the nearest big tree, throw the tree strap
around it, hook up, and pull yourself out. If the winch stalls, then hook in
the snatch block (when using a snatch block, hook the end of the winch line
to your tow hook, not to the winch mounting itself, or you might tear the
winch right off your truck).
If you’re winching someone else out of the mud, and your truck keeps
skidding towards the vehicle you’re winching, then you need to either put
good-sized blocks under the wheels (like SureClaws) or attach your truck to
an anchor (like a tree) but connect the line from the anchor to the end of
your vehicle that has the winch on it, otherwise you might end up physically
stretching or twisting your truck frame. Bad stuff.
If you keep stalling the winch, even with a snatch block, then you have to
reduce the workload. Try putting chunks of wood in front of the wheels to
act like ramps to keep the wheels from plowing deep furrows in the mud. If
you’re winching over rocks, then try piling up smaller rocks to make ramps.
Hopefully you won’t have to unload your truck.
If you’ve had trouble with your winch not being powerful enough (i.e. your
wife gave you a 3000pound winch for Christmas and it’s the first official
acknowledgment of off-roading she’s ever made and you just know that you
can’t take it back) then a last-resort possibility is to have extra snatch
blocks. With three snatch blocks you can set up a block and tackle that will
give your winch 4X its normal power. This is good, unless the tow hook
to which you attached the block and tackle can’t handle it and tears
itself off the truck. Then it’s bad. In addition, you won’t have more than
about 20 feet of pulling capability, because the wire will be doubled up
around the pulleys so many times. Whenever you are using a winch of
any variety it pays to lay a coat, sleeping bag, or other largish, soft
object over the line, so that if the line snaps it will be less likely to be
really dangerous.

13.2 Winch Alternatives

There are several things out there that aren’t winches, but are supposed to
do the same job. One is a Hi-Lift jack (HLJ) or similar jack, and another is
a come-along ratchet hoist. An HLJ is meant to be able to pull 7000 pounds
or so (says the weight rating on the box) and the mechanical advantage is so
high that it doesn’t feel too scary to use it. If you’re using an HLJ as a
winch then lay the jack right on the ground with the handle pointing upwards,
that way you can put a foot or something on the end of the i-beam to keep it
from lifting when you’re trying to lever the jack handle.
A come-along is a different animal, indeed. It has a short handle (less
than a foot long) and gives you significantly less mechanical advantage.
They are usually rated only a few thousand pounds when double-lined (i.e
while using a snatch block). They way they creak and groan while you’re
using them, standing 10 inches away from the thinnest cable ever seen on a
winch-like object scares me to death. I don’t like them, but they can save
you if you have nothing else. Definitely use the coat trick when dealing
with these. Due to the short length of them, they don’t stay parallel to the
line of force very well, so it’s very frustrating to use them (they wobble
and pitch when you’re trying to work the lever). I don’t like them, but I
must admit that I have one in my pickup truck. Just in case. I keep an HLJ
in my ‘cruiser, so I don’t need one in that. The one benefit of a come-along
over an HLJ is that the come-along will pull for 20 feet or so, whereas the
HLJ will pull for less than 4′ at a time (limited by bar length; could also
be 3′ or 5′ depending on jack model). To use an HLJ as a winch requires
blocks, or some other way to keep the truck from losing ground while you’re
resetting the jack. To be fair, there are some come-along models out there
that are pretty tough. If you get one that’s rated to 4000 pounds or so,
then it should be able to actually pull you out of a bad situation. If you
plan to use an HLJ as a winch alternative, then make sure you have hardware
on hand to do it; you can’t thread a 3″ wide tow strap through the
little hole in the jack. Get a clevis that fits.

13.3 Traction Pads

Those ladder-like things for ice and snow can be a blessing, or a curse. A
couple of those beneath your wheels will usually get you going again. For a
couple of feet. Then you have to stop and pick them up. If you’re using
these, put it in granny low, let the engine just idle, and feather in the
clutch. You don’t want to spin the wheels on these things because it is
possible to send them flying into whatever is in their path (other vehicle,
the underside of your vehicle, you…)
Regular ladder-type pads don’t work in mud (they just sink) but they’re
great on ice and slicked snow. For mud you need something with a semi-solid
surface that will stay on top of the mud. You might think that an old ski-
doo track would be great. They almost are. In shallow stuff they work
great, but in really deep stuff they let the tire push them down, and your
truck just ends up having to drive ‘uphill’ against the mud. They still work,
but not as well.
The ultimate traction aid is a pair of 15′ 2x10s. Jack up each side of
the vehicle and put the boards under both wheels on each side and you can
get out of just about anything. Tough to transport, though. 😎

13.4 Jack Tricks

With a jack that will lift at least a corner of your vehicle 6″ or so (even
a stock jack will do it) you can lift the wheel and stuff traction material
under it. Floor mats. Rocks. Sand. Dead branches. Kitty Litter.
Irritating relatives. Anything. Lower the wheel again, and do the other
side (or all four corners) and you should be able to get going.


13.5 Slingshot Extraction

I wasn’t sure whether to include this because the potential for tragic
results are great, indeed. Still, as long as you understand that you
really have to be careful doing this, and understand the risks involved,
then it might get you out when nothing else will.

[Christian Falzon writes:]

First a disclaimer:
This technique may be EXTREMELY dangerous if not done properly (
maybe that’s why no one mentions it ) – so make sure you know what
you’re doing. My description here is only a rough guide, the exact
technique, rope type, etc. are up to your judgement – though I’m
sure that many others will contribute such information. It also
needs considerable skill to be done safely.

The technique is snatch pulling and is (in principle) very simple.
You need:

1. A very stretchy rope. This should be about 2 inches in
diameter and made of nylon.

2. A bogged down or stuck vehicle (you wouldn’t be trying to
pull it out if you didn’t have that 🙂

3. A vehicle which is NOT bogged down and has at least 25 feet
of clear ground on which to accelerate.

4. VERY ROBUST tow points on both vehicles.

When to use it:
This technique should only be used as a last resort – it is to my
knowledge the most powerful way of pulling a vehicle loose – except
for using an Abrahams tank or a Sikorski Sky Crane. Unfortunately
it is probably also the most dangerous and I have seen some
incidents which could have had a very nasty ending if it weren’t
for tons of luck. The pulling force that you can generate (if done
properly) far exceeds that of any winch or conventional pulling –
even if the towing vehicle is on very slippery ground.

Basically all you do is

1. Fasten the rope between the two vehicles, just as if you
were going to tow.

2. Back up the mobile vehicle as close as possible to the
bogged one. Make sure that the rope is laid out neatly on
the ground and cannot get tangled or caught in anything

3. Make every bystander get the heck out of the way – AT LEAST
twice as far as the length of the rope

4. The bogged/disabled/stuck vehicle should be started if
possible (and should contain a driver 🙂

5. The towing vehicle accelerates forward – do not overdo it.

6. The slack in the rope will be taken up, but the vehicle
should continue accelerating. At the same time as the rope
comes under tension, the bogged vehicle should do its best
to move as well.

7. As the vehicle keeps moving forward, the tension on the rope
increases more and more, in the process slowing it down.
This deceleration can be very rapid and a driver not wearing
a seatbelt will almost certainly smash into the windscreen.

8. Hopefully the tension in the rope will be enough to pull the
other vehicle loose. In any event, once the towing vehicle
stops moving forward, the tension in the rope will start
accelerating it backwards with great force. The driver
should be prepared for this and immediately press the clutch
and use the brakes. The vehicle should then be eased back on
the brakes until there is no longer tension.

9. If this doesn’t work just back up again and repeat the
snatch pull with a heavier right foot until you are
successful.

IMPORTANT tips that may keep you and others alive:

1. The drivers in the two vehicles MUST MUST MUST MUST wear
seat belts and certified crash helmets.

2. The towing points on both vehicles must be VERY robust. The
force generated by snatch pulling can be of the order of
several tons – up to about four times the weight of the
towing vehicle (even if only for a few seconds). If you are
not sure about the strength of the tow points you are
inviting disaster.

3. The rope should be tied directly to the towing point – NO
metal fittings such as eyes or shackles may be used.

4. The vehicles must both have roll cages (real ones not chrome
decorations)

5. Everybody else (spectators photographers and whoever) MUST
stay at a distance of at least twice the length of the rope
being used. If anybody insists on staying (perhaps to take
photos or something) DO NOT PROCEED until he gets out of the
way or you are sure that he’s Bill Gates.

6. Use decent knots to tie the rope. The knot should be as
small as possible – consult some good seaman or rock
climbing junkie for the best knot to use. It is important
that the knot be as small as possible.

7. If at all possible avoid snatch towing a small light vehicle
(eg. a Sammy) with a much heavier vehicle (i.e. anything 🙂

8. Make sure that the towing point does not have any sharp
edges that may cut the rope

9. DO NOT use a rope which does not stretch – AVOID AVOID AVOID
chains, steel ropes, Kevlar, Carbon fibre, ‘pre-tensioned’
or non-synthetic ropes. The rope should be Nylon or a
similar material which can stretch to almost twice its
length without breaking and must have a breaking strength in
excess of 25 tons.

So what exactly is so dangerous about it?
What we are doing here is changing the momentum of the towing
vehicle into energy stored in the tow rope. Its like we are using
the towing trucks engine to ‘wind-up’ the rope. What this means is
that all the energy that your fire-breathing V8 has produced in
those seconds of acceleration is now STORED IN THE ROPE ready to be
released at an instant if something goes wrong. What we want is for
that energy to pull the bogged vehicle out of its mud-hole but what
if it doesn’t do it?
The main dangers in order of magnitude are:

1. The worst that can happen is that the towing point (or
indeed a chunk of chassis) of one of the vehicles gets torn
off. If this happens, the piece torn off will shoot off
(accelerated by tons of tension in the rope) and can easily
reach speeds of almost 500mph (yes five hundred miles per
hour) depending on the size of the chunk extracted. I can
leave it to your imagination what happens if said chunk hits
someone.

2. If too much force is used at once, the bogged vehicle may
come loose with the rope still having lots of stored energy
to spare. This stored energy then makes your newly de-bogged
vehicle accelerate faster than an F-15 on steroids and
literally go airborne and come crashing down (most likely
onto the towing vehicle – been there done that). The
important thing is that you always start gently and
GRADUALLY use more force at each attempt.

3. The rope may break. This usually happens where it is in
contact with the tow point. This results in a missile launch
similar to when the tow point breaks except that this time
only the rope is flying. That is why the knot should be as
small as possible. A messy multiple knot will easily smash
through a steel body panel at that speed. The smaller the
knot, the less the damage it will cause. Having said that,
even the rope itself can be lethal but you have made sure
that everybody is far away. The drivers of the vehicles are
not normally in danger since the rope will get tangled in
the vehicle and also lose most of its energy before reaching
the driver. One may still get injured if extremely unlucky
however.

Horror stories:
I have seen two near accidents caused by improper snatch towing
which could have had a very nasty ending.


The first instance involved two Land-Rovers about six years ago. No
amount of winching would make the bogged landy budge. Also digging
was impossible as the mud was too fluid and Hi-Lifting impossible.
So they went for snatch pulling. Even the most violent acceleration
brought no results. They then decided to use two ropes (to double
the length) with the result that the towing Landy reached speeds in
excess of 40mph!! before the rope slack was taken up. Just as the
Landy started to loose the battle against the increasing tension of
the rope an appalling impact and what sounded like a rifle shot was
heard. The tow rope seemed to have vanished. What had happened was
that the towing point of the stricken Landy was pulled right out of
the chassis and catapulted at awesome speed towards the towing
landy. It went right through the rear door, the bulkhead and
through the front windscreen, scattering bits of glass and aluminum
all over the place. The towing point had actually passed within a
few inches of the drivers head!! He was wearing a helmet but I
doubt what protection that can afford against a 6 lb supersonic
towhook!
So what did they do wrong? The worst thing was to use too much
force without thought about the consequences. One must stop and
think about an alternative before just applying more and more brute
force.
The other incident involved a Land-rover de-bogging a Sammy. What
happened this time was simply that maximum brute force was used
right away. The Landrover accelerated about 20 feet to approx 20Mph
before the rope started tensioning. All of a sudden the Sammy
catapulted out of the ground flew a distance of about 25 feet and
came crashing into the roof of the Landy just above the level of
the tailgate. The only thing that prevented the driver of the Landy
from getting killed was the substantial rollcage. What went wrong
here was very simply that maximum brute force was applied first
time. There was probably four times as much energy in the rope as
was needed to debog the ‘Zuki.

The moral of it all: snatch towing is a great way of recovering
otherwise unrecoverable vehicles. I have seen many otherwise
unrecoverable vehicles (even my mog) recovered by snatch pulling.
If done with care, it is safe but if not can be lethal. Always try
winching, HiLifting and digging before snatch pulling.

[ How’s that for an explanation? ]

So we’ve heard what the process can do, and we’ve heard a whole lot about
what can go wrong. Bottom line? If nothing else works, this might, but be
darn careful if you try it. It’s really not that scary at low speeds (10mph
max). Here is a table supplied by Guy Hammer that tells you how much force
can be exerted by various weights of vehicles at various speeds:

Vehicle/Snatch-strap load impact (in ft./lbs. energy)

Speed Vehicle Weight (lbs)
(mph) 3,000 4,000 5,000 6,000 7,000
===================================================
5 2,506 3,341 4,177 5,012 5,847
10 10,024 13,365 16,707 20,048 23,389
15 22,554 30,072 37,590 45,108 52,626
20 40,096 53,462 66,827 80,192 93,558
30 90,216 120,289 150,361 180,435 210,505
50 250,604 334,135 417,669 501,207 584,736

Strap capacities:

2″ – 18,000
4″ – 36,000
6″ – 54,000

12″- 108,000

Note: The tow hooks I have seen for sale are only rated for
10,000 lbs. As best have I have been able to determine, the
two 1/2″ bolts that hold them to your frame could break at
14,000-15000 lbs. Having a tow hook imbedded in the back of
your truck (or skull) could ruin your entire day! (And no, I
don’t know anyone crazy enough to hit the end of a 12″ strap
at 50 MPH!)

From this we can see that a 3,000 pound vehicle at only 10 miles per hour
can apply more power than most of the electric winches on the market. A very
powerful tug, indeed. High speeds make for a tremendous amount of power.
Always always always start with small tugs at low speeds. There’s no sense
in tearing the towing points right off of the vehicles. The previously
mentioned tug by the 3,000 pound vehicle at 10mph will apply as much force as
the stock towing points in many new vehicles are designed to take (the wire
loop tow points found on many newer vehicles are an example).

The reality of the situation is that many people use snatch pulling as
their primary method of extraction, and think nothing of it. It can be
safe if done properly at reasonable speeds. I use snatch pulling to pull
people out of ditches. When you’re using it, don’t be in a hurry to use more
power; use a whole bunch of small pulls rather than a huge brute tug. I
pulled a minivan from the bottom of a 6′ ditch while I was on glare ice by
using small tugs, and lots of them. I gained maybe an inch each tug. It
adds up, and eventually he came out. Try to get a rhythm going so that you
aren’t in gear when you hit the end of the strap; rather start going and let
the inertia of the vehicle pull you forward, then you will recoil on the
strap and you can just stay in a forward gear and use the clutch to ‘bounce’
on the end of the strap. If I had to shift into reverse for every tug I’d
still be tugging away at the guy I pulled out of the ditch last night.

14 To Spot, or Not To Spot? The battle rages

Every pastime has to have a major bone of contention or two, and this is
one of the biggest in the off-road arena. Some people love spotters, some
people hate spotters, some people don’t know what a spotter is.
A spotter is someone who is outside of the vehicle, and is supposed to be
seeing things that you can’t see from your vantage point behind the wheel,
and passing the information on to you, so that you can make more intelligent
decisions during intense rock-crawling.
In my dirtbike background, there is no such thing as spotters. When you
can see all of your tires, why the heck would you want someone telling you
how to drive?
With big vehicles, it’s a bit different, as evidenced by the following:

Chris wrote:
Don’t forget about using a spotter. Only ONE spotter, any more, and
you might as well not use any. Trust the spotter, he or she can see
things you can’t. In many cases, a good spotter is better than a great
driver.

Dean wrote:
Am I the only one out there that doesn’t like to use a spotter? It is
very rare that I will watch or would like a spotter. I much prefer to
use my own judgement as I know my vehicle better than most spotters. If
I need help or an extra eye on the other side then I will ask for it at
that point.
Otherwise I would rather they just shutup and let me do my thing.
Maybe I have just seen too many BAD spotters. 🙂

Jim wrote:
Learning how to wheel I always found spotters helpful. Now that I have
experience, here are my two basic rules on spotters:

1. Use spotters you know, preferably people who drive a rig like
yours, and set up as much the same as possible. I pretty much trust the
other drivers in my Cruiser club.

2. Someone said yesterday that they walk the trail twice (terrain
then placement). I like to walk it up (its almost always uphill –
harder obstacles, and I can’t see over my hood), then walk it back down
with my spotter saying ‘I want to put the tire here, or I want to end
up here’. That way we have a game plan.

This is, of course, a nice, mannered discussion of the relative merits of
spotters. You usually see a flaming row about issues like this (and
clutches, and auto trannies, etc. etc.) but this still gets the point across
that there are different opinions out there.

So what do I think? I’ve gotten myself into some scrapes that a spotter
could have helped me avoid. I have not yet gotten into a scrape because of
bad advice from a spotter, so on the whole they seem like a useful
institution. That being said, however, I would still rather do without them.
I tend to be a solitary in my hobbies; I drive off in a random direction for
a couple weeks of rough camping, and my rig is really intended to get me to
and from potential camping/climbing spots, more so than it is just an outlet
for a rock-crawling addiction. I also feel that using spotters frequently
might be habit-forming; and in a situation where there is no spotter
available you might do a worse job of it because of your anxiety due to not
having your crutch. Still, when you’re doing highly technical rock-crawling,
you don’t have much choice but to use a spotter. I put it in the ‘necessary
evil’ category.
If I pull a bonehead move because of my poor judgement, and wreck my rig, I
have only myself to blame. I’m not sure I’d trust myself to be rational if
someone else was responsible for the destruction of the $300 water
separator on my ‘Cruiser.

From my point of view, my rig is my transportation. If I have to walk the
trail twice to be able to run my rig over it, then it isn’t transportation
at all, rather it is a chore; it’s costing me more work than it’s saving.

Your mileage may differ.

Pardon me while I install the Halon cylinder next to my e-mail basket…

15 Obstacles

15.1 A note regarding obstacles

If you take nothing else away with you from this FAQ, take this:

“There is no more dangerous obstacle than the obstacle unseen.”

Driving through long grass should be done slowly. Driving through very
long grass should be done very slowly.

Any time you can’t see what you’re driving on is a good time to drive slow.
Through water, mud, grass, willow, reeds, etc.

Water could hide a rock, a sharp stick, a broken bottle, anything.

I know a person who once grazed a fire hydrant in long grass. It turned
out a company had started building a subdivision, but lost their funding, so
there were fire hydrants and curbs, but nothing else, and it had all grown
over. There could be an old lean-to, or a junked VW sitting in that long
grass. You could hit a young deer, or other animal. Until you’ve explored
the territory, go slow.

15.2 Steep Climbs

The natural reaction of the inexperienced faced with a steep hill, or a
not-so-steep, but slippery hill to climb is to put the truck in granny low
and stomp on the gas. This, is not the way to do it.
There are two forces that can get you over a hill: momentum, and friction.
For small hills and bumps, you can safely rely on momentum to get you over,
but for anything steep and bigger than 10 or 15 feet, you have to rely at
least partially on friction.
You need to have the truck in as high a gear as possible in order to reduce
the chances of the wheels spinning. In granny-low, you’ll just spin out and
slide down (unless you can idle up the hill). Try the hill first in your
middle gear (2nd for 3-speeds, 3 for 5-speeds) and see what happens.
If you do start to spin out, ease off the throttle, and hopefully the
wheels will grab again. If the wheels don’t grab again, then hit the
brakes and clutch to hold yourself steady, shift into reverse, and let go of
all pedals. Let the engine do the braking. DON’T use the brakes going
down a hill, or you will likely lose static friction and you might start
sliding down, turn sideways, and roll. That is a very-bad-case scenario, but
it has happened. If you didn’t make it up, try again in a higher gear.
Do not try to change gears on a steep hill.
Short steep hills can be mentally unsettling, because you lose track of the
ground. All you can see over your hood is sky. You must pick your line
before you start the climb, and hope you stay on it.
You should start climbs head-on, so that both wheels start climbing at
once. This dramatically reduces the chance of a roll. Sometimes, however,
you just can’t start head on, because your approach angle isn’t great
enough. In these cases you should approach the hill at a 45 degree angle or
so (more if necessary) and as soon as the tire closer to the hill has a
bite on it, crank the wheels into the hill so that you will turn up the hill.
You want to avoid having one side of the vehicle higher than the other.
You should avoid backing up a steep hill. It puts a lot of stress on the
front axle, and specifically the birfield joints (found in Land Cruisers,
etc.). It’s not too hard to break a birfield backing up a steep hill if you
goose the throttle, especially if you have a front locker, and then you’re
stuck. If you must back up a steep hill, do it smoothly.

15.3 Steep Decents

These can be easy or hard. The rule against using brakes on a decent
applies here. Use compression braking only. If the surface is firm, just
steep, then select granny low, and go down. Don’t touch those brakes if
you can help it. If you must, then keep the clutch engaged, that way you
can’t lock the wheels. If the surface isn’t firm, then the selection of a
gear becomes more tricky. Too low a gear might not let the wheels turn fast
enough to maintain static friction, but too high a gear will have you
careening down the hill faster than you want to go. Your best bet usually
(experience will teach) is to go with granny low, and keep your mitt on the
hand throttle. If you start to skid forward, yard on the hand throttle to
increase wheel speed and regain traction. If you don’t have a hand throttle
then be very careful with the gas pedal, as you don’t want your foot to
bounce into the gas and get you going faster than prudence dictates. Don’t
try to change gears going down a hill. If the situation starts looking
grim half way down a hill, and you just can’t keep the wheels spinning
fast enough to maintain static friction, then you may have to use the
clutch. If there is open space at the bottom of the hill (so you’re not
going to smack a tree or something) then pushing the clutch won’t cause
you much grief if the surface is relatively smooth. Remember, though,
that high speeds on rough surfaces are dangerous, and the vibration will
cause the whole world to blur at the edges, and you won’t be able to tell
where you’re going. If you lose your line down the hill, you might hit a
bump, the wheels might bounce to one side, the truck could end up turning
sharply, and you could roll down the hill. Slow is better. The general
rule with hills is “Straight up, and straight down.” Turning on a hill is
to be avoided where possible.

15.4 Stalling on a Steep Grade

This is a definite hassle. It never occurred to me to put this section in,
being blessed with an injected diesel that will run upside down if I want it
do, but some carburetors don’t like steep grades, and may very well stall on
longer ones. Here’s what to do.

[From the nimble fingers of Guy Hammer comes:]
Allright, I have a manual transmission, power brakes, and my carb
likes to flood out on steep angles. I’m perched way up on the side
of this hill with both feet occupied with clutch and brake, and the
engine is dead. NOW WHAT??!

Number one priority is not to lose the power assist in the brakes
at this point. Do NOT pump or release the brakes. If you do, and
exhaust the reserve capacity of the power booster you won’t be able
to hold your rig from rolling back even if you use both feet! The
parking brake won’t hold it either!

[Ed. note: Guy is about to get into a discussion about how to
coerce a sticky gearbox into shifting into reverse. Most gearboxes
aren’t going to need this kind of treatment, but you should try
shutting off your truck on a SMALL hill to simulate this stalled-
climb situation and see if yours is the sticky kind (like a T18).]

Number two priority is to get the trans in reverse. If it won’t go
just keep stirring the stick between various forward gears and
reverse until you get it to drop in. If that doesn’t work, release
the clutch (NOT the brake) and bump the starter while pulling it
into reverse. Once in reverse NOW you can release the brake. If
your rig doesn’t have low enough gears to hold you on the hill, at
least the engine turning will help rebuild vacuum in the brake
booster. If the gears DO hold you, hit the starter and back on down
the hill. At this point if the engine restarts, fine, just let it
idle you down.

If you get crossed up backing down the hill you may have no choice
but to try and re-start the engine and try to pull forward a bit.
Stop the rig by releasing the starter (or with the brakes if the
gears won’t hold it. BE CAREFUL with the brakes!) With the clutch
and brakes applied, shift into whatever forward gear works best for
climbing in your rig. At this point it’s useful to know the “racers
three-step”. Left foot on clutch, right toe on brake, right heel
mashing gas. (on my rig anyway.) If you can get the engine to
catch, that’s half the battle. Rev it a few times to clear the
flooding as much as possible, and then simultaneously release the
brake and clutch, mash the gas, cross your fingers and hold your
breath. (might want to practice this before you get caught on Lions
Back 😉 With luck this might buy you a few feet or even get you on
up and over the hill.

[Here endeth the lesson.]
Basically what you’re doing is letting the compression of your stalled
engine act as a brake to slow your journey down the hill. Because the engine
is physically being turned over (though it isn’t actually running) you will
get some power back in your brakes (because the pump is running). You can
now use your brakes to slow your descent.

The second-to-last-ditch attempt thing to try is to leave your truck in
first gear, ignore the brakes, and use the clutch as a brake. There is a
built-in psychological aspect to this, because you’re used to pushing in the
clutch to stop, and in this case you need to let go of the clutch to
stop. Irritating little problem. As long as you are in 4WD you will have
four wheel braking using this method, so it will hold you on the hill, as
long as there is traction. Hard on the clutch, though.

If you are 10 feet away from the crest of the hill then you might want to
try the absolute-last-ditch thing, and that is to put the truck in first gear
and let the starter drive you up the hill. This isn’t inordinately hard on
the starter as long as you don’t run it for longer than 10 or 15 seconds at a
time. When the 10-15 seconds is up, just shut off the key and the engine
will hold the truck steady (because you’re not touching the clutch or the
brakes). After you give the starter a good 5 minutes to cool, then do it
again. Sooner or later either your battery will be dead, or you’ll be at the
top of the hill. This only works on an oldish truck that doesn’t have an
interlock that keeps you from working the starter with the truck in gear.

It has been suggested to me that you shouldn’t get out of your truck on a
steep grade unless your seatbelts are of the type that can be pulled out
again on a grade (many lock on a grade, and once it retracts you can’t pull
it out again until the truck is on level ground). Land Cruisers of my
vintage suffer this ‘feature’, and it’s a pain. The best you can do is to
try to use something like the vise grips from the toolbox (if you can reach
it with your belt on) to keep the belt from retracting when you take it off.


15.5 Water Crossings

This section has been replaced by an article by Runar Sigurjonsson
(apologies for the lack of punctuation). The article was written by him, but
it was heavily edited by myself as English is not Runar’s first language.
Anything in square brackets is an addition by myself.

This is the way we cross the glacial rivers [in Iceland] and maybe
this does not fit into what you were thinking about. Those glacial
rivers change regularly, they can be passable in the morning but
not in the afternoon [due to meltwater, caused by the sun], but
then maybe in a different place…..:-(

Crossing rivers.

Rivers and your truck:
Water is one of your truck’s biggest enemies. If water gets into
a gasoline engine, it will be greatly damaged. If water gets into
a Diesel engine it will be destroyed. The two most important parts
to protect are the air-intake and the electronic ignition system.
The ignition system in newer vehicles is usually very tight and
need not be worried about. In older vehicles it can help to spray
some water-repelling sprays, but they often make the ignition very
dirty.
The air-intake is the route water can get into your engine. If
that happens, you are in deep [trouble]. If you are lucky you only
need to dry your engine, if not, start looking for a new engine.
In newer vehicles the air is usually fed in from two places, inside
the front fender and from around the exhaust-pipes. The fender is
well protected from splashes but if you drive to fast the vehicle
will make a wave in front and raise the water level inside the
fender.
The best place for a air-intake is on the roof or feeding the air
through the firewall from inside the truck.
The weight of your truck has big effect on its river crossing
abilities and the height up under the body also. As soon as the
body goes into the water the weight that is sitting on the tires is
greatly reduced, making it easier for the current to push the
vehicle its way. For example if your vehicle weighs 3300 pounds
and the body-tub is 7×5 feet and it sinks one foot into water the
weight on the tires is reduced to only 1220 pounds [assuming no
leakage of water into the tub].
No precautions need to be taken for the exhaust system, there is
no way water can get past the exhaust [as long as the engine is
running].

Where to cross:
In general it is best to cross where the river is wide and has
adequate current. Adequate current means that it is not as deep as
where there is less current, and it also means that the bottom is
more solid. [ If the river is a consistent 13 feet across, and one
area has a faster current than another area, then that area with
the faster current is shallower.]
The current carries with it mud and sand that it puts down where
the current drops and that makes the bottom soft and dangerous.
Never cross in a place that cannot be waded. If the place is
unknown to the driver he should examine it by wading over himself.
He needs to check how deep it is, how fast the current is, and how
[firm] the bottom is. To wade in a safe manner the person should
have a stick (the heavier the better) and face up the river,
leaning on the stick, with slightly bent knees. This gives him the
best stability. He should be tied to a rope that one person holds
onto on the riverbank. It is very important that the end of the
rope that is on the riverbank, is not tied to anything. If the
person wading should fall, the one on the bank should run down the
river at the same speed as the victim is floating and pull him to
the riverbank. This way the effect of the current is eliminated
and very little force is needed to pull the victim to the
riverbank, your ten year old is probably strong enough for it. If
the end on the riverbank is tied to something the current will push
the victim down into the river possibly drowning the victim.

[ Ed. note: I’ve had a long discussion with Runar about the
‘running down the bank’ point because on this continent we are
blessed with those tall green things with bark that make running
down the riverbank quite difficult on occasion. My opinion has
always been that the rope tied to you should be tied on the bank as
well, but Runar has convinced me that even with the rope tied high
under your armpits you will plane down into the river if the rope
goes taut. I’m not sure where this leaves us. If there are no
trees on the riverbank to impede running or snag the rope, then his
method is by far the best, but in a forest probably the best method
would be to have the person on the bank hold on to the rope and
feed it out as necessary so that there is a line between you but
there is little or no tension. It’s a tough question, with no good
answer. ]

Seeing another vehicle cross is often enough to see where to
cross, but remember that it is often not best to go over at the
same place in both directions.
NEVER go over a big river without a buddy four wheeler in his/her
truck.

Driving over:
If the river is only hub deep there is usually no danger. Just
cross in a slow manner, and remember that it could suddenly get a
lot deeper.
Always drive in 1st-gear 4-wheeldrive low range (remember to lock
the hubs) and be in that gear before you get into the river because
shifting gears in a river is an emergency only. When you press the
clutch pedal down, water can possibly get between the clutch-disk
and the flywheel making it impossible to engage again.
Drive slowly (1st-low at 1500-2000 rpm) over and try to drive
down the river. That way the current will help to push the vehicle
across and a wave will not be generated in front. If you drive up
against the current a big wave will be in front adding to the
chance of taking water into the air-intake. Besides that your
vehicle may simply not have the power or traction to go up against
the current (even if you have a 454).

In most cases the current will try to push the vehicle down the
river and the rear end will be pushed faster. Be prepared to turn
the front wheels in the direction of the “slide”, as you would in
other circumstances. If that is not enough, accelerate so the
front tires can keep up with the rear tires. If that is still not
enough (you should not have chosen this place!) and the vehicle
turns, facing upstream, put it in reverse and try to reverse up to
either bank.
Going forward is not an option in such circumstances.
Turn the headlights off. The sudden cooling of them can destroy
the bulbs.
Tying a rope to the hitch is a smart move. If things go in the
worst way, it makes a rescue a lot easier.
Want to learn more? Take your mountain bike to a innocent, about
knee deep river and experiment. That way you will get a better
understanding of all the forces that the river puts on your
vehicle.

In case of an emergency:
Like I said before NEVER cross a big river without some spare
truck on the bank. If your vehicle stops halfway across and can’t
get any farther the first thing to do is to get the people to dry
land. NEVER jump off of the truck on the upstream side, since the
current can push you down under the truck and you could easily get
stuck on some stuff in the frame and then nothing can save you.
Try to get a rope to the shore and have the people there pull
everyone over.

To dry an engine:
If your engine stalls from water, don’t try to start it as that
could make things worse. Have it pulled to dry land and then open
the air cleaner. If there is water in it chances are that water
got all the way into the engine block. If not, this is probably the
blame of wet ignition. If water is in the air cleaner, remove the
filter and all the spark plugs. Then try to start the engine. It
will of course not run but the water inside will be pushed out of
the spark plug holes. If it doesn’t turn or turns with an awful
sound, you are facing a big repair bill or the need for a new
engine.
Also check all lubricants for water. If water gets into the
engine oil and you don’t have any replacement oil, wait for an hour
or so or until the oil and the water has separated, with the water
lowest in the pan. Loosen the drain plug until the water flows out
and when oil starts coming out, too, tighten it again. Drive to
the NEXT service station and have all lubricants changed.

[ End of article ]

Runar’s article is quite complete, and pretty much overwrites everything I
wrote previously. There are still a couple of points that I’d like to make:

Generally speaking, driving through water no higher than the top of the
wheel rim is not a big problem, and just about any 4×4 will do it if the
bottom surface is reasonably firm (packed sand, smooth-grade rocks, etc).
Any deeper than this, and you have to consider what will get dunked. Will
you get water in your differentials? Will your radiator fan get purchase on
the water and claw its way into the radiator? Will you douse an electrical
component that won’t like it? If you get the vehicle’s computer wet it is
game over! You will need a new computer ($$!), and a tow home.
Even if you can see the bottom of the water, you should investigate
carefully where you’re going to cross. Some slow-moving streams have an
incredibly thick layer of crud on the bottom, something which Runar wouldn’t
have ever seen before (rivers in Iceland are pretty much all glacial, so they
have strong currents, so no heavy mud layer) and what looks like the bottom
of the stream might be just the top of a 3 foot deep layer of stinking ooze.
A fast-moving stream is more reliable; the speed of the water carries soft
stuff away. A sandy wash can usually be trusted as long as the sand surface
is rippled (indicating currents at work). If the sand is smooth, it might
just be the underwater equivalent of ‘quicksand’, and a good poking with a
pole is in order to check the situation out. If you see pebbles on the
surface of the river bottom then you are pretty safe driving on it. If it
was quickstuff down there, then the pebbles would sink. Don’t count on
your vehicle being able to pull itself out if your front wheels fall off a
shelf into deeper water. Unless you have a winch on the back of the
vehicle, you’re in trouble.

Point hints:

– Be very careful of stream deltas (where they empty into a lake) as
they are often clogged deep with mud, and it’s a wider area to cross.
In cases other than deltas, wider is often better because it indicates
a shallower section, but deltas are to be avoided!

– Consider the firmness of the banks of the stream. Are they steep?
Will they slide under the weight of the truck? Will you be able to
climb the other side?

– Don’t blindly trust an assumed fording point where a logging road
crosses it; the road might have been used only by skidders, which have
huge 60″ chevron-tread tractor tires on them.

There has been some spirited debate regarding the question of whether to
cross a fast river at a downstream angle as Runar suggests, or whether to go
straight across. I have done significant mental exploration of the situation
with my old physics and hydrodynamics texts, and done various experiments
with model vehicles and moving water. What I have found out is this:

– This is not an issue unless the current is fast (at least 3mph/5kmh or
so).

– In water that doesn’t reach the level of the differential, the
difference is very insignificant.

– In water that reaches the axles and differential but not the body of
the vehicle it is slightly better to be headed downstream.

– In water that reaches up to the body of the vehicle it is
significantly better to be pointing downstream.

Since water has the disturbing tendency to get deeper when you least expect
it, you might as well cross rivers on a downstream tack.

This whole argument is pointless if there is only one exit point from the
river (due to trees or a steep bank).

When you reach the riverbank and it starts to get steep, you need to turn the
wheels into the slope so that you climb it straight up, as per the
instructions under “Steep Climbs”.


15.6 Deep Mud/Snow

When faced with deep mud or snow, you might find yourself bogging down and
making little progress. A rapid swinging of the steering wheel (by placing
one hand at the 12 o’clock position and swinging it from ‘knee to knee’ it
will help you move forwards. This works by giving the front wheels purchase
on the sides of any ruts you might be in. This only works, of course, if
your truck has front wheel drive or four wheel drive engaged.
The consensus on the list is that although in theory it should also work
when reversing, the added stress on the front drivetrain, and the added
possibility of the wheels catching hard and shooting you in a direction that
you don’t want to go, make this a ‘last resort’ method when in reverse.

Well, I was just stuck in some nasty frame-deep lake-bottom mud, and what I
did (and it worked, praise be!) was to crank the steering wheel left to
right, but all the way to the steering limiters, while the truck was in low
reverse idling backwards. I would change from left to right whenever it
stopped moving. Every now and then it would ‘hook up’ and I would just let
it move in whatever direction it could get traction in. Obviously there are
situations where that method isn’t a good one; for instance if you are on a
lakeshore and you know that going towards the lake is just not a good idea,
then you might try going full turn, back to center, and back to the full turn
always pointing away from the lake.

Try to make small corrections with the wheel, rather than large ones.
As soon as you get the wheels points more than 5 degrees or so off center
they will start to just churn and not help in moving forward. The front
wheels act as rudders in the deep stuff, but if you don’t have the power to
push forward then you’re lost. If you start to slip and lose traction, and
end up coming to a halt, try straightening your wheels and rocking a bit
(just put it in reverse and use the clutch to alternate between power and
neutral until you get a good rocking going), then try to scoot
backwards enough to get some room to accelerate forwards again, and keep
the wheels straight.

16 Mud

Mud is everywhere. Some love it, some hate it. Some love to get dirty,
others hate having to spend $10 at the coin-op to get the black, stinking
swamp ooze off of their truck. No matter which camp you inhabit, you might
find yourself hub-deep in the sticky stuff some day, so a few hints might
come in handy.
Unless you have well separated lugs, mud can be impossible to deal with.
Regular ‘all terrain’ tires will just fill with mud and give you all the
traction of a racing slick. You need a tire that satisfies the M+S (Mud and
Snow) designation for self-cleaning lugs. Not every M+S tire will self-clean
in the sticky stuff; it’s got to have a good, wide lug spacing (like 1/2″ or
more) to clean properly.
Mud can be sneaky. Sometimes you’re on top of it and don’t even know it.
There’s a story that Mike Taylor related in the first newsletter of the True
North Toyota Land Cruisers. This story illustrates so well several things
that you should not do, that I feel that it was destined to be added to the
FAQ, and I’m sure Mike will agree (once he finds out that I used it, that
is!). 😎

I had my first good stuck the other day; I went fishing with my
dad and we were trying different streams in the Jock river area.
As I was starting to cross a grassy field to get to one small
creek, the back wheels spun. I got out to look; the grass was wet,
but no worse than that. As a precaution, I locked the hubs and put
the machine in 4-low. With one touch of the gas, I was sitting
frame-deep in gumbo; brown, sticky, the worst. There I was, hi-
lift at home, no shovel, my Warn 8274 8000lb winch sittin’ in my
garage DOIN’ ME NO GOOD AT ALL. My new rod and reel with 4-pound
test wasn’t an option. Fortunately, a neighboring farmer towed me
out with his tractor. [snip]

Now we get to critique Mike’s driving. Easy to do from this armchair. 😎
Now, as soon as the wheels slipped, he got out to check out the situation.
Very good. Many people would have just stomped on the gas. The driving
error was using so low a gear with too much throttle. Mike’s truck is a
diesel ‘cruiser with a granny low of about 55:1. If you so much as breathe
on the gas from a stop in that gear you will dig down fast. Now the non
driving related error: he had no unstucking gear. So what should Mike have
done? Well, definitely lock the hubs, and switch to 4WD, but use as high a
gear as you can start in easily (3rd gear, in Mike’s case) and feather
in the clutch without touching the throttle. Now, Mike didn’t have any
indication that he was on quicksod, but when I suspect that wheel-spin will
be tragic and I have to start from speed zero, I will use the hill-trick
of shutting off the truck, putting it in the second lowest gear, and then
without touching the gas just turn the key to start it. The starter motor
will drive you smoothly for 5-10 feet before the engine starts. Since the
starter motor doesn’t have all that much power you won’t spin the wheels.
This only works if your truck doesn’t have an interlock that keeps you from
starting it in gear.

17 Ice

Ice gives you little or no traction, no matter what kind of tires you
have. If you’re on slick ice, then all you can do is plan ahead. Give
yourself lots of time to slow down. Stop at the crests of hills to check
out the situation. Is there a rut that might grab your tires and throw you
into the trees? Studs will perk your tires up incredibly on ice, but
they’re not legal in all areas. Chains don’t have as much of an effect on
ice unless they’re specifically made to grip ice.

18 Slippery Stops

Compression braking is the way to go, here. Keep the vehicle in gear
during the stop, and it won’t be able to lock the wheels. You’ll have to use
the clutch before the engine stalls, of course, but you can get down to a
very slow speed before you have to rely on the brakes alone.

19 What if? Dealing with emergencies.

Let me start off by saying that this is not intended to be a survival
article. There are way too many books on that subject already. What I’m
going to do is give you some hints on making it easier to be found. In other
words, rather than instruction on snaring rabbits while waiting to be found,
I’m going to tell you how to make it easier for the Search And Rescue (SAR)
boys and girls to find you faster.

Rule #1 is to let someone know where you’re going. If you get lost or
stranded, it really sucks to not know whether anyone is looking or not.
Having people actively looking for you greatly increases your chance of being
found. Using your credit card to buy gas is a good thing, as then the
searchers can find out where you last fueled up, and that might give them a
clue as to where you are. Best is to phone home every time you fill up.

Rule #2 is to listen to the weather forecast for the area you will be
travelling in. If there’s bad weather coming you might want to postpone your
trip, or at least take precautions.

Rule #3 is to always have emergency equipment suitable for the area you
will be travelling in. You don’t need bug juice in midwinter in the Yukon,
but you’d better have your shovel. See the lists of expedition gear above.

Rule #4 is to have good navigational gear so you won’t get lost in the
first place. If it’s too late to avoid it, keep reading.


19.1 Lost!

Lost is more a state of mind than a state of body. The first thing to do
(and I mean the FIRST thing) is to sit down. Sit down and mellow out. Don’t
drive. Don’t walk. Don’t run. Sit down. If you’re in the truck then
shut it off and wait. For half and hour or so. When you realize you’re lost
your brain starts doing backflips and your glands start pumping out enough
epinephrine to put a yak into a coma, and if you give in to the fear you will
run… and run… and run… until you are totally exhausted and well and
truly lost!

So mellow out until you can think clearly. Sometimes this is all it takes.
You will suddenly realize where you went wrong and will be able to find your
way back easily. No matter how certain you are that you know where you’re
going at this point, leave a trail so that you can get back to this location.
This location is where you realized you were lost, so it must be close to
where you need to be to be found. If you can stay in this location, you’ll
probably get found faster.

If you’re hopelessly lost, then you might as well be stranded, so follow
the advice in that subsection.


19.2 Stranded!

The vehicle is inoperable. There is no way it’s going to take you
anywhere. A wheel fell off or something. Now you need to be found.

Do you have a cell phone or CB/shortwave transmitter? If so, call for help
(as long as you have battery power). If not, there are still several
options.

First off, calm down. A human being in reasonable physical condition can
survive for a month with no food, as long as they have water. Do you have
water? Even if you don’t, you can still live for a week or more, though
you’ll be in a bad way by the fifth day or so. Do not drink radiator water
if it has antifreeze in it! It’ll crash your kidneys and leave you in a bad
way. Unless you want a (brief) lifetime of dialysis, don’t do it. If you
don’t have water, then don’t eat, as digestion will use up your water
reserves. From personal experience I know that the second day without food
is the worst. After that it’s not too bad. Just relax and don’t think about
it.

Conserve your energy. Rest. Food in the wilderness is fairly low calorie,
and won’t be keeping you up as well as you think it is. For instance, say
you were on a fishing trip and you’re stranded next to a trout stream. You
have your fishing tackle and pole, and you are pulling 6 one and a half pound
trout out of the stream every day. You think you’re eating pretty good (6
pounds of trout a day, after they’re cleaned). In reality, those trout are
only providing about 250 calories each, so you’re only getting about 1500
calories a day. An active man breaking trail in the woods needs more like

4000 calories to remain at a normal energy level. The bottom line is to

conserve energy. Catch the fish, but don’t go jogging. By the way, you
don’t have to worry about scurvy or any kind of vitamin deficiency for a
loooong time, so don’t bother getting yourself in a pucker about them. If
you’re in the bush that long, scurvy will be the least of your worries.

In cases where people ‘disappear’ in their vehicles the vehicle itself is
usually found in just a few days after the search begins. What this means is
that you want to stay with the vehicle. As long as someone knew more or less
where you were going, and when you expected to be back, you shouldn’t have to
wait more than a week before you’re found. The vehicle is not a perfect
shelter, but it will cut the wind. In extreme heat (30C plus) don’t stay in
the truck, but rather under it. That way you will get shade, and you won’t
be in the oven that is your truck. If you have blankets then you can make a
lean-to tent against your vehicle to provide shade. Don’t exert yourself in
the heat. Try not to sweat, you will waste water. Move slow. Don’t talk.
Suck on a pebble to keep from mouth-breathing. In extreme cold (colder than
about -20C) the vehicle won’t help you any insulation-wise, but it will keep
the wind off of you, and if you lie on the bench seat (if you have a bench
seat) and pile your blankets on top of you (loose, not tight) then you will
be warm enough to live, as long as you have food to keep the furnace stoked.
If you know how to build a snow shelter, then I’ll leave it up to your
discretion whether to use one or not. Don’t sweat. Don’t get wet.

If you have to leave the vehicle (it’s in an avalanche area, or you’re just
going to try to scare up some cattail rhizomes to eat) leave a note. If you
don’t have paper, then you can write it in dirt sprinkled on the seat, or
some other method can be employed. Make sure the wind won’t blow your note
away. And blaze a trail. Just break the tops of bushes as you go so that
they point back towards camp. Using this technique you shouldn’t be able to
lose track of the vehicle, and if searchers find one of your blazes they’ll
be able to find your camp.

In the interest of being seen from the air you should have the vehicle as
conspicuous as possible. Parked in the middle of an open area, for instance.
If the top of the vehicle is dark then a light-coloured tarp will help it
remain visible (unless you’re on snow, of course, in which case you want the
top dark, and keep clearing the snow off of it).

The international distress signal is a group of three. Three blasts on the
horn, three gunshots, three columns of smoke, whatever. In a wooded area you
just build up a punky fire with rotten wood and green vegetation (or forest
loam, or engine oil) and wait. You can burn a tire, and it will smoke a
lot, but it burns really hot, so don’t just toss your spare on the
coals next to your lean-to; give it some room. It’s a good idea to have a
fire set up under a tarp or other rain-proof covering that you don’t use
unless you see a plane, then you can quickly build a fire that the pilot can
see, and he won’t be gone by the time it’s going. Mirrors are excellent
signals in the daytime. A mirror can reflect light for a staggering
distance. You have several mirrors on your truck, so make use of them, even
if you have to tear them off to use them.

In the usual ‘backwoods’ places of today (not including the deep interiors
of the far north of Canada and Alaska, and the Australian outback) if you
build a smoky fire by day, and a bright fire by night, you’re pretty much
guaranteed to be found within a week.

20 Supplies

20.1 What’s the big deal about a Hi-Lift jack?

A Hi-Lift jack (HLJ) or equivalent (Jack-all, etc.) does far more than just
lift a corner of your truck to change a tire. An HLJ can be used (tediously)
as a winch, but it’s main feature is its ability to pivot an end of the
vehicle from point to point.
If you jack up the front end of a vehicle from the center of the bumper so
that both front wheels are off the ground, you can push that end of the car
over to one side, thereby moving the front wheels a couple of feet to one
side, and effectively turning the vehicle 20 degrees or so. Can be very
handy because it’s faster to pivot the front or rear wheels out of a deep
hole than it is to winch it using the HLJ.
The situation where pivoting with the HLJ becomes really crucial is when
you get yourself in over your head on a boulder problem. It’s happened to
everyone. You see a line that looks doable. You start moving in. You
miscalculated. All of a sudden your rig is belly down on a rock, and all the
fancy driving in the world isn’t going to get your truck out of there. You
just want to be home. In bed. With the covers over your head.
Using a winch in this situation will just cause major scrape-damage to the
underbelly and potentially rip brake lines, fuel lines, etc. The thing to do
is to use your handy-dandy HLJ to lift the front (or back, depending on your
lie) off of the obstruction and slowly inch it over. You have two choices:
either crank it real high and push it over, hoping that it won’t land on
anything tender, or you can crank it up, push it over a foot or two (but not
so much that it overbalances and falls) and lower it slowly onto the rock
again, repeating until you’re far enough over that you know for sure that you
can pivot it fully without maiming your truck.
It’s irritating. It’s tedious. It’s the only game in town, unless you
have a friend with a cargo helicopter.
Using the same general technique you can lift a wheel back onto a rock that
it slipped off of to re-establish your line.
Additionally, a Hi-Lift brand jack can have a top jaw added that makes it
look like a giant woodworker’s bar clamp. It will inflict many tons of
crushing pressure; just the thing for straightening bent frames and
suspension parts (if you can get in there.. the irritating thing is that
you can’t do this with the vehicle jacked up, obviously.. unless you have two
jacks).
Some people claim success with moving a vehicle forwards or backwards with
a HLJ using the pivot method. I advise strongly against this, as the
potential for damage (due to the jack beam hitting something) is just too
great.
Be careful using the pivot method to move your truck around by the back
bumper if you have bumperettes. If you don’t have a free arc to swing the
jack beam in, the method won’t work. Jacking from the bumperettes can be
done, and I have had to do it, but it worried me, and one of them bent. If
you have the option, don’t use the bumperette as a jacking point.
Keep your Hi-Lift oiled. I have been warned that they can get ‘sticky’ and
not work properly (it sucks to get your truck jacked up only to find out you
can’t get it back down again). I had this happen to me in the Great Lake
Extraction of ’96, and it was annoying. When the jack doesn’t operate
smoothly it’s just another thing to worry about when you really need to focus
on other things.


20.2 Do I really need a tow rope if I’m driving alone?

It’s a good idea. You might need it to keep your truck from sliding down a
cliff if you drop a wheel off, and you’ll need one to use your Hi-Lift jack
as a winch, or if your regular winch cable isn’t long enough to reach a good
anchor. There is also the ever-popular ‘sloped trail washout crossing’ which
requires a tow rope or two. It’s a good idea to use a safety rope when
crossing unknown rivers that might get deep in the middle.


20.3 What kind of fire extinguisher do I need?

Automotive fire extinguisher chemicals vary in composition. Normally,
extinguishers have three different chemicals referred to by the letters ‘A’,
‘B’ and ‘C’ for ordinary fires (wood, and other ‘dry’ things burning),
flammable liquid fires, and electrical fires respectively. Now, the right
extinguisher for any given situation depends on what is burning. In a car,
a fire is usually started by an electrical problem (‘C’) but if you do end up
with oil or gasoline burning (‘B’) then that’s something that needs to be
dealt with VERY quickly. If, however, the seats or carpet is burning, you
need ‘A’. It isn’t practical to have three different extinguishers, so the
manufacturers use custom chemicals that effect various ratios for
different purposes. The most common automotive ratio seems to be a

1A/5BC mix, or thereabouts. That means that six pounds of the

chemical used in the extinguisher will extinguish as much burning
material as 1 pound of a dedicated ‘A’ chemical, and 2.5 pounds each
of dedicated ‘B’ and ‘C’ chemicals. Gives you a ‘broad spectrum’
approach. You can buy either disposable extinguishers, or refillable.
Disposables are inexpensive, and in a situation where you may well
never use your extinguisher, it’s a satisfactory selection as long as
the disposable unit holds at least a pound of chemical. Two pounds is
better. The drawback to the disposable units is that over time all
extinguishers lose pressure, and you can’t just ‘top up’ a disposable unit.
You have to buy a new one. Keep in mind that disposables generally are
filled with a dry chemical, so when you use it you will end up with a
car full of white crud everywhere. Better than losing the car, but gas
extinguishers (such as Halon) don’t have this problem. Halon, however,
acts like CFCs in their attack of the ozone layer. So if you might never
use it, why have it? Just in case you’re one of those unlucky souls
who does need it. My cousin’s car just burned down around him about a
month ago. He didn’t have an extinguisher. This wasn’t an ancient
clunker, it was a decent, certified car. It went up so fast he couldn’t
do anything to save it. I gave him an earful for not having an
extinguisher, because he should know better. He’s a professional
firefighter.

Here’s more vehicular fire-fighting hints from Chris Siano:

1)When putting out an engine fire, DO NOT open the hood. Spray
through the radiator, or from a wheelwell, or (if possible) from
below the front bumper. Opening the hood simply allows air to flow
and the fire may flare up directly into your face.

2) Hot batteries can explode. There is no way to tell if a battery
is shorted or damaged without raising the hood, and you don’t want
to do that (see (1) above). While fighting the fire, avoid the
general area around the battery. Do not face into the radiator,
and otherwise try to keep your face away as you spray into other
areas. You may not be as effective in stopping the fire, but it is
better than getting a face full of hot battery acid. Even when the
fire is out, be very cautious of the battery. A warm battery
releases hydrogen gas, the slightest spark can cause trouble. This
is especially important if you need to disconnect the battery for
any reason. A battery switch can be a wise investment.

3) Modern Catalytic converters can easily reach 600 or more degrees
Farenheit. Parking, stopping, and even driving over high grass can
ignite it. Be very cautious.

This same phenomenon (grass-induced spontaneous combustion) was mentioned
to me by Henry Cubillan. It’s a wise move to check for dry grass stuffed
around the engine block every half hour or so when driving in deep grass.

20.4 Which Winch is Winchiest?

This is another religious debate. The question is not one of size
(astonishingly enough) as the established requirement is 1.5 times the gross
weight of the vehicle. So my BJ42 with its slightly over 5000 pound GVW
would need a bit over 7500 pounds, so I’d go with an 8000 pound winch
(unless, of course, I saw a good deal on a 9000 or 10000).
Many people feel that bigger is better, though. A 10000 pound winch will
generally use less energy pulling 7000 pounds than a 7000 pound winch will.
The question, though, is which kind of winch? Electric or hydraulic?
PTO? Planetary gears or worm gears?
In general, you want a winch that’s strong enough to pull your truck out of
the mud, and you want one with the options that you feel are worth the money.
Some common options are:

– Remote (wired, or wireless) so you can stand out of the path of any
broken cable etc. and you can get a better view of what’s going on.

– Freewheeling. This is the ability of the winch to be put into
‘neutral’ so you can pull out the cable you need and don’t have to
wait for the winch to slowly unspool it.

– Roller fairlead. By default many winches come with a hawse
fairlead, which is just a slot cut in a sheet of metal. A
roller fairlead has steel rollers that don’t cause the cable as
much grief, so the cable lasts longer and doesn’t get as
hand-maimingly frayed.

– Gears? Worm gears are slow, but they have the benefit of having
reliable built-in braking; there is no worry of the winch giving way
and letting cable unspool under load. Planetary gears are faster,
but they don’t have the inherent braking properties. Auxilliary
brakes are installed in these winches to overcome this lack. All in
all, planetary gears look like the choice of champions.

20.4.1 PTO Winches

The ultimate grunt winch. Nothing will out-pull a PTO winch. They’re
tough, they’re reliable, and they’ll pull a barn off of its foundations. A
PTO winch can run faster than an electric or hydraulic (over a foot per
second), because you can put the truck into whatever gear you want. A PTO
winch can run all day without a problem (as long as you have enough gas in
your truck 😎
The bad part is that they’re heavy, they’re dear as diamonds from the
dealer, and they only work if the engine is running. If you stall and can’t
get the vehicle re-started, you’re out of luck. PTO winches also tend to be
somewhat spartan; no remote, no other ‘goodies’. Many don’t freewheel
(unless there’s a dog-clutch on the winch itself, which means getting out of
the cab and walking over to the winch). In theory, you can run a PTO winch
off of the starter motor if the truck stalls. Might be worth a try.
Before plunking down good money for that aged PTO winch at the wreckers,
made darn sure that you can get parts for it. According to my Toyota dealer,
there are no spare parts available for their PTO winches. Make sure you
can get them for the winch that you want to buy.

20.4.2 Electric Winches

The most common solution. These run off of your battery, so you need to
have a pretty serious battery if you want to have full power from your winch
(good sized winches have a draw of around 400 amps). You operate these
winches with the engine running, otherwise you’ll just drain the battery that
much faster, and you might not be able to get the truck started again. Even
with the engine idling you can’t run them for long, as alternators generally
supply between 50 and 100 amps (though alternators of up to 250 amps are
available for some trucks for welding applications, etc). These are the
heaviest winches, so you might need to upgrade your front shock absorbers to
compensate. Make sure that the solenoids are protected from moisture; if
they get wet your winch won’t work until they dry. If the solenoids stay dry
(they can be installed remotely in the cab) then an electric winch will work
under water.
An electric winch with a permanent magnet motor has much less of an
appetite for power than a series-wound motor, but has the drawback of
overheating easily. If you plan on being the ‘winch guy’ in the group and
pulling everybody else up, you had better get a series-wound motor.


20.4.3 Hydraulic Winches

Possibly the best solution for most of us. There are two general types
available; the variety that runs from the hydraulic pressure in the power-
steering pump, and the type that runs from a separate, dedicated pump. The
former is cheaper, the latter is better. Hydraulic winches are strong and
light, and are sort of a middle-ground between electric and PTO winches. You
can get hydraulic winches with remotes, though many of them can only
freewheel when you turn the handle on the winch itself. They run cool, and
most have a 100% duty cycle. Decent hydro winches have a great appetite for
power. Running a hydro pump hard enough and fast enough to power a winch
pulling in 8000 pounds at 36 feet per minute (way faster than electric
winches) takes about 20 horsepower. You can’t run this serious a pump off
of the crank with a belt. The belt will slip. You can try using a double
belt, but generally the hydraulics are set up with the pump being powered
directly from the crank (via a direct coupling) or via the PTO drivegear on
the idler shaft of the transfer case (if you have a PTO drivegear).
Hydraulic cost a lot to set up, but I think they’re worth it.