My wife used to think I enjoyed getting us into “predicaments.” Why else would I drive a perfectly good Jeep into the mud and over the rocks? She must have married a special kind of idiot who would do something so foolish again and again.
What she didn’t realize was that I was just honing my vehicle recovery skills. Little did she think that someday I would turn my Jeeping addiction into an interesting business with such a broad range of customers. All that practice getting stuck was training and research for one of my favorite hands-on class modules: Getting unstuck.
People often want to know what the most important recovery tool is. A winch? A good tow strap? A Hi-Lift Jack? While these are all good items to have, I honestly think your most important recovery tool is your brain and a bit of common sense. When you get stuck, you need to assess what happened and what options you have to get unstuck. Thinking carefully about those options and coming up with the best answer can mean the difference between quickly moving again, or struggling in “Stuckville” while your spouse gets more and more frustrated with you. There are many ways to get free. Your first order of business is to determine the quickest, simplest, and safest way.
If you want to get recovered, you need to plan ahead. Tow hooks properly mounted to the frame (front and rear) is required to provide a solid anchor point. A receiver hitch can be utilized, either with a shackle insert, a hook insert, or simply a looped strap fed into the receiver and held in place with an appropriate pin. Without some kind of good anchor point, there is no upside for someone else to risk damage to their own vehicle by pulling you out.
Another must have item is a tow strap with looped ends (no hooks). The loads put on a strap when pulling a vehicle out could cause a steel hook to become a projectile capable of injuring or killing bystanders. A windshield (or seat frame) is no match for a fast moving chunk of steel.
Most of the time, your quickest and simplest solution is to hook up the strap and use a second vehicle to pull you out. After a few such rescues, it seems routine, but it requires a carefully coordinated set of steps. I recommend the stuck vehicle “helps” by slowly trying to move forward. Not wildly spinning the tires… just turning enough to assist. The towing vehicle takes up the slack and provides steady pressure. As the stuck vehicle comes free, you want to take care not to override the strap. This does not mean a helpful bystander should duck down out of the driver’s line of sight…it means the driver stops and waits until the bystander has completed the task and is clearly back on safe ground.
Sometimes you are faced with self-recovery. This is where you might employ your shovel or Hi-Lift Jack. The Hi-Lift Jack is a handy tool with many uses, but honestly can be quite dangerous. For many of us, it is the only way to lift a modified Jeep high enough to change a tire (or to stack rocks), but the jack needs to be handled with care. When raised, it can wobble and fall; when lowering, the handle can snap up with surprising force. It can be used as a winch, but it’s painfully slow. Using a tow strap in this application is frustrating, because the strap will stretch quite a bit before you see any progress.
Next we’ll tackle that powerful extraction tool, the winch. It’s an unparalleled device when used properly, but demands respect every time you unspool the cable. We’ll discuss the tools required to use the winch, and techniques for safer winching.
Related – Sideways Winching Recovery Techniques
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