Even the most capable trucks can get stuck in the mud, sand, or snow. Luckily, getting unstuck is surprisingly easy—if you have the right equipment.
The Easy Way Out
The easiest, safest way to get your car or truck out of a sticky situation is simply to insert recovery boards under the spinning wheels and drive out. That avoids the massive forces of snatching or winching, as well as the need for high-tension cables or straps, which may snap under the pressure.
Maxtrax is the original maker of nylon recovery boards and still makes the most robust product in that segment. Nylon is way tougher than the thin aluminum of those old-timey sand ladders, and the heavily studded design offers way more traction.
If you’ve spun your wheels for too long, you may have dug your truck in to such a degree that you can’t get the Maxtrax under them. If that’s the case, you’ll need to lift your truck to get that clearance. The safest, easiest way to do that on a loose surface is with an exhaust jack. Its huge footprint means it won’t sink in, and uninflated, it’s flat enough to squeeze under a stuck vehicle with only a little digging (Maxtrax double as shovels). You can also inflate an exhaust jack with your air compressor if your exhaust is difficult to reach or inconvenient to use in that situation.
“Snatching” is the art of tethering a stuck vehicle to one with traction via an elastic strap and shackles. Because you must overcome both the weight of your truck and the resistance of the sticky substance you’re stuck in, all components should be rated to three times your vehicle’s gross weight. That probably gives you some indication that this is starting to get a little dangerous.
Both vehicles should be in four-wheel drive, with any available diffs locked, and in first gear, if not low range. Hook up the strap to both vehicles’ recovery points with the shackles, have everyone stand clear, and slowly drive forward in the lead vehicle until the line is in the air. Once there, attempt to tow the stuck vehicle out with gusto. That stuck vehicle should help by trying to drive forward too. Pull for enough distance that the stuck vehicle clears its obstacle.
The snatch strap’s elasticity helps to cushion sudden loads on both vehicles and may provide some extra tug to help pull a vehicle free. You’re adding the force of one vehicle pulling a stuck vehicle to the strap, and if that or a shackle snaps, they can fly toward either vehicle with deadly force. Be careful.
Maximum Challenge and Expense
Nothing beats a winch. But mounting one to your vehicle will also require an aftermarket bumper, bringing the total cost to several thousand dollars. You shouldn’t attempt to save money here. While winches may not get used often, when you do need a winch, nothing else will work, so don’t cheap out. Something with a Warn logo on it will never let you down.
To pull another vehicle with a winch, put your vehicle in neutral and stand on the brakes. You don’t want your transmission to have to resist all that force. To winch your vehicle, find a suitable anchor (tree straps prevent damage to trees), put your vehicle in drive, and winch just far enough to get out of whatever trouble you’re in.
There are many complicated ways to rig a winch to safely cross a side slope, deal with the lack of a good anchor point, and overcome other challenges. But because you’re applying so much force, and potentially dangling your heavy 4x4 from a cable attached to its front bumper, these are skills that should be learned from a professional instructor. Anyone looking to advance their skills off-road should seek out an appropriate recovery class to learn how to use their winch safely.
Traditionally, one of the big dangers with winches is metal components—the hasp and shackles—flying back at you with deadly force. Developments in synthetic fibers have created stronger winch lines, soft shackles, and even now, integrated synthetic lines and shackles that entirely omit metal components. With one of those, if a component fails while winching, the line will simply fall to the ground without killing you. I plan to upgrade my truck to that setup this summer.