4WD: Playing in mud
Getting out and checking the depth, consistency and the intended exit point will pay off considering the back-breaking alternative if you get it wrong. Picture: GBTW

While Perth has experienced a relatively dry winter, there are indications that we will have a wet spring. After this week's rain the chances are that most places you head to with your 4WD will result in a mud encounter.

Improve your 4WD skills:
TAKE TYRE PRESSURE DOWN
GET THERE AND BACK SAFELY
ESSENTIAL GEAR FOR GETTING OUT OF STRIFE
ON THE GO WITH GADGETS

The best place for "playing" in mud is on private property, where the owner can control the number of vehicles chewing up the terrain.

The constant grind on public tracks can make them impassable even when dry conditions return.

Overuse by the unthinking few results in track closures, so please play responsibly and make every attempt to tread lightly.

Never try to tackle mud with standard road tyres. Within minutes, if not seconds, the tread will clog up, leaving the vehicle skating on slicks with zero traction.

At the minimum, run an All Terrain (AT) tyre. The AT is the best compromise for reasonably quiet road running plus fair performance with improved traction on sand, gravel or mud.

Serious mud wrestlers will invest in dedicated "muddies". A purpose-designed Mud Terrain (MT) tyre has far bigger lugs and deep grooves to prevent mud build-up and retain traction in the gooey stuff.

The MT is much noisier on the road and is best kept as a separate tyre set for dedicated off-road trips rather than an all-year-round tyre.

Depending on type of soil and degree of water permeation, mud conditions vary from soft and sloppy through to firm and slippery. Of course, when approaching an apparent bog hole, it can be difficult to tell just how bad the conditions are from the comfort of the driver's seat.

The safest approach is to pause and test out conditions by probing with a stick or long-handled shovel before heading through.

As a general guide, high-range 4WD and first gear is a good place to start when tackling mud. As with normal off-road, don't try changing gears and snatching second midway through an obstacle because even the slightest pause in momentum may result in a complete stop.

Keep the accelerator smoothly and evenly depressed - any sharp jabs to the pedal may cause highly undesirable wheel spin.

Maintaining momentum may ensure easy passage through a short bog, unless it turns out to be deeper than expected.

A more cautious approach provides the opportunity to select reverse as soon as the wheels start to slip or sink. Once committed to going forward, rocking the steering wheel gently from side to side will provide additional grip as the side lugs of the tyres have the opportunity to dig in.

Spinning the wheels at reasonably high speed helps sling the mud out of the tyre and maintain grip.

Bear in mind that this rapidly reduces ground clearance and may result in the vehicle digging in ever deeper, until there is no chance of moving forward without plenty of shovel wielding.

Once bogged, the vehicle will need to be dug out. Ensure clearance for the diffs in the track centre. Some "road building" in front of the tyres will help, either a purpose-designed traction aid (such as Maxtrax) or small rocks and branches from beside the track.

This may be sufficient to provide the necessary grip to move forward. Otherwise it's time to hook up the winch to combat the incredible suction of mud power.

The West Australian

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