How To Drive In Mud
Love it or hate it, negotiating mud is something you will have to do in your 4WD. You may not be looking for it, but rest assured at some point it will find you. You could be away with the family enjoying a nice sunny holiday down in a valley, only to find yourself in a deluge that lasts for days. Now, unless you are prepared to wait days (or potentially weeks in some areas) for the tracks to dry out, you have to pilot yourself back up and down those steep, slippery tracks and through those bog holes. But don’t worry, by following these simple steps you will be able to hit the mud with confidence.
Vehicle Set Up
- Lower your tyre pressures. By doing this, you are increasing the tyre’s footprint on the ground, which means a lot more tread blocks pawing at that mud. It also increases the ‘floatation’ of your car, meaning it will sink less into the muddy ground. 24 psi is a good starting point but, be prepared to go even lower if you still struggle, 12psi is not out of the question, and most aftermarket tyres will easily handle it.
- Engage your centre diff lock (if fitted). Sounds simple right, but it’s incredible how easy it is to overlook. You want drive going to all four corners.
- Engage low range. You want the maximum amount of torque going to those wheels, no exceptions.
- Switch off your Electronic Stability Control (ESC) or Dynamic Stability Control (DSC). Manufacturers call it different names, but it does the same job; most have the same symbol on the button – the pic of a car with two wobbly lines below it. You do not want it active at all.
ESC works by applying braking force to any wheel that is spinning and also retarding the throttle. It is an excellent system intended to put your car back on the intended path in a loss of control scenario, but it is your worst enemy in slippery mud. You want those tyres spinning and ejecting the crap between the tread blocks; you also want to have full available throttle.
Mud is such a fluid surface that tyres will almost certainly spin. Having the car applying brakes and reducing your available power robs you of precious momentum and can even bring you to a halt. Not good.
Two little things to note; once you switch off the ignition and restart your car, the ESC reactivates itself automatically and, when not driving in mud you can and should reactivate it by pressing the button again, this can be done at any speed.
Select your gear and stay in it. If you are driving an auto, select command shift gearing and appropriate gear. Gear changing in mud creates instability and robs you of momentum. Pick the right gear to suit your intended speed and stick to it.
Plan your attack
Planning is key when negotiating a muddy obstacle. You want to decide beforehand which gearing, speed and directions (lines) you need. Get out, walk the track, poke into that bog hole with a stick, do whatever you can to reduce the chance of surprise. Make a plan and be prepared to adjust if it does not work out.
Momentum is your best friend in mud; if you lose it, it’s very difficult to build up again. By planning and most importantly – looking ahead, you will be able to adjust your driving inputs to suit the conditions. There is a difference between momentum and reckless speed; remember this motto: as slow as possible, as fast as necessary.
Ideally, you do not want to spin your tyres at all. There is a point up to which your treads will give you traction on a slippery surface. If you don’t need to spin your tyres, then perfect, don’t induce wheelspin it for the sake of it. After that point, your tyres will spin, and it is in this case that you will need momentum and increased throttle. If you find you are losing momentum, then more accelerator input will help. The treads will start to ‘self-clean’ (with mud flying out everywhere) and instead of a clogged slick presenting itself as it rotates to touch the ground, you now have an aggressive pattern, ready to bite and provide more traction.
Side-to-side steering can be helpful if you are losing the battle. Half-turning the steering wheel side to side to present the front tyres with a new surface to bite into, and if you have tyres with an aggressive sidewall, will also present that face of the tyre to the challenge, adding more grip.
Know which way your wheels are pointed. A very common mistake when you are in the slippery stuff and not making ground is to lose perception of which way your wheels are pointed, particularly if you are going back forth with some aggressive steering inputs. Having your wheels pointing the wrong way is a very bad thing; you open up your steering arm angles meaning the mechanical components are far more likely to break. It is completely inefficient acting like a drag brake and, if you do suddenly gain forward momentum (particularly under full throttle), your car will quickly spear into the wrong direction, which may see you front-ending a tree.
This is easily fixed by having a good spotter, checking for yourself visually or by making less aggressive steering inputs. At all times you must know which way those front wheels are pointed, no exceptions.
If you lose forward momentum, do not dig holes. There is no point staying in the throttle and digging holes (making future attempts harder) or burying the car deeper in the glue. The earlier you recognise that your attempt is futile, the better. Your best bet is to reverse your car while you can and do one of the following;
- Reduce tyre pressure;
- Track build;
- Tray a different line;
- Change momentum;
- Add/reduce wheel spin; and
- Select a different gear.
Have a few cracks at it
Sometimes your vehicle will progressively clear a path with multiple attempts in mud, each time the tyres biting into firmer ground, and this can help traction. In bottomless mud though, your main objective is to try and keep the car ‘floating’ as much as possible.
Anything other than smooth, progressive throttle inputs will upset your traction. We are not talking snail-pace here, but just be aware that stabbing accelerator movements will not aid in momentum and will defeat your tyre traction and steering.
Plan for the worst
If it looks like you may struggle it pays to have your recovery gear ready beforehand, particularly on slippery slopes and water-filled bogs. Opening doors and drawers to grab that gear on a steep, slippery slope is not easy and often dangerous. Similarly, in bog holes, it is best to reduce the amount of muddy water ingress by keeping your doors closed and having bystanders assist.
This is an excerpt from an article originally published on www.4x4.com.au.