4WD recoveries are not to be taken lightly. The forces involved are often upwards of several tonne, the last thing you want while adventuring is for something to go wrong. There is no pre‑requisite for 4WD training in Australia which means people are performing 4WD recoveries in a way that potentially puts people in harm’s way. There are some steps you can take however to ensure that your 4WD recoveries are done safely.
What’s the greatest risk in a 4WD recovery?
The greatest risk in a 4WD recovery is if something breaks. Whether it be a snatch strap, winch cable, shackle or recovery point, the consequences of something breaking are best avoided.
How can you reduce the risk in a 4WD recovery?
Stop and think
A bogged vehicle isn’t the end of the world. Take some time to assess the situation before you make a move. Check tyre pressures, recovery points and look at the recovery options you have available. The best method is to find a way of recovering the vehicle that is as easy and safe. Both are just as important as each other.
Use recovery dampers
If you are recovering a vehicle by way of winch or snatch strap, at least one damper should always be used. Recovery dampers are designed to absorb tensile energy and unfold to lay over your strap or winch rope. Using a damper helps minimise recoil should anything break.
This is super important, even if everyone is out of the way. I’ve seen snatch straps go through windscreens, lodge themselves into spare tyres and go through a 4WD’s rear panel.
If you don’t have a proper damper on hand, a jumper or towel works too, but proper dampers are more effective. Ideally you should use two; one at either end of the recovery.
Use traction boards
Traction boards are a practical recovery accessory. If you can use them alone it’s almost risk fee for everyone, but even if you use them to assist a winch or snatch recovery, you reduce a huge amount of the stress involved.
Stand well clear of the recovery
If you haven’t seen a snatch strap or winch cable break before, jump on YouTube and have a look. They move at a rate well beyond what you can see, and don’t make allowances for anyone standing in the way.
The general rule is to stand at least 1.5 x the length of the snatch strap or winch rope away from all vehicles involved.
People are curious by nature, and you’ll often get bystanders come up and watch. Politely tell them to move out of the way, and don’t do the recovery until it’s clear.
Don’t use non rated recovery points
Almost every 4WD comes from the factory without rated recovery points. Many tie down points are often confused for rated recovery points, and can fail when heavy load is applied to them. The last thing you want is for a chunk of metal to break off your 4WD.
Rated recovery points are stamped with a SWL (Safe Working Load), and will come with high tensile (grade 8.8) bolts. You can buy these from all good 4WD stores, and you should have one on the front and the rear of your vehicle (as a minimum). Two is ideal.
Consider the way they bolt to your chassis as well; most chassis are only 3mm steel, and that often becomes the next weak point. Well engineered recovery points spread the load over a large part of the chassis, to give it maximum strength.
Do not attach a snatch strap or winch to tow balls. They are designed for towing, not the kinetic energy that a snatch strap (and also a winch) applies.
Reduce the stress involved
If you are using a snatch strap or winch, anything you can do to reduce the stress is a good thing. Spend 5 minutes on the end of the shovel just digging away in front (or behind if you are going in reverse) of the tyres. Make sure your tyre pressures are suitable for the terrain you are on, and assist the recovery by gently turning your wheels. Once they bite, you will move forward easily.
Join snatch straps correctly
Occasionally, one snatch strap is not long enough to do what you need it to. You can safely join two snatch straps together, but most certainly not by using a shackle or choking one strap around another.
Make sure you know how to do this correctly before you set off.
Use quality recovery gear that’s suitable for your vehicle
Using quality gear is imperative. You wouldn’t fit poor quality tyres to your 4WD, so why would you carry a poor quality recovery kit around? Match the ratings to the weight of your vehicle so you get proper stretch from the straps.
Don’t use snatch straps on a 4WD badly bogged in mud
Snatch straps have very quickly become the first method of 4WD recoveries, and it’s not always the best choice. For light to medium duty recoveries, they work very well when used correctly.
However, get a 4WD stuck deep in the mud, and the snatch strap should stay in your vehicle. Mud is well known for creating suction that is extremely difficult to break. Mud recoveries really need a slower, gentler application of force to slowly break the suction. A winch is perfect for this, along with traction aids and of course a healthy dose of work on the shovel.
Tether two recovery points together
If you are doing more than a very gentle 4WD recovery, using 2 recovery points tethered together with an equaliser strap is important. This spreads the load over your chassis and recovery points, and means everything gets less force applied to it.
Attempt a gentle recovery first
Snatch straps should be used gently to start off with. In many of our recoveries, we almost use them as a tow rope. Why yank another vehicle out harshly if you don’t need to?
Consider the force being applied
Before you attempt a recovery, and during the recovery, have a good think about what sort of forces are being applied. If you are pushing the boundary, it’s time to stop and come up with a different recovery method.
4WD recoveries happen hundreds of times every day. Majority of the time things work out just fine, but there’s always that chance of something going wrong, so stay safe, recover your 4WD correctly and enjoy this fantastic country of ours.
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