Mud-driving techniques to use this winter

The Jeep makes it through the puddle, but traversing unknown waters is not advisable. Diane Sieker photo

With the inevitable rains of winter coming soon, I want to share some dirt road lore gleaned from years of experience and a lot of literally messing around on the dirt, ice, mud, snow and sand.

When the local dirt roads are saturated with an inch or two of precipitation and have become sloppy, try to drive in the middle of the road, move slowly and avoid jerky steering movements. In the event of the vehicle sliding, you are much less likely to end up in the ditch by traveling in the center of the roadway, as it gives you room to counter the skid. If you find your vehicle sliding, steer with the slide to regain control of the vehicle.

If road conditions get really difficult, cars may have a harder time than trucks or SUVs due to their lower ground clearance. Keep that in mind.

Sometimes in certain conditions, you need to “chain up,” or install wheel chains to get better traction. There are certain methods for this procedure – for four-wheel drive vehicles, at least chain the front tires or chain all four wheels if possible. Chaining the front tires allows you to steer with those tires that now have a traction aid for better and safer control. For front-wheel drive cars, chain the front tires, and for rear-wheel drive vehicles, chain the rear tires. Become familiar with installing tire chains or cables and be sure to practice before the weather becomes foul.

Places that appear muddy and deep probably are. Be careful and do not attempt to cross running water or deep puddles.

“Mud is a bad thing to get stuck in,” local resident Chuck Bailey said. “When you do get moving, it is easy to fall back into it.”

And just because you may have all-wheel drive, you are still subject to the laws of physics and are not invincible. Know your personal limits and the limits of your vehicle. Become familiar with all the options and how they operate.

If you find yourself getting stuck with a tire or two spinning, stop. Don’t make it worse and don’t dig yourself in farther by keeping the tires in motion. Get out and assess the situation before attempting recovery. Also, most autos have only one drive wheel, so know your vehicle.

Being mired in mud, sand or snow is not fun, but you can attempt to help yourself before calling for assistance. Try to rock the car or truck out. Keep the wheels straight; rock the car back and forth by switching between drive and reverse. When the tires start to spin, stop and change direction. If your car is equipped with a manual transmission, use second gear and reverse. With this method, you could reach solid ground and be on your way again.

You can also dig a path for each wheel, though this technique does not work well in mud. The path cuts down on the resistance on each wheel as you try to maneuver out of sand or snow.

You could also add traction by spreading small rocks, twigs or even your floor mats in your tracks, especially near the driving wheels. Many off-roader drivers carry sections of carpet for just this reason. There are also commercial traction devices that may be purchased and stowed in your car.

It helps to “bag” the tires, by letting out some of the air in the tires. It is suggested to deflate them to about 10 pounds of pressure, which is another good case for having a tire gauge stored in the glove box at all times. Bagged tires can flex and grab the ground better than fully inflated ones. The tires can be re-inflated again on solid ground.

AAA is pretty much useless in really bad conditions in the Anza area. The wrecker companies they use cannot risk their trucks and personnel in recoveries in slick and nasty locations.

Get to know your neighbors with tractors. If you are hopelessly mired close to home that neighbor with the four-wheel drive tractor may be willing and able to help pull the vehicle out. Neighborly help is another reason to stay friendly with those around you.

Let’s not have any cars stuck in ditches this winter.

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