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Mud Glorious Mud:
Driving Through Mud

By Mick Farmer. Filed under 4wd Driving Info in August 2005.

driving through mud

Although soil conditions may change from heavy clay to the renowned "black cotton", dealing with mud is approached in much the same way. The only difference really is how your tyres will clog up.

First, dealing with shallow mud, 2" deep or less

The ideal situation is to have the full weight of the vehicle pushing your tyres through the mud and attempting to grip onto the firm ground underneath. To do this you have to have your tyres at the correct pressure. If the pressure is too low then you will spread the weight of the vehicle, therefore, not getting maximum traction.

The second consideration is speed. A general scenario is this: it's been dry for a long spell and the murram road has a nice covering of fine dust. It rains overnight leaving a lovely slippery covering of mud. Vehicles then come down the road at too high a speed not giving the tyres a chance to bite through and all at once you've got vehicles sliding all over the road and worst case into ditches and / or into each other. Some may have engaged 4wd, but still they are still sliding. Some may have engaged and slowed down a little but still sliding ... what to do then? The slide that the vehicle is in is basically a front wheel skid and at times it can be combined with a rear wheel skid. You have to get rid of the front wheel skid first.

Symptom of a front wheel skid is you turn your wheels to steer but the vehicle is still going straight or side wards! Cure is to get off the gas. Release the accelerator pedal gently to get the vehicle to slow down. Once the vehicle has slowed down the front wheels begin to regain traction and will pull the vehicle in the direction they are pointing. You need to be aware of where your wheels are pointing at all times. It's very easy to lose this sense when you're in a skid and / or travelling through muddy areas. Avoid braking, as this will make the situation worse.

Preparation and planning

Preparation and planning is the key then, as in all driving situations. Preparing yourself and your vehicle for the road hazard ahead and then planning how to cross it. Simplicity itself!

Preparation starts with checking the depth of the mud BEFORE driving in to it. You may know the road and are aware that it's only going to be shallow. In this case select 4wd. Those with chocolate fireguards, no, sorry, free wheeling hubs have to get out and put them into the lock position first.

Planning. Select 4L and engage no. 1 to start with. Release the clutch pedal all the way. (Don't control the speed with the clutch) and let the vehicle crawl through at a very slow speed ensuring that those tyres are biting though effectively. You can then try no. 2 to get yourself moving faster and so on but if you do start slipping get off the gas and change back down to regain control. If the road is straight keep wheels straight. This technique may differ slightly when climbing and certainly when descending steep muddy hills.

When ascending you may need to add a little accelerator to help the vehicle climb but not too much so as that the wheels spin out. When descending you may find that the vehicle starts to slide even when you've got yourself into the correct gear to allow sufficient engine braking to control the descent without touching the brakes. In this case gravity is pushing the vehicle down the slippery slope at a faster rate than the wheels are turning; so the only way to get the wheels turning faster is yes, to press the accelerator. Sounds strange, I know, but it does work.

Second, dealing with deeper mud

driving through mud

Crossing deeper mud is a different technique all together and you have other considerations to take into account. Again start with preparation.

Get out and check the depth. Give it a good poke with a walking stick and check the whole stretch. This may mean you will get your boots dirty. So it's good to have a pair to do this with that you won't be driving with after. The few minutes that you spend checking are invaluable. It can save hours of recovery! Once you've checked be sure that your vehicle has the capability. If unsure do not attempt to cross unless it's imperative. Factors that can affect your capability are tyres, ground clearance and driving skill.

Basic pointers to check: See that there are no deep ruts left by larger vehicles in which your vehicle can get "hung up" - i.e., the ruts are too deep and the centre portion catches on the axles. Also, you may see a Land Rover go through and you may have a vehicle with less capability ground clearance wise, don't assume that your will go through as well. Still do the checking.

Check to see that the mud is not too deep for your vehicle. There may be firm ground underneath but the depth of mud may still pose the problem of the above situation.

The depth of mud and its consistency is a factor about which type of speed to go through at. Generally speaking, you should be in 4L. As high gear as possible to allow momentous travel through with no engine labouring - No.2 or 3, again depending on vehicle type and capability. You need to push your way through with minimum wheel spin using the torque of the engine not power. Spinning wheels are losing traction!! Foot off the gas a little will help.

Throttle control and an understanding of vehicle language are paramount. If you feel that the vehicle is not moving forward do not persist. 90% of the time if you select reverse you will be able to get out the way you came in. Keep your wheels straight. Wheels at an angle to the direction of travel will add resistance to you going forward. Again, keep a good sense of where your wheels are pointing.

Type of mud and its consistency is another factor. Mud that has no liquid is worse as this causes the mud to clog up tyres easily and unless you don't have a set of Pirelli Scorpion Muds or similar that have a self-cleaning tread pattern you may not even have a chance. Mud with liquid is a little bit easier as the water helps "clean" the tyre as you go through.

Generally normal highway tyres may not stand a chance in the two situations above.

I hope that this information will be of some help, especially as the rains seem now to have set in. As you can gather from the above, understanding your 4wd in respect to how to operate it and understanding its capabilities is important to keep you safe and under control.

Drive safe. Stay safe.