Australia’s dry and dusty tracks will quickly turn into slick mudslides after a bit of rain, when this happens it’s time for a different approach.
There’s something about returning to town after a weekend away with mud sprayed over your four-wheel drive that instils a sense of pride. Splashing around in a mud-hole is usually done with a grin and can be hard to resist; but when a dry track becomes muddy after rain, driving it in the mud can do damage to the surface and result in nasty ruts once it dries out again. As such, mud is to be avoided wherever possible and many tracks will be closed after rain to prevent damage. But if there is no other option, then you might as well enjoy it, just be sure to do it right.
Tyre pressures vary depending on the consistency of the mud. If it’s deep then they can be dropped into the low-20s, but if it’s a thin layer of mud with a solid bottom you might wish to stay up around 28psi to cut in a little bit. Mud-terrain tyres are designed to force mud out of their tread to increase traction, but it’s important to remember that their thick blocks can do a lot of damage to soft tracks so be careful. A snorkel will also be helpful in deep mud holes, and if you get stuck then you’ll need proper rated recovery points to cope with the suction that mud can exert.
In the long run, mud can have a nasty effect on your vehicle, so it’s worth giving it a good wash as soon as you’re done. Not only will dried on mud damage paintwork, once it’s in your brakes, wheel bearings and various other mechanical components it can cause wear due to abrasion.
GETTING STUCK IN
First thing’s first, what kind of mud is it? Hop out and have a look and since it’s probably clear as mud at first glance, you’ll want to poke a stick in it to see how deep it is. While you’re at it, feel around a bit to see if there are any submerged logs or rocks. Look out for tracks or ruts left by other vehicles; these may be suitable to drive through or they may be so deep as to cause you to bottom out. If they are too deep you can either try to straddle them or drain out as much water as you can and do a bit of shovelling to fill in the ruts.
Once you’re ready to go, make sure you’re in 4WD, lock hubs, engage diff locks and/or select the appropriate terrain management system. You’ll probably be fine in your standard first or second gear (without engaging low range), just so long as you keep your revs up and approach with enough momentum to see you through, but not so much that you could lose control.
A bit of wheel spin is to be expected and will actually help your tyres to clean out their tread and gain more traction. If, however, your wheels are spinning too much, digging in and losing momentum, quickly turn your steering wheel from one side to the other so that your front wheels rock left and right. This can help the tyres to gain traction on the side of the rut you’re digging and pull you forward. If that doesn’t work, try backing up a bit and starting forward again.
STEEP AND SLICK
Steep muddy slopes are where friction is fiction and traction becomes nothing more than a memory. When going up, avoid changing gears, don’t be afraid of a bit of wheelspin and try to keep a constant forward motion, moving close to a walking pace. When heading down, select an appropriately low gear, low range if it’s steep, and allow your engine braking to control the descent.
MINIMISING TRACK DAMAGE
It’s best to take an alternative route around a boggy mud hole, however if there isn’t one available then detouring off the formed track should not be considered. If your tyre pressures are too high, not only will you sink faster, but you’ll dig bigger ruts into the track. If you have big chunky mud-terrain tyres, be particularly careful to avoid excessive wheel spin.
- Driving in mud can damage tracks and should be avoided wherever possible.
- Always check how deep a rut is and whether there are any hidden obstacles.
- Keep revs up, maintain good forward momentum.
- If you start sliding, counter steer to correct.
- Wash your vehicle well afterwards, being sure to thoroughly rinse wheels and undercarriage.
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