Aftermarket Accessories, Part I: Always be Prepared to Get Unstuck  by Bill Burke

billmudiconI will discuss aftermarket accessories that I feel are important for safe and responsible 4-wheeling. Safe, because they will help you and your 4-wheel drive be better prepared for trail difficulty and terrain variety. Responsible,

because they allow you to take responsibility for your actions by upgrading to minimize environmental impact and to ensure that you get back home.

Besides a tool kit, map(s), and some basic emergency items, the three most important things to have when traveling the back country trails and roads are:

1) Frame-mounted tow hooks, at least one in front and one in back. A Class III receiver hitch mounted in back counts.

2) A recovery strap at least 2″ x 30′ long, the kind with loops on the end, not hooks. The ones with hooks are for towing, not recovery (getting unstuck).

3) A Hi-Lift jack with attendant hardware.

I’ll explain everything — just hold on a doggone minute! Say you are exploring a back country trail and you slide into a deep rut and get stuck. Yes, it’s that easy! Do you:

a) throw your hands up, walk out and try to find a tow truck (for about $400);

b) grab any old blanket and bush and throw them under the tires hoping it’ll work;

c) get your partner/wife/husband/kids to push on the bumper, spinning the tires, furiously slinging mud all over the place; or

d) have a plan and equipment to easily get unstuck and merrily on your way?

I like d), don’t you? Large tow bills, spinning tires only digging you deeper, getting your family and friends muddy, or straining a back, all make being prepared and having the right equipment look like the best alternative.

If another vehicle comes along, or you are traveling with a buddy vehicle, the recovery strap comes into play. Never wrap a strap or other recovery tool around the stock bumper, steering components, springs, spring hangers, or axles. Only use a frame-mounted tow hook, or use a short sling and tuck it up around the frame, avoiding wires and hoses. Then connect it to the recovery strap with an adequate “D” shackle. The other vehicle can then yank you out. The strap absorbs the impact, allowing the yank motion.

Never use chain, underrated rope, or worn strap. Don’t use ball hitches. I’ve seen people yank bumpers off, use dog chain leads and clothes line, all to no good. I’ve seen trailer ball hitches go through radiators and crack a cylinder head. The square tube of the Class III receiver hitch will accommodate the looped end of the recovery strap. Slide it in and use the pin that comes with the hitch to hold the loop.

The Hi-Lift Jack and accessories can be used as a hand winch. And, by the way, winch is winch, not wench! I don’t like using come-a-longs. They are usually underrated (2000#) with limited amount of cable, and they are dangerous when pushed to the limit. The Hi-Lift Jack is rated at 7000# and can be used to lift the vehicle as well as hand winch it out.

By connecting the jack between the vehicle and a strong anchor point (tree, rock, PULL-PAL), using properly rated slings and chain, you can pull the vehicle out, either forward or backward. Don’t try to use a recovery strap with this method. The strap stretches too much. For this method, you will need two slings (2″ x 8′), 25 feet of chain, and three 3/4″ “D” shackles to start with. All the hardware should be rated at a higher capacity than the jack. Most 4-wheel drive shops or an industrial hardware supply company will carry the needed items.

Happy 4-wheeling, don’t be a stick-in-the-mud, and please TREAD Lightly!