Off-Road Vehicle Recovery Tips


Whether you drive a Jeep, Land Rover, FJ Cruiser, or any other vehicle you drive off-road, sooner or later you’re going to get stuck, making an off-road vehicle recovery necessary. While your luck might not run out anytime soon, you never know when someone else you come across on the trail may need a hand. Recoveries are a part of off-roading, but many people don’t know how to do an off-road vehicle recovery properly. This can put you, your vehicle, and even innocent bystanders at risk.

Top Tips for Off-Road Vehicle Recovery

I’ve been a part of and have observed both bad and good off-road vehicle recoveries. Before you start trying to pull a stuck vehicle out of a snow bank, pond, mud pit or any other situation, keep the following do’s and don’ts in mind.

Don’t Panic During an Off-Road Vehicle Recovery

Some of the worst decisions during an off-road vehicle recovery are made when people panic. Even if a vehicle is in danger of being completely ruined if not recovered quickly, you need to keep your head about you.

Off-road vehicle recoveries can be high-stakes situations. Sure, your rig might be expensive and have a lot of cool modifications, but also remember that making a poorly thought-out recovery decision could mean that you or someone else might be seriously injured or killed. No vehicle is worth that risk.

Slow down and assess the situation fully, then make a recovery plan. Everyone who’s actually going to be physically involved in the operation needs to know the whole plan. Analyze the stuck vehicle and its surroundings, take inventory of the tools and other resources you have on hand, and think things through before starting.

Stay In the Vehicle Being Recovered

Unless the vehicle is submerged in water or dangling from a cliff, you should have someone in the driver’s seat of the vehicle being recovered. That one person is adequate – the passengers should wait a safe distance away until the recovery is over.

Having the driver at the wheel is helpful for the same reason that it’s a good thing when traveling down the road. Once the vehicle is freed from whatever is keeping it from moving, the driver might need to apply the brakes, turn the steering wheel, etc. to avoid crashing. This might sound like common sense, but I’ve seen driverless vehicles wrecked while being recovered.

Have Bystanders Stand Far Away

People who are not actively participating in a recovery should be a few hundred feet away from the action. This isn’t paranoia, it’s about safety. Sometimes during recoveries, vehicles, components, rocks, tree branches, etc. can go flying through the air. If there are people standing too close, they could suddenly become victims.

For example, an SUV stuck in mud can suddenly rocket out once the recovery vehicle or winch overcomes the suction force that was keeping it from moving. There’s no telling just how quickly or how far the recovered vehicle will go at that moment.

Don’t Use a Bare Winch Cable

You should always, always, always inspect your winch cable or rope before hitting the trail, and replace it if there’s any fraying or other signs of wear. The recovery line is put under tremendous pressure and can snap suddenly.

I’ve seen winch cables that have snapped and hit tree branches, slicing right through them like butter. I also once saw a snapped cable rebound on the recovery vehicle and go straight through the windshield. It sliced through the driver’s seat, missing the person in it by only an inch or two.

You should always treat winch cables like they’re going to break. The best practice is to place a heavy blanket over the halfway point between the recovery vehicle and the vehicle being recovered (same thing goes if you’re doing a single vehicle recovery, just put it over the cable halfway between the anchor point and the vehicle). If the cable does snap, the blanket will absorb most of the energy.

Take Along Extra Tools

Sometimes an off-road vehicle recovery can be simple, but there may be other times when you may have to try a dozen or more times to get the vehicle free. Just like with any job, the right tools make it far easier. The more tools you take along, and the more diverse they are, the better your chances of getting the vehicle free in short order. In emergency situations, like a Jeep that gets stuck on a beach right before high tide, that could be the difference between little damage and catastrophic repairs.

Collapsible/folding shovels and picks are great for digging out mud, snow and other slippery debris that’s around a vehicle’s tires and underbody. Devices for extra traction, like TRED 800 off-road recovery and extraction blocks, are incredibly handy to have on board. Recovery jacks, including inflatable options, can help speed up a recovery process. You might also want to invest in a ground anchor if you are thinking of going solo.

Get a Winch

While it’s not a complete failsafe, having a winch on your rig is a good way to perform at least some recoveries. Sometimes it’s all you need to get your vehicle or someone else’s out of a tight spot. Other times they help when used with other devices and methods.

Do your research on winches, including the differences between hydraulic and electric, line types, recovery hooks/rings, etc. Once you have yours installed, use it in a safe environment before hitting the trail, so you’re familiar with its operation. Always inspect it before each trip into the wilderness, because if there’s something wrong with your winch, you need to fix it before you get into trouble in the back country.
Photographer URLon’t Anchor to a Stationary Object


It’s best to anchor your winch to another vehicle for a recovery. If that’s not an option, you have to be extremely careful about where you attach the line. Trees can snap, lines can slip off rocks, etc. A portable anchor is probably the safest way to use a winch alone, so get one if you have a winch and you plan on going out on your own.

Don’t Go Alone

You really shouldn’t go off-roading alone. I admit that I don’t always take my own advice, because it’s not always easy to find other people ready to hit the trail at the same time you are. But if you do choose to go out alone, remember that you’re on your own for the off-road vehicle recovery process if you get stuck. And don’t forget that portable anchor!