How to Drive in Mud

Driving in mud. No other type of four wheel driving can deliver so much fun and so much misery in one day. From tears of laughter to tears of frustration in seconds - there is no other medium like the sticky stuff.

landcruiser in mud competition

Understanding that mud varies from location to location means approaching each situation with an open mind. Whether it is brown clay, black silt or salt pan mud - at the end of the day it is simply a combination of soil and water. Each muddy rut and every watery hole has the potential to offer varying depth and adhesion. If something looks nasty, your senses are probably right - it probably is. Investigation is always easier than having to make a plan while your pride and joy disappears.

It should be safe to assume that if you are in a 4WD vehicle you will have engaged 4WD. Every bit of traction is going to help.

The Slick Stuff

There are basically two types of mud you are most likely to encounter. The first is the shallow but extremely slick layer of mud that can cover the surface of a poorly draining road and make travel treacherous. Hard packed underneath, these type of roads can become like ice skating rinks when deluged with water. Anywhere from an inch to a foot deep, the aim here is to cut through the surface of the mud and find the firm ground below. Reducing air pressure may or may not assist on this type of surface. There a very few loss-of-traction situations where a lower air pressure won’t help. However, care is needed not to deflate so much that the tyres aquaplane and cannot cut down through the mud and find traction. An article on tyre pressure can be read here.

Steering and throttle control become vital on slick surface mud. Understand the direction your front wheels are aiming the entire time. If the car begins to slide then gently turn your wheels in the direction of the slide. If the car begins sliding off to the left, steer left to resist the tail of the car trying to overtake the front. In slippery conditions the rear of the car attempts to pivot around the steering tyres. The aim of steering a sliding car is to continually re-direct it back to the driving line and prevent the rear from coming around the vehicle. If the car refuses to turn when the steering wheel is rotated then the front wheels are sliding or planing across the mud. Again, attempt to steer the vehicle down the driving line.

In either situation gently decelerate, easing off the throttle to allow the tyre to find some bite. Speedway Solo Motorbikes have no brakes installed on them. Riders slow down by accelerating and spinning the rear wheel so fast the bike has no traction and it loses momentum. Likewise to go faster they decelerate until the tyre bites and grabs the track and shoots them forward. By easing off the accelerator you are doing the same thing – constantly adjusting the revs to find maximum traction.

Jumping on the brakes is most likely going to get you into trouble but smoothly pumping them on and off can aid the slowing of the slide and help gain traction.

Going up and coming down hills requires the same technique and feel. Feeding the right amount of power to the wheels to maintain traction is key. Gear selection is crucial on slippery downhills. Low range should enable you to crawl down most surfaces in a controlled fashion. Sliding is far more likely when slopes become involved, the loss of traction amplified by the pull of gravity.

old photo of bogged german soldiers
In Deep

Deep sticky mud is a different proposition altogether. Letting some air out of the tyres is definitely going to assist here for the same reasons it aids the car in sand. We are getting more rubber down to the ground, we have a bigger footprint and the car wants to float across the surface.

Picking a line and choosing the high ground is a good option if it can be maintained. If it's a well worn track water will always gravitate to the low wheel ruts first and this will be the section that turns to soup first. However, sometimes it is possible to find a hard surface at the bottom of these wheel ruts that will propel the car along.

The higher ground in the centre and at the edges can often provide a better footing but if the ground is really thick gravity will usually see you sliding into the lowest hole regardless.

Rapid acceleration and stomping on the gas is rarely useful in either slick surface mud or bog holes. Momentum is the key here, and again, finding the engine revs that deliver the best traction is the key. Establish forward momentum and maintain it by constantly altering the throttle position in line with feedback from the tyres. A higher gear and gear range may help to avoid excessive wheel spin. We aren’t looking for a quick throttle response here but making the vehicle ‘lumber’ along slightly without labouring the engine. Almost like the car is ready for a downshift.

A little continual wheel spin while you move forward can often help to clear the tread of mud build up. Maintain speed and momentum through the section. If you are going forward – keep going. Don’t stop for a look around and then find you just can’t resume where you left off. Momentum in mud is precious. A mild see-sawing action on the steering wheel can help the front tyres get a little side tread involved almost like they are biting from side to side while chewing the car forward. This technique can be invaluable in sand as well. All around its usually great fun until its time to clean up.

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