While off-roaders - equipped with giant 4X4s, tires designed for iffy terrain, and friends with winches to pull them out in times of failure - may actually seek out muddy conditions, it is advisable for those behind the wheels of ho-hum standard vehicles to avoid deep mud. As a general rule, the average car can handle traversing muddy areas that are no more than two inches deep. Unfortunately, the depth of mud isn’t necessarily uniform or easy to gauge. When possible, take a different route. However, if after careful consideration, you decide to tackle muddy conditions, do so as safely as possible using the guidelines listed below.

Part 1 of 1: How to safely navigate your car through mud

Step 1: Get out of your car and survey the situation. Things look different up close and personal than they do from inside your vehicle.

Provided your footwear is up to the task, walk a little way up the road to see for yourself what obstacles lie ahead and test the depth of the mud. That way, you can make a more informed decision as to whether or not to proceed, and identify trouble spots before you tackle them in your car.

Step 2: Let some air out of your tires, if necessary. When you need to traverse more than a few yards of muddy terrain and the situation looks particularly gnarly, consider whipping out your tire gauge and reducing your tire pressure.

This allows more of your tire tread to make contact with the ground, creating more traction as you move through the mud. For this purpose, aim for a tire pressure of 18 to 20 psi in each tire. Once you are back on smooth roads, seek out the nearest service station to replace the air your removed.

Step 3: Adopt a slow and steady speed. Achieving optimal speed through mud is an art in itself - an art you likely don’t have time to master. You need to create enough momentum that you don’t get stuck without going so fast that you slide out of control.

Although the actual speed you should go depends on the terrain and situation, it usually lies within five to ten miles per hour. So, in addition to driving slow and steady, find your inner patience.

Step 4: Avoid ruts. When faced with driving along the ruts or blazing your own route, always choose the mud untaken.

That’s because the softest and most slippery conditions lie within ruts.

Also, by situating your car at the lowest elevation possible, you reduce the clearance between the bottom of your car and the ground. These elements form a recipe for getting stuck.

  • Tip: If you get stuck, first of all, don’t panic. Try gently accelerating while forcefully rocking your body backwards and forwards. If you’re lucky, this will get you out of the rut. If this fails, get out the car and lay twigs, leaves, or anything else you can find in front of your wheels to create traction, then try to gently move out of the rut again.

While driving a car in muddy conditions is hopefully a situation you do not have to deal with frequently, it is a good skill to have. If your best efforts at traversing sluggish terrain fail and you find yourself deeply stuck, admit defeat and call for help. Sometimes the only way out is to be towed - in this case, hopefully you know a friend with a winch and towing capability.

This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as How to Drive a Car in the Mud and was authored by Elan McAfee.


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