By Debbie Murphy/autoMedia.com
In the Thick of It
Now, you're in the mud: one of three things will happen. First, you might get through it without incident. Hurray!
Next, you'll skid. Do not hit the brakes. Gently back off on the gas pedal and be conscious of where the front wheels are pointing. Assuming you were going slowly to begin with, your vehicle will decelerate and regain traction and the wheels will pull the vehicle in the direction they are pointed (explaining why it's important to know what direction that is). Once you're back in control of the vehicle, keep going.
The third possibility is getting stuck. You have two choices: Keep steady pressure on the gas pedal and pray. The solution for off-roaders requires a little finesse. The tire tread may be clogged with mud, reducing traction. Press the accelerator to create a light wheel spin. The theory is that the centrifugal force will spin the mud from the tread and the tire can grip again.
You can also turn the steering wheel back and forth quickly—about 1/8 rotation. The tread pattern on even conventional street tires wraps up onto the tire wall. Moving the wheels, hypothetically, may give this tread a chance to gain enough grip to keep you moving. If none of this works, stop spinning your wheels. You'll just be digging a deeper rut.
So, now you're stuck. First, try throwing the transmission into reverse and then keeping your wheels straight. You've got a good chance of returning to dry land. If you have floor mats, the rubber type is best as they'll have a chance to survive this ordeal. Slip them as far underneath the stuck tires as possible, on the side you want to travel toward. Slowly ease onto the accelerator and, hopefully, out of the rut. You can either kiss your mats goodbye, or retrieve them once you're out of the mud. Also, once you're safely on non-mud, give your tires a chance to kick the muck out of the tread before you resume normal speeds.
Clear as Mud
Here are a couple more tips. Flip on your windshield wipers before entering a particularly viscous mud puddle. There's a good chance you'll end up with globs of mud on your windshield; your wipers can deal with small globs as they hit the glass better than they can a windshield totally splattered.
If you arrive at a boggy area with obvious wheel ruts already imprinted, know your vehicle's limitations before you enter the ruts. I once saw a mini-pickup take off in the fresh tracks of a semi. The mini truck's track was narrower than the semi's, and his clearance much lower. The result was not pretty.
Lastly, clean your vehicle! Mud holds moisture against metal and leads to rust and corrosion. Pay particular attention to the wheel wells and undercarriage. If mud dries and cakes on your driveshaft, it can throw it out of alignment and cause damage. Chances are if you've only encountered one or two shallow mud bogs, followed by open road traveled at normal speeds, you'll be in good shape. But, it's still a good idea to exorcise all evidence of mud from your vehicle, rather than wear it like a badge of courage, as some do.
While your mud adventure may not get you bragging rights among a pack of off-roaders, you can thank them and their experience for these practical tips and tricks.