Question: How do you drive a 4×4 in the mud?
Answer: By using your front wheels to steer, not for propulsion. You put it in four high and keep the RPMs up. Slow but sure.
I have seen this advice given so many times now that it has become impossible to find an article about driving a 4×4 in mud that doesn’t mention it. I am going to attempt to clear this up a little bit because frankly it is wrong and there are a lot of people who don’t seem to understand the reasoning behind why you would do such a thing.
First off, let’s answer the original question: how do you drive a 4×4 in the mud?
The real answer: exactly how you would drive any other vehicle through the mud. You just take it slow and easy and don’t get stuck. If there is a particular spot that seems like it will be difficult, then avoid that area if possible or take a detour around it to see if you can go around. Keep your speed low, and don’t stop once you get stuck. If you do get stuck, then back up straight to where the front wheels are on higher ground instead of spinning them in place or trying to rock the vehicle back and forth because both of these things will just dig you deeper into the mud.
If there is a section of mud that you absolutely cannot avoid and must go through, then there is one thing I will recommend: try to avoid areas with deep ruts between high and low sections. These will make it difficult for the front wheels to climb up high enough to get all four tires on high ground. Consider an area like this:
On the left, we have an area with a deep rut between where you can drive and where you cannot. This makes it difficult to get up high enough on the right side because your front wheels will be in that rut, and thus they will not be able to climb up high enough to get all four tires up onto the higher ground. If you try too hard (that is, if you keep applying more power to make it up high enough) then your wheels will actually dig deeper down into the mud.
On the right, we have an area where there are no deep ruts between where you can drive and where you cannot. This makes it much easier to get up high enough on the right side because your front wheels will be able to climb up high regardless of how deep they are in the mud. In this situation, you can simply switch into a four-wheel drive and power your way up.
If you see many different sets of ruts as I have described above, then it is probably best to avoid that area and find a better route. Sometimes you just can’t avoid these situations though, and that’s okay as long as you know how to deal with it.
Now, onto the next question: why steer using the front wheels instead of powering through?
The answer: because this will cause your vehicle to pivot around its rear axle instead of its front axle, which will keep the tire planted firmly in place instead of digging deeper down into the mud. Whether you are using your vehicle’s rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, if you try to power through a deep rut with high traction on one side and low traction on the other, then the path of least resistance is always going to be to pivot around the rear axle.
How do you drive on a muddy dirt road?
Now, just because you are steering with the front wheels does not mean that powering through is not an option. If it is a shallow rut then most likely all you have to do is keep your speed low enough so that you can still steer but high enough so that your vehicle can fight its way up onto the higher ground. Your truck will pivot around the rear axle no matter what you do, but that doesn’t mean that there is no way to get through.
If it’s a deep rut though, then steering with the front wheels is your best bet. You will still have to work hard at it and be patient, but in most cases, if done right then you can still power through and get yourself out of the mud.
On a final note, I want to just restate that you should always avoid these types of situations if possible or take a detour around them. If you can’t though, then hopefully this guide has been helpful enough for you to understand what is going on and how to best get yourself out.