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Tackling Ruts


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Survey it first
Ruts can get you seriously stuck and damage your 4x4, so it is essential to get out of the vehicle to survey the situation. Do not be tempted to blindly follow ruts simply because a previous vehicle has obviously passed through them. It is the ground clearance of YOUR 4x4 that is important. The previous vehicle may have had greater clearance.
You need to be familiar with how much effective clearance your 4x4 has. This usually means the height from the bottom of the differentials to the bottom of the tyres. If you have reduced the tyre pressures for some reason, then you need to take this into account also. Look for tell-tale signs of skid marks in the ridge between the ruts as this shows where the ruts are at their deepest and where your 4x4 is most at risk of bottoming out.
If the ruts contain water, then you need to use a stick to gauge its depth and judge the nature of the bottom surface.
A shovel is useful to add a little soil to a deep pocket in a rut or to shave off some soil from the top of the central ridge. be especially careful of any rocks in the central ridge - it is often best to remove them rather than risk a punctured engine sump. You should also be on the lookout for any sharp rocks sticking out of the rutt wals that could cut a tyre wall.
Sometimes ruts run through tall grass and then you need to be especially careful with inspecting the central ridge for hidden objects.
If the ruts are too problematic to follow, then assess whether it may be viable to staddle one of them. Choose the rut flanked by the best driving surface and take into account any turns that the ruts may take. If the ruts are deep then you can get seriously stuck if you misjudge a turn and a wheel drops in. Also take into account any side slopes because a slippery surface presents a risk of slipping into a rut.

It may be that the ruts are crossing your intended route and in this case you need to traverse them. You need to assess whether the ruts present a problem for depth and width. If they are large ruts then you need to check if the sides are sufficently strong to allow the 4x4 to cross without collapsing. If they contain water then the depth needs to be determined. Choose your crossing point carefully.

Drive slowly and safely
Ruts recquire low gear and steady progress. If the ruts are narrow, then it is better to let them guide the steering rather than stress the steering system or damage the tyres by trying to force a particular line. You need to keep a firm hold of the steering with your thumbs on the outside because sudden and violent lurches in steering can occur. If the height of the ridge between the ruts increases and approaches the ground clearance of the vehicle then gentle pressure on the accelerator should carry you through.
When straddling a rut that follows a ragged course, it is a common mistake to turn too soon on a bend. Always be aware of the position of the rear wheels to prevent one from falling into a rut.

Is it worth it?
There is no shame in not attempting to follow a rutted route. There may be an alternative. Some practise of the technique beforehand, if possible, is a good idea.

Getting out of trouble

If the ruts become too much of a problem then a possible way to exit them is to dig exit ramps infront of each of the front wheels. If the ruts are really deep then you may need to shovel some soil infront of the rear wheels to act as a ramp out. If the land is sloping, then it is safest to exit the rutts on the uphill side becasue then if you fail, you fall back into the rutt rather than slide down hill.
You may have to be quite resourceful with a shovel to dig out a suitable bed to place the jack in and big enough to use a spreader board to stop the jack sinking instead of raising the 4x4. Just raise the vehicle the minimum amount needed to get material under the tyre because the 4x4 is very unstable when jacked up on a soil base.

Learn from experience
Each time you succesfully navigate ruts, do a self-critism of what you did right and what you could have done better.



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