Ultimate guide to vehicle recovery

By: Michael Borg


Stuck up you-know-what creek without a paddle? Here’s how to get you and your camper back on track.

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WINCHING TECHNIQUES

Having a camper trailer dragging behind a 4WD in a recovery situation really increases the load and strain that is placed on all of your recovery equipment. However, there are a few techniques that can help to maximise the efficiency of your winch by giving it a mechanical advantage from that of a standard single line pull.

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THE DOUBLE LINE PULL

For this technique, start by running the winch cable out and through a snatch block attached via a tree trunk protector to a tree or solid anchor point. Then, return the recovery hook to the front of the vehicle and attach it to the front recovery point. While this method actually reduces the line speed, it increases the mechanical advantage to make most of the winch’s torque. You’ll end up with a much safer recovery and less wear and tear on your winch.

TRIPLE LINE PULL

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To increase the mechanical advantage even more, a triple line pull could be your safest bet. Run the winch cable out to a snatch block that’s secured to a tree trunk via a tree trunk protector, and then run it back to the front of the 4WD. Wrap it around a snatch block that’s secured to the vehicle's front recovery point. Then run the cable back out to another tree and tree trunk protector and secure the hook to a rated D shackle.

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OK, so your camper trailer has a couple of tow/recovery points hanging from the rear – that means you can hook the snatch strap up and pull your whole rig out of trouble, right? Wrong! There are quite a few things to consider before you jump in the deep end. The first question to ask is; are the tow/recovery points actually rated for a recovery? Believe it or not, most of the hitch receivers you see at the back end of a camper are nothing more than bicycle rack mounts with a few tack-welds holding them in place. Plus, they’re commonly found attached to weak or non-structural parts of the camper, so they’re nowhere near fully fledged recovery points. Heck, some campers just aren’t strong enough to handle a full blown recovery. If you’re not 100 per cent sure of their capabilities, do your research now before you hit the tracks. It’s definitely worth it!

SHOULD YOU UNHITCH?

Now, if you’ve done your homework and discovered that there are in fact 'rated' recovery points on your camper, it’s time to have a think about their capabilities and limitations. For example, these recovery points are almost always only rated to recover the trailer on its own, in other words, unhitched from your 4WD.

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When you think about it, a fully-loaded 4WD weighs a heck of a lot, especially when it’s stuck good and proper in mud or sand. Long story short, it’s got the ability to place more stress on your camper than it was ever designed to handle, both structurally and also on components such as the hitch or coupling, which are rarely rated for the task when you think about it. So what are we saying? Well, when it comes to recovering a stuck camper backwards – it’s almost always safer to unhitch it first!

HOW TO RECOVER

Now, you’ll need to exercise some commonsense here as every scenario is going to be different. Obviously you’re not going to perform a full-on snatch strap recovery unless you like chunks of trailer coming through your windscreen. You’re far better off using a 12V winch purely for the extra control it offers.

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The jockey wheel will bend and snap like a weathered toothpick if it’s used in this situation, so you’ll need to make sure the trailer can be dragged on its drawbar. Use a bottle jack to support the trailer before you start the actual recovery. If it looks like it could get damaged or snagged up, it’s time to put your thinking cap on and devise a makeshift skid plate. Strapping the old shovel under the coupling will usually get the job done. Failing that, you can always bung an old car panel or a fallen log underneath it, too.

Then, attach an equaliser strap between the two rear recovery points on your camper trailer (when applicable), which will help to spread the load evenly across the camper’s chassis. If you’re winching from the front, run the recovery strap around the drawbar in a way that secures the shovel in place.

After that, normal winching safety procedures apply. That means using a cable damper, rated equipment and keeping bystanders clear of the area. You might even want to chock the wheels of your 4WD, too.

TRACTION AIDS

Traction boards are an extremely popular recovery accessory these days, and for good reason – they’re just so bloody handy! They’ve proven to be useful on all sorts of terrain, and are usually a safer option than performing a snatch recovery or using a winch. This is because there are no massive forces involved in actually physically pulling your vehicle out of strife. They just increase your vehicle's traction so it can work itself out.

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Using them in conjunction with other recovery techniques can also help lower the forces involved by reducing the load against your vehicle and allowing your 4WD to assist in the recovery, not just rely on everything else.

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Then you can use them to help guide your 4WD in the right direction on slippery surfaces, fill in deep ruts and even make ramps for steep obstacles – talk about versatility!

FOR SIMPLER RECOVERIES

  • In tricky or slippery situations, you can use traction boards to help guide the camper’s wheels in the right direction instead of sliding sideways and off course. Doing this will also help to reduce the resistance against the camper's tyres, which means there’s less strain on your camper and recovery gear too — win, win!
  • Don’t perform a snatch recovery in reverse — unless you'd like to damage your gearbox, that is! The straight cut design of the reverse gear is different (weaker) than the rest of the forward gears, and usually doesn’t like being subjected to hard work. Instead, turn your 4WD around and use first or second gear, preferably low range.
  • If you need to unhitch the camper while you’re on an incline, you can run your 4WD’s winch via a snatch block or two and back to a sling on the trailer's A-frame. That way, as you wind the winch out, it slowly lowers the trailer back down to safety.

BOGGED ON THE BEACH

Getting bogged in sand puts a lot of load on your 4WD and recovery equipment, but there are a few little things you can do to help reduce the strain.

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First up, using an equaliser strap is highly recommended for sand recoveries as it helps to spread the load across two recovery points rather than one, which not only reduces the strain on the recovery point itself, but the whole chassis of your vehicle.

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Secondly, you’ll find you can almost halve the amount of resistance created by the sand by simply clearing a path in front of all your tyres, including those on your camper trailer. And third of all, remember to keep your wheels straight! Having the wheels cocked sideways means you’ll have to drag them through the sand, making things twice as hard. Oh, and remember – if you stop moving forward, you’ll start digging down. So back off the throttle and you’ll avoid making matters worse.

PARTING WORDS

Recovering a bogged camper trailer can be hard work at times, especially when it’s a hot and muggy day, and you don’t seem to be making much progress. But with the right gear, a little know-how and a bit of thought there are not many situations you can’t resolve. In saying that, every recovery situation is potentially dangerous. So keep your wits about you, and stay safe!

Check out the full feature in issue #122 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.