Be sure to sign up for the weekly RV Travel Newsletter, published continuously every Saturday since 2001. Click here.
Huge RV parts & accessories store!
You have never seen so many RV parts and accessories in one place! And, Wow! Check out those low prices! Click to shop or browse!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Off main road with your RV--getting unstuck

 Boondocking away from "civilization" in your RV is a great way to get away from noise and hassles and bring you closer to nature. It can also provide its own set of challenges: Getting your rig stuck off the road is an example, and one you really don't want to experience.

Experienced boondockers can tell you: The best way to get your RV unstuck is not to get stuck in the first place. Whenever your wanderings take you away from maintained roads, it's best to look ahead--without the rig. Scouting ahead on foot can help you identify hazards. Obviously mud is something to steer clear of, but check the terrain carefully--it may be good today while it's dry, but what if rain comes--will that perfect "spot" suddenly become a mire?

Despite your best intentions though, things can happen. You may suddenly encounter a muddy or soft patch on an otherwise good gravel road. Be sure to:

Keep the wheels as straight as possible. Turning the wheels will increase your forward rolling resistance.

Keep momentum going forward--don't jazz the accelerator, but don't slack off either.

Look for firm ground for a spot to turn around and get away from the soft stuff. If you have to stop, try and find a place where you'll be pointed downhill when you take off.

Towing a trailer with a two wheel drive tow vehicle? Release the weight distribution hitch to put the weight back on the rear of your tow vehicle and off the front.

When the worst happens:

OK, you're stuck. What now? Much depends on what you're stuck in. If caught in sand, reducing the pressure of your tires until the sidewalls bulge a bit may increase your in-sand traction. DON'T flatten the tires, you can roll the rims out of the tires. Once unstuck, use a portable compressor to reinflate the tires.

Stuck in mud? Don't let air out of the tires. Do your best to keep moving if at all possible. Spinning your tires will dig you in deeper, shift to low gear, gently apply pressure to the accelerator. "Rocking" in mud may help, but don't slam from a forward gear to reverse--let the wheels stop moving before shifting, unless you want to torture-test your transmission.

Got tire chains? Tire chains have been used to successfully induce a stuck rig out of mud. The more cross-links in the tire chain, the less likelyhood there is of spinning the tires and making conditions worse. No tire chains? Try finding dry material to stick under the tires. Stuff can be thrown out from under a spinning tire--keep people clear of the area.

One motorhomer caught in goop tried the approach of using his leveling jacks to raise the coach and stuff materials under his tires. He learned to his chagrin that unless one is very careful to keep the frame of the motorhome evenly lifted it can "rack." He wasn't only stuck, the strain on the rig's frame broke the windshield.

If you frequent areas where you might get stuck, keeping the right tools and equipment on hand may help bail you out. A long-handled shovel is nicer to use--you don't have to bend over so far. A long tow strap. A "come-along" (cable hoist). Dimensional lumber like 2 x 10s to stuck under tires. Be "knowledge prepared," too; know in advance what points on your unit are safe to jack on, and to attach a tow strap or cable to so as to not damage your rig.

Keep safety in mind, too. If you hook up a rope or cable to help you winch your rig out of trouble, keep everyone well-clear of the operation. A snapped cable or chain can rip-saw back like a whip. There are plenty of dead loggers whose stories attest to the damage a whipping cable can do to the human body.

Finally, a word on RV tow service. We learned the hard way one fine day when our tow rig skidded off a slick private road into a cow pasture. We called our road service company who dispatched a two truck to help us out. When the driver arrived he announced that since we weren't on a public road, the road service plan wouldn't cover the "extraction." Read the fine print in your agreement to make sure where--and where not--you're coverage applies.


  1. I changed out the nitrogen in my tires for helium, and just float away...LOL!!

    Very good article! And as noted, the best approach, is to avoid getting stuck in the first place.

  2. If you have a truck camper or tow vehicle with 4-wheel drive, steer slowly left to right and repeat that over and over while your front wheels are spinning, always following the route that will give you the best traction. That will often get you going again.

  3. Call the Good Sam Roadside Assistance Dispatch number!

  4. If you have a class C with Ford E350 or E450 chassis and you boondock a lot or drive in snow country, consider Quigley 4x4 conversion. We had that added to our new Coach House 3 years ago. Though I rarely use it, it gets us safely out of home deep snow territory in our winter escapes, and once saved us from getting chassis to the sand in Slab City, clifornia sand. We still had to dig a bit but without 4x4 we might still be there.

  5. Hello,
    Great article and even better "fine print" advice about getting towed. One better would be to tell which company/policy you had this fine print experience with. I believe it's up to all of us to get the word about fine print out to everyone's so fewer people have these surprise experience. Why who knows, these companies might even change their policies when they realize business is declining and the jig is up.
    It's just one small way to help out your fellow human. (P.S. I owned a custom service business for 16 years. How? By having NO FINE PRINT.)