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What to Do if You Get Stuck in Mud

Stephen Fogel
March 21, 2019

Driving in mud can be tricky — especially when there’s a lot of it. If you live in an area with low-lying dirt roads and rainy weather, you just might get stuck in that mud. What should you do next?

First step: Get some help 

Getting stuck in the mud is one thing. Injuring yourself or damaging your vehicle while getting unstuck is definitely something to be avoided. Here are some easier options for getting out of the mud. 

Call roadside assistance: If your car is under warranty, you’ll typically have roadside assistance included. Your insurance might also provide this, or if you’re part of an auto club like AAA, they can send someone to help. Call the designated phone number, or use your in-car system, to summon help. 

Phone a friend: If you know someone with a four-wheel-drive truck, they may be able to get you free with a push or a pull. If their vehicle has a winch, that’s even better. Make sure they use equipment that’s safe for this process.

Call a tow truck: It may cost a few bucks, but getting a tow will get you out of a tough spot, without damaging you or your vehicle. If the mud is all the way up to the bottom of your car, you’ll definitely need a tow.

Ask bystanders for a push: If there are people around, ask them to give your vehicle a push. That push may create enough momentum to get you unstuck. Just be very careful as you do this — roll your windows down and communicate as you try to get free. 

If you have to get yourself out

Of course, if you’re in an isolated area, you may not have cell reception or people nearby to help. You’re on your own. This is why it’s good to carry an emergency roadside kit.

If your vehicle is stuck in mud, but you can still see space between the bottom of your car and the ground, follow these steps: 

Preparation

Using a shovel, clear a path around your tires, and in front of and behind them (if the mud is thick enough to allow this). Make it as straight as possible, going in the direction of the road you need to return to.

Spread some dirt, sand or cat litter along the path you have made. If you don’t have any in your vehicle, look for some dry dirt nearby that you can shovel in. Other traction-providing options include towels, blankets, floor mats, cardboard, pieces of wood or even branches, placed in front of your vehicle’s drive wheels.

  • Make sure the area around your tailpipe is clear of mud.
  • Shut off your traction control and use your transmission’s winter or snow mode, if your car has them. Otherwise, start in second gear to reduce wheel spin.
  • Engage all-wheel drive, if you have it. Lock any locking differentials.
  • Deflate your tires to 20 psi for better traction. Pump them back up after you get out.
  • Straighten your front wheels.
  • Have any passengers exit the vehicle to lighten the load.

Action

  • Wiggle the front wheels left and right to make some space
  • Move forward slowly and gently, without spinning the wheels
  • Repeat if necessary, and avoid spinning the wheels

You may be able to get out after doing this, thanks to the path you made and the traction provided from the material under the tires. If it doesn’t work, it’s time to try the “rocking” technique. It happens at a faster pace and generates more momentum to get you unstuck:

'Rocking' action

  • Move forward as quickly as possible, without spinning the wheels excessively.
  • As you lose forward momentum and begin to roll back, shift into reverse and use the momentum to move farther back than your starting point.
  • As the reverse momentum fades and you start to roll forward, shift back into second gear and use the momentum to move farther forward.
  • Repeat the process until you are out of the muddy area at either end.
  • Don’t stop moving until you reach a clear area where you won’t get stuck again.

Don’t overdo the “rocking” process, especially with an automatic transmission. It could overheat. If you haven’t freed yourself after about five minutes, stop and take a break.

After you’re out of the mud

Once you’re free of the muck, drive slowly to let any excess mud come off your tires. As soon as you can, reinflate your tires to the proper pressure and wash your car as soon as possible, focusing on the underside and the wheel wells. 

Do a visual inspection of the underside, including the exhaust system, to make sure there’s no damage. If you suspect there’s a problem, consult a mechanic for the next steps.

How to avoid getting stuck in the first place

Of course, the best thing would be to avoid getting stuck at all. If you’re on a dirt road or parking lot and see some serious mud ahead, consider your options.

Pull over before entering the muddy area, get out of your vehicle, and take a closer look. If the area was dry before it recently rained, the resulting mud will likely be shallow, with solid ground under the muddy surface. Probe the muddy area with a stick or branch of a tree to confirm how deep it is. If the mud is just an inch or two deep, you should be able to get through it.

On the other hand, if you’re in a very rainy area and there has just been a major downpour, the already-wet ground may produce some deep mud that could trap your tires. If your probing stick reveals that the mud is more than a few inches deep, the safe strategy is to turn around and plan a different route.

Stephen Fogel

About the Author

Stephen has been an automotive enthusiast since childhood, owning some of his vehicles for as long as 40 years, and has raced open-wheel formula cars. He follows and writes about the global automotive industry, with an eye on the latest vehicle technologies.