Not-so glorious mud: what to do if your car is stuck in mud

What to do if your car is stuck in mud

Mud, mud, glorious mud, goes the song, but it’s not something many drivers will be singing about if they end up stuck in the stuff.

Unfortunately, a combination of British weather and occasional parking venues at weddings, outdoor events and even farm shops mean it’s not just intrepid explorers who find their cars come a cropper and end up bogged down in mud. Everyday drivers do too.

So without further delay – especially for those who are, literally, stuck in the mud as they read this – here are some tips that may help get things moving again.

Is the mud shallow or deep?

Sorry to point out the obvious, but it’s wise to check the terrain you want to tackle before heading off the beaten track.

Generally, there are two sorts of conditions that could bring a car to a grinding halt. Shallow mud typically occurs when there has been fresh rain after a dry spell. The top surface of the soil will be wet and extremely slippery, and wheels will spin like a hamster on a wheel going nowhere.

However, beneath this thin layer of mud is firmer ground, so it’s likely you’ll be able to extricate yourself from the spot of bother.

Deep mud presents more of a challenge. If your car has sunk down far enough into the stuff, there’s a chance that it could effectively become beached. This is when its belly rests on the ground and the wheels are immersed in muck.

If your car is stuck in mud, ask for help

If you have helping hands at your disposal, then there is nothing quite like asking people to give your car a push to test their friendship or, in the case of strangers, their good Samaritan streak.

There is some basic safety advice to follow. Ideally, have those helping push the car from behind. This ensures you have the clearest view ahead, are in full control of the steering, can guide the car to a place of safety and won’t run anyone over.

In the drama of jumping in and out of the car to coordinate everything, remember to wear your seatbelt before trying to drive clear of the mud.

As the driver, you should ensure there’s nobody in harm’s way and the car has a clear escape path. Push the accelerator gently and resist the temptation to get the wheels spinning furiously. This will mostly likely see the car dig itself further into the mud while spraying your helpers with the brown stuff.

Ensure there’s nobody in harm’s way and the car has a clear escape path

It can sometimes help to switch off the car’s traction control or stability control systems, which prevent wheels spinning. For those that don’t know how to do this, or whether such a system is fitted to their vehicle, consult the car’s handbook.

It may also help to use second gear as you try to pull away. This can reduce wheelspin, and it’s usually possible to do this in a car with an automatic gearbox. Simply select either the winter or economy operating modes.

Accelerate in short bursts, and turn the steering wheel clockwise and anticlockwise, as this may help the tyres find a hold of firmer ground. If the car starts moving, maintain momentum until you’re onto a solid surface again.

No help available?

Jacking up a car stuck in mud

If you can’t find anyone to lend a hand, then you could try a number of things to get you back to terra firma. Small branches or straw may help tyres rise above the mud. Alternatively, a few pieces of solid wood could enable you to raise the car using its jack, and then place a plank or similar beneath the driven wheels.

Failing that, consider sacrificing your car’s floor mats. These should be placed at the leading edge of the driven wheels (or at the front ones for cars with four-wheel drive). Remember to lay down any mats from the back of the car too. These will help increase the chance of the wheels keeping their purchase once they pass the first mat. But some words of warning: the mats could be good for nothing afterwards.

If that’s unsuccessful, try decreasing the air pressure of the tyres that are on the driven wheels. This helps spread the car’s weight over a greater area, and the tyres should find a smidge more traction.

Next, try rocking the car forwards and backwards, ever so gently, by switching between first or second gear, and reverse. You may get lucky and find the car gathers enough momentum to drive itself free.

What to do if the car is beached

If you’re really unlucky and the car is beached, the likelihood is you’ll need to summon help – be that from a friendly farmer with a tractor and tow rope, or a driver of a rugged 4×4.

If you have to be towed, then ensure the correct towing eye is attached to the car. The handbook will show where this is situated.

As the leading vehicle pulls your car, try to steer out of the deep ruts that form on muddy tracks or in fields, and up onto the higher ground. Maintain momentum until the car is back on a firm footing.

Check the car and tyres once free

Once free and parked in a secure place, remember to return the tyres to their correct air pressure. Then carry out a visual inspection, to make sure nothing’s been seriously damaged, such as a squashed exhaust or damaged oil sump.

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(For vehicles 10 years & under on our closest equivalent UK cover)

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