Mud Bath

After chatting all things Space Balloon at the WOMAD festival, I was feeling just a little smug for not falling over in the vast quantities of mud. I then returned to my car…

Trying to pre-empt any mud related issues I had reversed my car into its allocated spot, which was thankfully still an island of grass. However from the grassy island to the road was a sizeable track of mud. Undaunted I swapped my wellies for my trainers, hopped in the driving seat and started the engine. I gingerly moved from my island of grass onto the path of mud. I then promptly made mistake number 1: I over revved the engine. The resulting plume of mud across the entirety of the car identified my lack of mud driving skills for all to see.

Now with visibility slightly impaired (windscreen wipers were not dealing well with the situation) I made mistake number 2: I stopped the car. Clearly this is something you should never do, as the wheel spinning and slight burning smell was making painfully clear.

Thankfully, with some frantic steering wheel wiggling, I managed to limp off the mud track and onto a nearby grassy island. With mud inside and out the car I got out to revaluate my strategy.

So what is the best way to get a stuck car out and over mud?

The first thing you can do is reduce the weight in the vehicle, asking a few passengers to get out for a few minutes can be enough to prevent sinking. Though they may wish to stand well back! If you are already stuck, wiggling the steering wheel to move the tyres can help create a little bit of room to manoeuvre. Whilst you want the wheels straight as you press the accelerator to reduce drag, wiggling them as the car rocks back into the mud can help build up momentum and possibly get the car up and over the mud pile.

Apart from a few cases, you need to resist the urge to floor the gas pedal. Whilst a quick speed burst can sometimes solve the problem (think Jeremy Clarkson and Top Grear), my car was sticking because the wheels did not have enough traction on the mud. High speed wheel turning can result in a wheel spin, where the force delivered to the tyre tread simply overwhelms the friction between the tread and the mud. The tyre spins faster as you remain stationary, sinking further into the mud!

For those who encounter mud frequently on their travels, a four-wheel drive can make all the difference. Allowing some wheels to lose traction, but critically still delivering force to wheels that can maintain friction with pockets of the ground. Alas for me, my two wheel drive didn’t give this option. A little apprehensive, I ventured back out, but this time in a high gear with a very gentle press of the accelerator. This approach, combined with some steering wheel wobbling, allowed me to slip-slide myself back to the sanctuary of the tarmac road.

So what have I learned from this? Firstly that the Physics Pavilion at WOMAD was excellent and worth a look if you are at the festival. Secondly that alongside my talk props, for all future field based festivals I will be chucking in the boot a couple of pieces of old carpet, should I need to increase my traction to get back home!