How To Get an ATV Unstuck (With and Without a Winch)

ATVs fall into 2 categories from the manufacturers, sport ATVs and Utility ATVs. No matter which kind of ATV you own, chances are that you have driven them into some sticky situations and got stuck, or either came very close. Pushing an ATV to its limits is part of the fun being an owner and operator of one of these awesome machines.

The biggest piece of advice I can give any ATV driver when they get their machines is to always stay as safe as possible when pulling your ATV out from a stuck position.

Using a winch to get unstuck is pretty straightforward, just attach to an anchor and pull. Utilizing things like come alongs, shovels, and boards are methods to use without a winch.

Bottom line is, if you go off roading with an ATV, there is a chance you will get it stuck in some way that will require the use of some of these tricks of the trade to get yourself back onto the trail and riding free. 

What To Do To Avoid Getting Stuck

First, let’s take a look at some ways to keep yourself out of being stuck so deep in the mud that you can’t get out without some help. There are plenty of techniques that will lessen the chance of being stuck and if you follow these tips you just may not ruin your day.

Use Momentum To Your Advantage

Momentum is your friend when it comes to navigating mud holes but running full force can be dangerous for you and your ATV. Momentum can be an advantage if you are prepared for it but riding hard and fast can lead to a sudden jolt or stop if you hit a thick patch of mud or a large obstacle. 

If you are riding through and can feel yourself bogging down, try to use the momentum that you have built up to help you coast through the rest of the hole if you are close to the end. Momentum can also help you to navigate yourself to a more friendly environment closer to a large rock or a tree.If the impending outcome is getting stuck, make sure you think ahead to get yourself in an advantageous position.

Keep A Steady Speed

As I said, hard a fast are not always the right answer and keeping a steady speed is more important. Once you have made the decision and are on your way into the hole, don’t let off the gas because this is what will actually keep your momentum steady and keep you moving forward.

The only time you need to let off the gas is when you know for certain that this is the end and YOU ARE STUCK. 

Now Your ATV Is Stuck. What Do You Do?

Now that you are sure you are stuck, there are a few things to keep in mind and they will make it easier to get you UNSTUCK.

Don’t Just Spin Your Wheels Once You Are Stuck

Your forward momentum has stopped and you aren’t going anywhere. Now is the time to let off the throttle and don’t let your wheels just sit there and spin in the mud. This can cause your ATV to sink even further down in the mud and making it much tougher to get pulled out. 

If you are in deep enough mud or water it could even be hard for you to get off or get back to your ATV once you find a way off. Having a belt driven machine can burn up the belt if you continue to mash the throttle and spin the tires going nowhere. It will make life much simpler if you just stop right where you are!

Do NOT Turn The Ignition Off

This step is crucial if you want to save tons of MONEY!!! If your machine is buried in mud, please leave it running! Turning off the ATV can cause mud to crawl its way down your exhaust pipe into the engine, or into the transmission and differentials.

No one wants to replace their engine or transmission because of negligence. Exhaust gasses leaving the exhaust pipe should keep anything from getting into your engine and will also keep your transmission from having water seep in.

Get Off And Look At Your Surroundings

Getting stuck is not very fun but now that you are, it is time to figure out how to get yourself out of this mess. Now what you need to do is get off your machine and, as safely as possible, assess the situation your ATV is in. 

  • Determine How Deep You Are
  • Get Your Tools Out To Get Yourself Unstuck
  • Don’t Overdo It
  • Come Up With A Safe Strategy
  • Implement Said Strategy

Getting Unstuck With A Winch

The best option when getting stuck is to use a winch. There are many ways to use a winch, mount a winch, and many prices for winches but making sure you choose the right one is key.

Purchase A Winch

A winch will set you back a pretty penny, somewhere around $300-$400 for a dependable, high quality option. You don’t want to buy a low quality winch and have it break over some silly little mud puddle you got stuck in because you didn’t want to fork out a little more cash. SuperATV makes a great option and you can check it out on Amazon right here.

When pulling out an ATV, especially the larger utility ATVs with 4 wheel drive, you want a winch that has a high weight rating. 4500 pound weight ratings are generally good enough but you can go higher and it won’t hurt. Also make sure you get either a steel or synthetic cable with a large diameter and strength.

A winch is an essential mod when it comes to mudding. I also have 26 other essential mods for mudding in another article I wrote right here.

MotoAlliance VIPER Midnight ATV/UTV Winch 4500lb with 50 feet BLACK Synthetic Rope
SuperATV 4500 lb Winch for UTV/ATV | Complete Black Ops Winch Kit | Waterproof Seals and Solenoid | 1.3 HP Motor | 166:1 Gear Ratio
WARN 101040 VRX 45-S Powersports Winch with Handlebar Mounted Switch and Synthetic Rope: 1/4" Diameter x 50' Length, 2.25 Ton (4,500 lb) Capacity
MotoAlliance VIPER Midnight ATV/UTV Winch (4,500 lb)
SuperATV Complete Black Ops Winch Kit (4,500 lb)
WARN 101040 VRX 45-S Powersports Winch w/ Synthetic Rope (4,500 lb)
MotoAlliance VIPER Midnight ATV/UTV Winch 4500lb with 50 feet BLACK Synthetic Rope
MotoAlliance VIPER Midnight ATV/UTV Winch (4,500 lb)
SuperATV 4500 lb Winch for UTV/ATV | Complete Black Ops Winch Kit | Waterproof Seals and Solenoid | 1.3 HP Motor | 166:1 Gear Ratio
SuperATV Complete Black Ops Winch Kit (4,500 lb)
WARN 101040 VRX 45-S Powersports Winch with Handlebar Mounted Switch and Synthetic Rope: 1/4" Diameter x 50' Length, 2.25 Ton (4,500 lb) Capacity
WARN 101040 VRX 45-S Powersports Winch w/ Synthetic Rope (4,500 lb)

Connect To Something Large and Sturdy

You have assessed your situation and you know you are going to be able to reach the closest large tree or rock. Before you just hook up and start winching away, check to make sure that what you are hooking to is sturdy. Try to hang on the tree or pull the rock up. If they are sturdy and barely budge, then you should be good to go. If you pick the wrong type of anchor, you will end up moving it instead of your ATV.

Make Your Own Anchor Point

A lot of riders bring their own anchor points just in case they can’t get access to a naturally made one. In this case people often make a long metal rod with an eye welded on it and jam it down into the ground as far as they can get it. They hook the winch up to the eye and pull themselves out.

I saw a guy pull about a 4 foot metal rod out that looked like an auger, or a large screw. He screwed it into the ground at an angle opposite of the direction he was pulling and was able to yank himself out of some pretty deep mud.

Use A Snatch Block

If your winch doesn’t have the rated weight to be able to pull you out, try using a snatch block. A snatch block is basically a pulley system that gives your winch mechanical advantage and lessens the load on the winch.

Use A Line Dampener

A line dampener is a piece of vinyl material that is designed to drape over the cable or line that is pulling a vehicle. This dampener will reduce the recoil of the line should it break while under tension. Without this device, a line under tension can snap back and cause serious damage or injuries. 

Get Creative If In A Bad Spot

You may not always be completely lined up with the best anchor point and will have to come up with some ideas to tow yourself out without rolling or damaging the ATV. If your machine is stuck in the mud and leaned backwards and to the left, you may have to be on top of it using your bodyweight to level out the quad as it is pulled out.

Make Sure Your Battery Doesn’t Run Out Of Juice

Invest in a larger battery that can handle the extra time and strain from using a winch if you plan on mudding. You never know how long you will be using that winch and it just may drain your battery.

Another option is to bring along a portable battery charger to keep this from happening. Portable battery chargers can charge and/or jump a dead battery and is very useful out in the woods.

Getting Unstuck Without A Winch

If you don’t want to shell out a ton of money for a winch then there are several options available, although they won’t be as effective as a high quality winch will be. Below are some tips to use when you don’t have a winch but find yourself stuck deep in mud.

Use Some Work Gloves

Have a set of work gloves handy because you are going to be tugging and pulling on your ATV and anything else you can get your hands on to try and get this thing unstuck.

Ride With Someone That Has A Winch

If you can’t afford, or just don’t have a winch, it is a good idea to ride with someone that has a winch. This can save you some up front money and also save you plenty of headache if you get stuck without a winch. It is commonly recommended to ride with another person anyway just in case anything happens, such as getting stuck or getting hurt. Ride smart and don’t ride alone.

Bring A Shovel

A shovel is your best friend if you don’t have a winch because you can dig the mud from around the tires and provide an escape path and help the tires get better traction on the harder packed stuff below. You need to make sure you dig as much mud out from under the machine as well.

Rock Back And Forth

One method is to rock back and forth while SLIGHTLY giving the ATV some throttle. If your wheels start to spin and not grip while rocking, then this method is not going to work unless you can get a friend to help rock it even more. Just don’t let the tires sit there and spin without getting traction (See Above)

Use A Come Along

A come along is basically a hand winch you connect one end to an anchor and the other end to your ATV. Attach the come along as low as possible and to the strongest possible location on the ATV. Don’t attach it to fairings, handlebars, or luggage racks because these will likely break under the stress of getting pulled on. They were not designed for this much pressure and stress. Use a heavy duty strap with your come along to extend the length. 

Limb Or Plank Your Tires Out

If you can find tree limbs or boards, dig out from underneath your tires and put these wood pieces under. This will help your tires gain traction and hopefully get unstuck with little effort. This isn’t a great option in runny or watery places or when your ATV is stuck seat deep in mud but it can help in lighter situations.

What To Do After You Get Your ATV Unstuck

Once you get your ATV unstuck and breathe a sigh of relief, it is time to hold your breath again and do some post stuck inspections. You want to make sure that your ATV has not incurred any damage from getting stuck, or from getting pulled out.

Check For Damage

The first thing to do when you are out in the field and get unstuck is to check for any obvious damage that will keep your ATV from running. You can wipe off excess mud and dirt to make sure you can see all the key areas you need for inspection. These areas include things like your wheels and axles for bent axles, flat tires, or any other damage that will not let you make it back home. Driving your machine with this damage can cause further damage and end up costing more money

Check Your Fluids

Pull of your oil cap, hydraulic fluid cap, and any other fluid tank that could have gotten any water or mud into them. If your oils look clean or just plain used, you should be fine. If your oils have a milky consistency, that means something got inside your system and when you get home, you need to flush and replace your fluids.

Clean Off The Mud And Dirt

Once you get home, go ahead and wash down your machine and get rid of all the mud and dirt. This will allow you to see any damage you may have missed out in the field and get it repaired so it does not bite you the next time you ride. You should always do a pre ride walkaround inspection and a post ride inspection to check for damage so this should be routine for you.

Put Your Battery On A Drip Charger

As I said before, winching can drain your battery. If you didn’t bring a portable charger and your ATV still started up, it could still be low on juice so when you get back home, make sure you put a drip charger on it. This will make sure your ATV is topped off for the next time you ride.

Putting It All Together 

It can be easy to become complacent and just go out and ride unprepared. If you take all these tips and put them together then you can have a safe and enjoyable ride and minimize your chances of being stuck, but if you do happen to get stuck, you can use all my tips to help get you out.