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How to Properly Abandon a Vehicle (on the trail) How to Properly Abandon a Vehicle (on the trail)
Special from Tom Severin, Badlands Offroad Adventure As Trail Leader, you should plan for issues and problems. Some plans are generic since you cannot... How to Properly Abandon a Vehicle (on the trail)

Special from Tom Severin, Badlands Offroad Adventure

As Trail Leader, you should plan for issues and problems. Some plans are generic since you cannot predict the exact situation. You apply your skills, tools, and techniques to the problem. A first aid kit is a good example. For some issues you can speculate what might happen and develop a specific contingency plan. One that falls into that category is the need to leave your vehicle behind.

One of the toughest decisions a four-wheeler has to make is whether to abandon a vehicle. Fortunately, abandonment is a rare occurrence in the 4WD world. Even so, you should know what steps to take in case you as Trail Leader are faced with the issue.

If you must leave your vehicle after exhausting all other alternatives–including towing it—consider these issues:

  • Generally what kinds of items to take and what to leave.
    • Firearms, electronics and other valuables should be removed. While theft on the trails is rare, it can happen.
  • How to secure the vehicle and the contents left behind.
    • Decide what to do with a trailer, if one exists. Can another vehicle tow that, or does it stay behind as well?
  • Plan to recover it later
    • Mark your position on the GPS, and write this down. Do not try to rely on memory. Landmarks and terrain appear different from various positions and angles.
    • How long before your return. Leave a note if appropriate.
  • Can it be moved so it is not blocking the trail?

We are not talking about an emergency abandonment of the vehicle because your life is in danger (vehicle on fire). This is a planned abandonment when you have other transportation: Your vehicle is disabled and you have decided to press on for the benefit of your guests.

Broke Ball Joint on Trail TJ

Broken Ball Joint on the Trail can be the End of the Run… Photo Credit: F9K9 on JeepForum

Most of us have many small items (and backup items) tucked here and there throughout the vehicle wherever they will fit. Sometimes items are spread out over several bags and containers. These are bags that are always with you. But what happens when you leave the vehicle behind? You have to leave some gear behind too. There is likely not enough room in the support vehicle(s) providing you with transportation.

In the rush to clear out the disabled vehicle, it’s easy to forget the everyday stuff: batteries (especially if in the glove compartment or other hidden spot), sun glasses, hat, boots, and such.

The probability is that you will forget to take all the essentials. A simple example is replacement AA batteries. You remember to take your GPS, camera, and radios but forget to pull the 12v charger out of the socket. You have three or four places with backup AA batteries (the center console, in a spares case in the back, in the radio bag, etc.). None of these batteries made the transition. You decided to take only one bag and that one does not have batteries in it and didn’t think to look in the center console. BTW you forgot your sun glasses too.

The Go Bag you carry (you have one, right?) makes a very nice container and starting point to gather all the additional items you need.

Assess the supplies and tools the other vehicles have. You might feel it is not necessary to bring your recovery gear but might feel uncomfortable relying on a first aid kit you are not familiar with.

Preparation for this contingency is as simple as preparing a check list.

Modify this Checklist to suit your needs.

With the multitude of potential problems for which you can write a contingency plan, why did I choose to share Abandon Your Vehicle?

As a Trail leader, it revolves around having a customer mind set and customer focus. The loss of your vehicle (hopefully temporary) should not be a show stopper for the outing and the customer experience. As long as other transport is available, you can continue as the Trail Leader.

Your vehicle can be dealt with after the trip, after everyone is in camp for the night, or by your tail-end gunner. The key is the checklist. Use it to ensure you take the necessary items for your comfort, health and hydration, along with the tools needed to safely manage the trip and take care of your guests.


Tom Severin, 4×4 Coach, teaches 4WD owners how to confidently and safely use their vehicles to the fullest extent in difficult terrain and adverse driving conditions. Visit to develop or improve your driving skill.


ModernJeeper is a collection of amazing off road enthusiasts and Jeep lovers coming together to bring you cool stories, great tips and awesome reviews.

  • Stuart Allum

    July 29, 2017 #1 Author

    Tom, we just lived this out in a real life senario at the top of Yankee Boy Basin in Ouray, Colorado. Jeep rolled backwards down hill into Basin and broke back axle, We recovered out of the water, removed many parts and listed accessories, and found a local company to tow her back the next day. All in all a very challenging experience that was somewhat overwhelming to say the least!! It taught us many lessons!! Thanks for the insight. I would add that as you get to your wheeling location, try to find a company that can help if you get into this very difficult situation!.


    • ModernJeeper

      July 30, 2017 #2 Author

      Wow, what an experience. Thank you for sharing and thank you for the additional advice. That is a great point. Some areas that are wheeled a lot have groups that specialize in recovery and can be found via facebook or a local off road shop.


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