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How To Properly Abandon A Vehicle

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. 

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.

Modify the list to suit your needs. 
Click on the picture for a large image.

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. 

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