What to Do if You Roll Your Rig

No doubt if you're reading this on your smartphone you're probably hanging upside down, held into your seat by your four-wheel drive’s seat belt, in shock and wondering what to do next. Don’t panic! Just hang out and take a deep breath. There is a process for when you find yourself in a rollover on the trail, and if you follow a few simple steps you can minimize any danger to yourself and your passengers as well as preventing damage to your rig. If you do not follow these steps you may find that getting yourself out of your overturned rig is just the first challenge of a very tough day.


Plan for a Rollover Before It Happens to You


The time to think about what would happens if your 4X4 rolls is not as you watch the sky and earth crazily switching places out of your broken windshield. Rather, it is best to consider it when you're setting up your ride. If you're planning on doing anything even remotely serious in a four-wheel drive, or bringing precious cargo, such as friends and family, it is well worth the time and money to have a proper roll bar or cage installed in your vehicle. This cage can be as elaborate as an exocage that runs around the exterior of the vehicle, or it can be a simple bolt in bar that sits inside of the interior. Budget and available space may dictate what you choose, but if you're hitting the trail hard, some form of augmented roll over protection is advisable, as stock vehicles can suffer a crushed and flattened cab in a roll over.


Keep it Secure


A rollover is dangerous enough in and of itself, but add heavy items flying unrestrained around the cab, such as tools, fire extinguishers and spare parts, and you have a recipe for disaster. These items need to be secured to the vehicle to reduce the chances of any of the occupants receiving a serious head injury. There are many aftermarket solutions for keeping your gear safely stowed, but readily accessible. Failing to secure your gear can result in what looks like a hasty yard sale, with your cargo scattered along a hillside, or it can result in catching a spare axle shaft to the back of the head. One is comedy, the other tragedy.  It is a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher not only in the vehicle, but mounted permanently in such a way that it is accessible by both occupants in the front, in the event that one of them is incapacitated by the roll over.


Please Keep Hands and Feet Inside the Ride at All Times


Before setting out on a trail ride with passengers it's a good idea to spend a minute sorting out proper hand holds for everyone. The driver has the steering wheel, which will no doubt be in a white knuckle grip. Keep your thumbs clear, as a spinning steering wheel can easily break one or both as you careen end over end. For passengers it is more difficult. The instinctive response for passengers is to brace themselves by gripping the vehicle's roll bar, an easy way to sustain a significant injury, such as the loss of a limb. Provide grab straps or handholds for all passengers, and point them out prior to departure. Additionally, it is important to keep your eyes closed and your mouth shut, to avoid the dirt and debris that will fly through the cabin during a roll.


After the Rollover


After the vehicle has stopped rolling, and you have had a chance to collect your wits, turn the vehicle off.  Most vehicles have a check valve in the fuel system that prevents gasoline from draining in the event of a roll over, but it or the tank could be damaged. If anything metal, such as a crushed hood, has come in contact with the battery terminal you could have an arc of electricity ignite gas vapor, and then things can get serious quickly.  However, do not be in a hurry to free yourself.  If possible have someone not in the vehicle confirm that it is stable and anchor it with a tow rope or winch if needed. Otherwise, the act of passengers exiting the vehicle in a scramble may shift its center of gravity, resulting in another rollover with people half in and half out...a dangerous situation.


Rubber Side Down


Once everyone is out there is a tendency for onlookers--in a fit of helpfulness--to come together to flip your rig back on its belly. Don’t be hasty when it comes to righting it. More than one four-wheeler has been flipped over, only to go careening down a steep slope with no captain at the helm. Stop. Put the vehicle in gear and apply the parking brake. If these do not seem to be working properly, use a tow rope to secure the 4X4 so that it won’t get away from you.  To right it, secure a tow rope to a hardpoint, like the frame, but never to wheels or suspension components. Stand clear as you, or a tow vehicle, apply slow but increasing pressure until it slowly begins to roll.  Giving it too much pull can result in it rolling right back over.


Will it Start?


There is a strong temptation to find out if the roll killed your ride. Resist experimenting right off the bat. Your ride is probably alright. However, starting it right away might finish what the roll over started.  An engine that has been flipped over may no longer have its fluids in the right places.  Oil can work its way up into the top end of the engine. Brake fluid and power steering fluid is apt to leak, and automatic transmission fluid, which must be full to allow proper function,  might be low enough to affect the tranny. Confirm that the radiator has not been dislodged from its fittings or damaged. All of these should be checked and topped off from spares if needed before turning the key.


Turn the Key and See


When it comes to turning the key, do so sparingly at first. Let the starter barely engage and then let off.  You are checking for undue resistance, which could indicate that the engine is hydrolocked. Rather than holding down the key and hoping for the best, take a minute to pull the spark plugs, then spin the engine to see if it will move freely.  This should remove most oil from the cylinders. Once you do feel that your inspection is complete and you are ready to start her up, don't be surprised if you have an alarming amount of smoke billowing from the exhaust. This is due to the burning off of oil that will have coated the inside of the cylinders.  Drive it under light throttle, listening and feeling for any unusual hesitation or vibration, to clear this oil out and bring the smoking under control before hitting the highway home.


Getting Home


Before running your four wheel drive at highway speeds after a rollover be sure to clear out as mush glass, dirt and debris as you can from the inside the cab, as this can fly around and make driving dangerous. Chances are that during a rollover you will have some broken glass. Do not leave remaining broken glass in the panels, as they can finish blowing out while you are on the move, endangering you and others.  Knock out the rest of the glass, but be sure to contain the pieces for responsible disposal. It is no good to leave a pile of broken glass on the trail to become someone else's problem later. Be mindful as you head out that there may be other parts on the verge of breaking, such as hairline cracks in the driveline, dangling accessories, or suspension components that have been stressed to just short of the breaking point. Drive it like it may quit on you or fall to pieces at any time to minimize the chances of an accident as you make your way home