Admitting my own mistakes is something I learned to do from an early age because after the first embarrassment, it is a great way to learn and avoid future obstacles. In that context, when I surprised myself by getting stuck in the sand with a four-wheel drive Jeep, I knew I had to share this experience with anyone who might end up in a similar situation.
Let’s start by acknowledging the obvious – I’m not a terrain expert. However, I have participated in a couple of off-road expeditions and played around in the sand in various four-wheel drive vehicles. This background, combined with the knowledge of where I am, gave me a false sense of self-confidence behind the wheel of the Jeep Compass 4Xe press car during a weekend trip to my favorite beach.
How to turn a sunny Sunday into a muddy nightmare
After spending a beautiful morning on the Mediterranean, I wanted to reach a nice place for SUV photography that was very close to the open space I had parked. I could see some puddles on the dirt road, but I thought they would not be a problem for my jeep. After all, it came standard with 4WD low and locking features, plus the dedicated sand / mud profile for the Jeep Selec-Terrain system, although I knew the paved 235/45 R19 Goodyear Eagle F1 tires would limit its potential .
Following the basic principle, I pressed the accelerator pedal stably, let the electronics do all the work, and automatically adjusted the power distribution between the ICE that moved the front wheels and the electric motor at the rear. Everything seemed fine at first, but the next puddles were deeper than they looked, causing a lot of struggle from the 4WD system. Thankfully, I reached the site with a lot of mud splashed on my Jeep body and greenhouse as real battle marks. After getting my cover photo for the review, I decided to go back from another route to avoid the pool-related anxiety as the tires were now covered in mud.
Read also: 2022 Jeep Compass 4Xe PHEV adds value to an already well-rounded SUV
The new route only had a large amount of water that separated me from the easily accessible field in front of me. Unfortunately, more quicksand was hiding under a thin layer of water. I felt the car sink and after a loud wheel spin I was forced to stop and check the surroundings to try to avoid digging deeper into the mud.
A large part of the front right wheel and the front bumper was under the water and it looked quite ugly. Before I called for help, I tried to back up a bit while turning the wheels to help the unsuitable tires find grip. Five painful minutes later and against all odds, the jeep had managed to get out of this mixture of water, sand and mud, now safely parked on dry patches of grass and sand. The problem is that I was back in ground zero and did not want to try again what felt like a suicide mission for the car.
Avoid quicksand, get stuck in the sand
Under these circumstances and when I was happy I did not turn the jeep into a modern remake of the Titanic, I found a way to walk around the mud by taking a longer road from the beach. Compass turned out to be quite easy to handle in the sand, even when I needed to go uphill, with 237 hp (177 kW / 240 hp) combined power that did its magic. Although I would prefer a manual gearbox instead of the eight-speed automatic transmission available exclusively in PHEV, I was very pleased with how the electronic systems worked.
A few minutes later I drove to the beach on the way to the entrance. Unfortunately, my happiest moment is when I made my biggest mistake – I stopped to look for rocks in front of me that could damage the car. The sand may have looked completely dry but when I had gotten closer to the sea shore it was quite wet underneath, which showed that it had rained heavily before. I sat back in the car and tried to lighten up but it did not work. The wheels began to spin and despite my best efforts with different settings, they continued to dig deeper into the sand.
When I stepped out, I realized that the belly of the compass rested on the ground, which made it really difficult for the wheels to find traction. I started removing the sand with just my hands, a process that would continue for 2-3 hours without any positive results. I realized that there was so much moisture underground, with the increasing suspension movement that showed me that there was no point in digging deeper. I tried to put large stones under the wheels but they could not do much with the majority of the 1,860 kg (4,101 pounds) of Compass 4Xe resting on the ground.
Acknowledge my mistakes
The fact that I drove a press car means that I could theoretically get free roadside assistance, even though I was not very optimistic considering that it was a Sunday afternoon in a remote place. After informing the very understanding local representative of Stellantis / Jeep, I called the number I found in the glove compartment to ask for help. Surprisingly, the lady on the phone informed me that they can not send anyone if there is no damage to the car or no accident is involved. What I did not know then was that there was another number for accidents and another for roadside assistance and obviously I needed the latter more than the former.
Outside of my stupidity, I contacted the local authorities to help me find someone who could pull me out. Two hours later I got a phone number and talked to a guy with a tractor who was willing to help me. Since I was in place for too long and feared that it would get dark soon, I accepted his crazy expensive offer as the only possible option to get home safely with the jeep. As I waited for him to cover the 10 km (6 miles) from the nearest village with his slow tractor, I thought of the challenges that lie ahead.
Thus, I prepared the car for towing by placing the recovery point under the small latch on the front bumper that was quite difficult to open with bare hands, and connecting the emergency towbar that was stored under the cargo area. Another piece of advice here – never leave the towbar on the sand while digging; I dropped it almost forever on that beach. I also dug a ramp in front of the car so that the front bumper would not be damaged in the towing process.
At this point, I was really tired but happy with the result and optimistic about the rescue mission. It was then that a local guy with his girlfriend arrived in an Isuzu D-Max pickup and offered a helping hand. I warned them about the strange calm in the sand that day but he was sure he would make it to the beach. Even though I had A / T tires and a full-time AWD system, the pickup was also stuck in the sand a few meters from my Jeep. Thankfully, the higher ground clearance and heavier tires helped it get out of this embarrassing situation, although this made it clear that it was not suitable for towing another vehicle. The driver admitted that he had never seen the beach like that.
Save the jeep and a near-death experience
I was very happy when the tractor came with the right traction belts. We lost no time and quickly fastened them to the emergency towbar (by the way, the Compass Trailhawk has fixed hooks). I put the automatic gearbox in neutral and the tractor started to reverse. I could feel the force pulling me out of this hole but the nightmare was not over.
The driver made the wrong call and ended up with one of the two massive rear wheels of the tractor hanging in the air. Next to the beach entrance was a small river and he walked dangerously close to the edge, almost falling over. Because I knew that a rollover from such a height on a cabless tractor would be life threatening for the driver, I was really scared. But at the very last moment, he somehow saved it and got the tractor back on safe ground.
A few minutes later I was parked in the same open space where my adventure began. I was tired but happy that everything went well without any injuries or any damage to the car. All I had to do was remove the – now dried – mud from the jeep so I could protect its mechanical components and paint from the 80th anniversary edition. I eased into the nearest gas station with a car wash.
Thankfully, they agreed to wash the mud-covered jeep when I offered to pay extra because of my visit on Sunday afternoon and the condition of the SUV. Large patches of mud fell from the jeep, with the high-pressure washer cleaning its axle, suspension, brakes and plastic skirts. This would cost me four times a regular wash but again I had no option as it would not be safe to drive the vehicle without being able to see outside the windows. With a clean compass but a lot of sand in my clothes, I headed back home which took a three hour drive.
How to avoid my mistakes
What I learned from this experience can be summed up in a few words. First of all, do not take terrain risks when you are alone in a remote location. I could only continue my schedule for day trips and find easier places for photography without getting wet. Second, always check the weather and condition of the surface you are driving on. If I knew there were record amounts of rain a day earlier or if I had checked the mud / sand with a stick before driving into the quicksand, it would definitely be a safer card. Third, never overestimate the capabilities of your vehicle when you have little experience in similar environments, and never underestimate the impact of a faulty tire set. The latter may be more important than the vehicle or driveline type and should always be considered. Finally, never trust the locals who can deceive you when you are in desperate need of their help.
When I read this experience, I’m sure some people will blame the car, because they think it’s a soft SUV that can not be compared to “real” jeeps like the Wrangler. To them, I must say that like all modern C-SUVs, Compass must satisfy the needs of its target audience, which is focused on technology, efficiency, handling, safety and practical features. The 4Xe variant does all this in a decent way, while being the best option in the segment for light off-road driving, especially in the Trailhawk training with grip-friendly tires, underbody protection and an adventure-fit body kit. Still, it can not be compared to off-road SUVs such as the Suzuki Jimny, Ford Bronco or Toyota Land Cruiser, but none of these are considered a rival. In summary, the Compass 4Xe may be the most “jeep” among C-SUVs, but it is also to some extent limited by the segment’s characteristics, its tire layout … and its drivers.
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