How to Get Your Vehicle Unstuck From the Snow

vehicle stuck in snow

What you need to know to be prepared, including accessories for your car and how to avoid making the situation worse if you’re stuck in snow.

Accessories you need, actions to take so you don’t have to call a tow truck

THE PROBLEM:

Winter commutes are often plagued by snow and ice, creating slippery driving conditions. Because of this, getting your vehicle stuck is a real possibility, despite the most diligent preparations.

Whether you slide off the road into a slush-filled ditch or bury your car in a snow drift, knowing how to get your vehicle unstuck is an invaluable skill. Not only will it save you time and frustration, but it also helps avoid costs associated with calling a tow truck.

THE SOLUTION:

Getting your vehicle unstuck from snow requires a basic knowledge of motor operations, how to perform certain driving maneuvers and applying proper physical force, if necessary.

WHAT WE LEARNED:

If your vehicle is stuck in the snow and you’re unsure of what to do, it’s easy to worsen the situation. Knowing what to do, and what to avoid, is important. If the situation arises, basic preparation will help you get unstuck and back on the road without having to call a tow truck.

1. KEEP HELPFUL ACCESSORIES IN YOUR VEHICLE

It’s a good idea to carry a shovel for clearing snow and a bag of sand or kitty litter for traction. Also helpful are a pair of warm, waterproof gloves and boots. Having a portable phone charger on hand also helps in the event calling a tow truck is inevitable.

2. AVOID MAKING THE SITUATION WORSE

If you’ve lost control of your vehicle, don’t panic. Don’t slam on the brakes; that can result in more traction loss. If you’re headed for a snow bank, let your car’s momentum carry you until you stop. Don’t slam on the gas pedal if your tires are spinning; it only makes the situation worse. Put your car in park; turn off the engine.

3. TURN OFF TRACTION CONTROL

Traction control works by sensing when a wheel loses traction before cutting its power. Although turning off traction control seems counterintuitive, you want your engine sending power to every wheel. Familiarize yourself with how to turn it off in your vehicle.

4. CLEAR DEBRIS FROM AROUND YOUR TIRES

If you’re in a safe spot, clear as much snow as possible from around your tires. Aim for a few feet of clearance in both the front and back. Clear away snow piled up underneath the front of your car. If you don’t have a shovel, improvise with other tools. If you have gloves, use your hands as a last resort.

5. THE FORWARD-BACKWARD TECHNIQUE

Point your tires straight, start your vehicle and roll your driver’s side window down for visibility. Shift automatic transmissions to the lowest gear. Put manual transmissions in third or fourth; use the clutch for control. Gently apply gas and move forward a short distance. Shift to reverse and back up the same way. Continue back and forth until you can break free.

6. THE BRAKING TECHNIQUE

If the previous technique doesn’t work, try braking while applying gas. This helps stop wheels from spinning and transfers power to where it’s needed. You can try turning the wheel slightly in one direction to attempt to gain traction. If that doesn’t work after a few tries, stop. Try the next step. You don’t want to overheat your brakes.

7. CREATE YOUR OWN TRACTION

If you need to improvise traction, put something on the ground for your tires to grip. Sand or kitty litter grains texturize slick surfaces and won’t damage your vehicle. No sand or kitty litter? Try using whatever’s available: cardboard, plywood, branches or brush from nearby foliage, or the car’s floor mats.

8. LET AIR OUT OF YOUR TIRES

As a last resort, let a little air out of your tires to increase the surface area between the rubber and the ground, thus providing more traction. Eyeball when they appear to have visibly sunken lower. If you do this, visit a service station as soon as possible once back on the road. You don’t want to drive far on underinflated tires.

By Amanda Ellis