While making snowmen and throwing snowballs at each other are enjoyable wintertime activities, getting your car stuck in the snow isn’t so fun.
During the frigid winter months, becoming trapped in the middle of deep snow or on a stretch of slippery ice isn’t uncommon, especially if you don’t have the best tires for winter driving.
If you are trying to figure out how to get unstuck from snow, these eight tips and tricks can help you get your car free in no time.
1. Know What Not To Do
When you are trying to figure out how to get a car unstuck from snow, there are a few things you should never do:
1. Don’t lose your cool: Losing your temper won’t make you get out of your predicament any faster, so it’s always best to remain calm.
2. Don’t floor the gas pedal: This will only make it more difficult to escape by digging your tires deeper into the snow. It could also cause your tires to burn up, wear on your CV or U joints in the axle or driveshaft, or give you potential transmission problems.
3. Don’t start the engine without clearing your tailpipe first: Carbon monoxide can build up inside your vehicle if the exhaust pipe is blocked.
4. Don’t lose sight of your car’s pathway out of the snow: To avoid becoming stuck again or hurtling toward something like a tree or another car, you’ll want to make sure the path back to more stable ground is clear of deep snow.
5. Don’t go at it alone: It’s always best to recruit assistance from others whenever possible. Extra eyes and helping hands will save you more time than going at it alone.
6. Once you’re out of the rut, don’t take off like a stunt person in your car: Drive smooth and steady — you don’t want to accidentally drive off into another batch of deep snow or another object.
Pro Tip: Keep an emergency kit in your car at all times, including winter items such as a snow shovel, ice scraper and a coat or blanket.
2. Clear the Snow and Ice Around Your Car
First and foremost, you’ll want to remove any ice and snow from around your tires using a shovel. This will give your car room to move back and forth. This step also gives you the chance to examine your car’s undercarriage for any snow that might be impeding its movement.
1. Remove any surrounding snow that’s higher than the ground clearance of the car: Dig the snow out from the front, underneath and behind your car. You won’t be able to go anywhere if you’re high-centered, with snow or ice under the vehicle blocking your way out.
2. Make sure your exhaust pipe is clear: If it’s blocked, carbon monoxide could build up in your car when your engine is on.
3. Clear a path for your tires: Make a path that’s long enough for your wheels to drive forward and back a few feet.
Pro Tip: If you don’t have a shovel handy, try using an ice scraper, screwdriver or another tool that can at least break up any ice that’s formed below your tires. A rougher surface area will add more traction.
3. Turn Off Traction Control
Traction control is a feature that can help you keep control of your vehicle if you hit ice on the road, but leaving it on while stuck in snow is a different story. Turning it off will allow your car’s wheels to spin, which can sometimes help you get your vehicle out of snow.
Your drive tires will need to have traction to get unstuck. You can typically find the traction control button somewhere on the console or dashboard.
Pro Tip: Drive tires are the front tires on a front-wheel drive vehicle and the rear tires on rear-wheel drive. An all-wheel drive (AWD) and four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicle’s tires are all drive tires.
4. Rock the Vehicle
Rocking your vehicle can help give your tires enough traction and momentum to get out of the snow. The key here is to get your wheel up on a higher position on the rut you’re stuck in to build up enough momentum to drive out of it.
This means you’ll have to alternate between forward and reverse, usually involving some footwork using both feet — one for the brake and the other for the throttle.
1. Make sure you can hear and see clearly: When you start your car, roll down your window so you can hear what’s going on, like tires spinning. If you can, stick your head out the window to watch your tires or have someone watch them for you.
2. Straighten your tires: This will help reduce drag, especially if you’re trying to drive through existing tire tracks rather than creating new tracks, which could potentially act as a wedge under the wheel.
3. Move forward just a bit: Using the lowest gear, slowly let your foot off the brake and lightly apply the throttle to move forward just a bit. You should be able to feel the car increase slightly in height as it goes up on top of the rut — at this point, immediately apply the brake. The brake pedal may vibrate depending on the vehicle — this is the anti-lock brake system activating, which is perfectly normal.
4. Ensure your car is fully stopped before switching gears: If you immediately change gears without stopping first, you could damage the transmission. The brake pedal should not be pulsating, tires shouldn’t be spinning and your engine RPM should be back to normal.
5. Go into reverse: Select reverse, let your foot off the brake pedal and apply the throttle. A balance is needed for the throttle — not too much where you have excessive wheel spin, but not too little where you’re not able to build up enough momentum.
6. Go forward again: Put the car back in drive and apply a little gas. This can tamp down loose snow and hopefully give you enough traction to get out.
Pro Tip: If you hear your tires spinning, immediately take your foot off the gas. Excessive tire spin can melt the snow under your tires, creating ice, which is even trickier to get out of. If you drive a front-wheel drive vehicle and there are no curbs or other vehicles in your path, try turning the wheels slightly in the opposite direction to see if you can gain more traction.
4. Rock the Vehicle
If you’re still spinning, add some traction under your wheels. A few options include:
• Tire chains
• Block of wood
• Plastic grate
• Vehicle’s floor mats
• Cat litter (non-clumping)
Tire chains almost always do the trick, but most people don’t have them or they’re not always legal depending on where you live, as they can damage the paved surface of the road.
The next best thing is using a solid object like a block of wood, but if you’re in a pickle, your vehicle’s floor mats will work just fine. They may be ruined afterward, but it’s better than being stuck in the snow.
Before you begin, make sure there is still a cleared space for your tires to move.
1. Ensure the object you use is about 2 feet long: This will make sure your tire has enough room to gain traction and momentum.
2. Wedge your object under your drive tires: If you are trying to move forward, place the object in front of your drive tires. If going in reverse, place the object behind your drive tires.
3. Apply the throttle cautiously: Sometimes the wheels can make whatever you used for traction shoot out from under your tires, so apply the throttle carefully.
4. Get tire on top of object: Build enough momentum to get your tire on top of the object.
5. Apply the throttle cautiously again: You should have enough traction to build up momentum and get your vehicle moving. You need balance here — not too much where the object could get thrown out from under your wheel, but not too little where you’re not able to build up enough momentum.
Pro Tip: If using gravel, sand or cat litter, add the traction to both sides of the tire so if you can’t move in one direction, you might be able to move in the other.
6. Get Others To Help You Push
If you have other people in your car or Good Samaritans who can help, physically pushing your car out of the snow can be an easy solution.
1. Safety first: Ensure you’re in forward gear and that the ground isn’t too slippery for helpers to push.
2. Gently apply throttle as helpers push: As your helpers push, gently apply the throttle to gain additional momentum.
Pro Tip: Using snow chains on your tires can also help create traction, making it easier for you and your helpers to move the car through snow and ice.
7. Request Roadside Assistance
If all else fails and you can’t figure out how to get unstuck from snow, requesting roadside assistance is your next best bet. AAA members receive 24/7 roadside assistance that can help you get your car out of the snow, as well as other services you may need like jump-starting a dead battery, fixing a flat tire and more.
To better protect you and your car from seasonal elements, check out these tips to help you prevent and remove ice from your car’s windshield so you can safely navigate the road even in harsh winter weather.