With winter’s grasp firmly upon us, the issue of getting stuck in snow becomes more prominent in our daily lives. Whether you are just slipping a little or the wheels are buried to the axles, these 10 tips on how to get your car unstuck from snow are not only helpful, but can prove to be a lifesaver. All of these tips have been compiled through years of getting stuck ourselves.
1. Don’t Stop!
The best tip for how to get car out of snow is to not get stuck in the first place. If you are sliding off the road, headed towards a snow drift, slush pile, etc, do not stop unless you are going to end up in a dangerous situation or hit something. Your vehicle’s momentum can carry you out of the mush. The same goes for when you are stuck and get some movement. Don’t stop until you are absolutely stuck. Even a little bit of constant movement is better than just spinning the wheels. If the way in front of you is clear and you are in no danger of hitting anything, try to keep moving.
2. Don’t Spin the Wheels
When you are stuck and your tires are just spinning, stop. That is not how to get unstuck in snow. Unless you are on solid ground (concrete or asphalt), stomping the pedal and spinning the wheels is just going to make it worse. You will just end up digging a hole with the tires and possibly ending up with the chassis sitting on the ground, making getting unstuck ever harder.
3. Apply Proper Power
A little accelerator pedal finesse is one answer of how to get a car unstuck from snow. Use your throttle sparingly and in the right way. If too much power is overpowering the tires and snow, use part throttle. You would be surprised how less power might just get you out of a bad situation.
4. Shift to Low Gear
Make sure your automatic transmission is shifted into the lowest gear. For manual transmissions, you actually want to shift into a higher gear, such as 3rd or 4th, and use the clutch to control the spin. There will be less shock on the tires and you will have more control to keep the tires from spinning in the snow.
5. Turn Off Traction Control
This one might seem counter-intuitive for how to get unstuck from snow, but when you are stuck and need power to the wheels, any slipping will cut the power right when you need it. Traction control is an wonderful feature most of the time, but once you are stuck it can just get in the way. Push the traction control button to turn it off. Some vehicles require you to push and hold the button for several seconds. When in doubt check your owner’s manual. With this feature off you will be able to spin the tires with no interference from the onboard computer. Watch out for using too much power though (see #2).
6. Rock Back & Forth
The classic move for how to get a car unstuck by yourself is called rocking. This is a maneuver where use the engine to roll the vehicle forward, put it in reverse, roll it backward, and then shift to drive and roll forward. Doing this several times builds momentum for the vehicle, often getting it out of the rut it is stuck in. Once you are over the hump and rolling in one direction, power out of the mess until you are on solid ground. This trick is a little easier for automatic transmission owners and will take some coordination for those with a manual transmission.
7. Use Traction Devices
It is too late to add chains or cables to your tires, but you can use other items to enhance the grip of your tires. Rocks (quarter size and smaller), sand, even small branches and sticks can give you the grip you need to get out. It is a good idea to carry a bucket or bag of sand, pebbles, kitty litter, etc when you live in snow-prone areas.
8. Go Straight Ahead
Make sure your tires are pointed straight. There is considerably more stress on the tires when they are turned and plowing through the snow. This means means it is harder for the vehicle to move, and therefore easier for the tire to spin rather than get traction and push or pull the vehicle out of the mess.
9. Let Some Air Out
When you just can’t get the grip, try letting some air out of the tires. This makes a wider contact patch and can give you the necessary grip to get out. Just don’t forget to reinflate the tires to the proper specification as soon as possible. Until you get the tires reinflated, keep the speed down so you don’t ruin your tires.
10. Be Ready to Shovel Snow
Sometimes the answer for how to get car unstuck from snow if you just have to get down and dig. Carrying a camp folding shovel will make this easier, but a stick, wood board, or even a plastic cup can get the snow, slush and mud out of the way. The idea here is to dig a long ramp from the tire to the flat ground instead of a deep sudden rut that you likely find yourself in. Additionally, there may be a large mass of snow under the chassis, making it difficult to move. You need to try to remove as much of this as possible.
If you can’t get your car unstuck with these tips, call a tow truck for assistance. Make sure your tailpipe is clear of snow so that the exhaust fumes don’t back up into the cab of the vehicle. This is now the time to break out your winter emergency car kit, sit tight and wait for the cavalry. Stay safe!
If you have any tips on how to get your car unstuck, please leave them in the comments section below.
Check out all the winter accessories
A life-long gearhead, Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 4 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced.