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Tips to Get Your Car Unstuck in Snow

Two guys pushing out a car stuck in snow
Jim Reed/Getty Images

Mother natures little April spring storm has left us with a great deal of ice on the roads and now anywhere from 6-11 inches of snow depending on what area of the Sioux Empire you live in.

Chances are there will be a few of us that unfortunately get our cars stuck trying to maneuver down side streets today to get to work, the store, or wherever life needs to take you today.

Should that happen to you, and hopefully it doesn’t. Here are a few tips to get your vehicle unstuck on ice and deep snow :

  • First, check the tailpipe before you start the engine. If there’s snow covering it, clear it. This is to prevent deadly gases from building up inside the car.
  • Dig away excessive snow and ice. Break up the ice immediately surrounding the tires. Obviously, if you have a shovel, you can dig out the snow. (It might be wise to carry a small shovel in the trunk for days like today.) If you don’t have one, improvise. Use a screwdriver or any sharp object to break up the ice that’s formed below the tires. The rougher surface area will help provide traction. Remove loose snow in the direction the car is to move that is higher than the ground clearance of the car, and remove packed snow making even smaller lumps which the car rides up but fails to pass over.
  • When attempting to push out a vehicle, you really need at least one other person. (One to push and one to drive.) It’s never a good idea to attempt to push out a car alone.
  • Ride the brakes. Usually, one wheel is spinning more than the other because it has less resistance. Pressing the brakes slightly will decrease the spinning (by increasing the minimum torque that would be needed to spin each wheel) and transfer some power to the other wheel so that both wheels are working to pull you out of the snow. If riding the brakes has been done for an extended period of time, the brakes may overheat. This can result in longer than expected stopping distances until they have sufficiently cooled. If it’s not making progress, try something else.
  • Put the floor mats in front of the driven tires as a last resort. The mats will probably be destroyed. These are the front tires on a “front wheel drive” car and the rear tires on a “rear wheel drive” car. Be very gentle on the accelerator and make sure nobody is standing behind the tires. Sometimes the wheels can make whatever you put down for traction spin out suddenly.
  • Sprinkle salt, sand, and/or cat litter in front of the driven tires. The salt will help to melt ice, which tends to form when you spin the wheels and that ice is probably the reason you’re stuck. Rock salt is preferable, but table salt will also work if you use a lot of it. The sand and cat litter will provide traction.
  • Straighten the wheels. Turn the steering wheel to straighten the front wheels as much as possible – limited only by any obstructions such as hydrants, signs, other vehicles, etc. Wheels that are straight make it much easier for the car to move (getting unstuck) than if they are turned.
  • Use a low gear as you pull out. Gently accelerate until the wheels start to slip, then back up just until the wheels start to slip, and keep doing this back and forth until you have enough room to pull out.
  • Let a little air out of the tires. They can grab a little more traction this way. Stop if the tires are visibly lower especially if you have no ready way to refill them.
  • Rock the car. Shifting quickly between forward and reverse can give you more room, but it should be a last resort. The transmission can become overloaded and fail when the momentum is shifted so quickly.
  • Take advantage of front-wheel drive. If you have a front-wheel drive vehicle and the wheels are spinning, turning the wheels in a different direction can give you the extra traction that you need. Remember to accelerate slowly or you will just dig yourself in again.
  • When all else fails, it’s time to make that phone call for a tow-truck or to a friend or family member to come help bail you out.

Good luck! Be safe and try not to get stuck!

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