Car Stuck in Snow? Here’s What To Do

man shoveling snow to free his stuck car

Winter driving can be extremely dangerous and there’s unfortunately no way around that. Blizzard conditions can severely limit visibility and icy roads can make even the simplest of drives a slippery and hazardous expedition. And as snow piles up on roadways, it can be far too easy to get your vehicle lodged with no apparent way to break yourself loose. But if you do happen to get your car stuck in snow, there are a few ways to make out safely.

Let’s start with what not to do should you find yourself stuck in the snow (although you’ll be tempted). Do NOT floor the gas and spin your tires. From a dead stop, you won’t be able to accelerate your way out of your predicament. It simply won’t work and you might just dig yourself in even deeper (literally).

Getting your vehicle unstuck

The first thing you’ll want to do to get your vehicle unstuck is to clear the snow from around your tires to give you a path and some room to move. You’ll want to keep a snow shovel in your vehicle throughout the winter specifically for this purpose. Remember to clear the snow from in front of and behind your tires (we’ll explain why shortly). And if your vehicle sits low to the ground, you might also want to take a look underneath and make sure you have ground clearance from bumper to bumper.

Once the snow around your tires is cleared (approximately two or three feet in all directions should do the trick), you’re ready to get yourself free. The best way to drive yourself out of this mess is to “rock” your vehicle back and forth until you can build up enough momentum to get going. If your vehicle is equipped with four wheel drive, it can certainly help you in this situation, but it’s not essential.

Remember, it’s momentum—not power—that’s going to be your saving grace. Rock your vehicle by putting it in drive and applying the gas, then reverse, then drive, then reverse, and so on and so on. This back and forth process doesn’t have to be in rapid succession either, so don’t wreck your transmission feverishly shifting between “D” and “R”. Slow and steady is a perfectly fine technique.

Traction = Action

Increasing traction between your tires and the ground can be a big help here as well. Plan ahead this winter and keep a couple bags of (clean) kitty litter in your vehicle should you end up in this situation. Adding some dry kitty litter in front of your tires can get you out of this mess in a hurry. Sand, dirt, salt, gravel, or other granular material can work just as well.

When you start rocking your vehicle, you might only be able to move a couple inches in either direction at first, but this process should help you to increase that range of motion fairly quickly. Before you know it, you’ll have enough space and enough momentum to get your wheels moving again. Once this happens, keep applying steady pressure to the gas and just keep moving at a moderate speed with which you feel comfortable. Too slow and you’re likely to get stuck again. But too fast and you risk losing control and putting yourself in an even more dangerous situation.

I’m still stuck. Now what?

If you are just completely stuck and cannot move even an inch, your best bet might be to find a couple good Samaritans to lend a hand…and some muscle. Getting a strong push from behind as you (or another volunteer) steadily apply the gas can be just what you need to get going again.

Once you’re moving again, get your vehicle back onto a plowed or patted down section of road where you’ll be able to find traction again. At this point, you are essentially in the clear as far as your getting stuck mishap is concerned. But still proceed with caution. In freezing temperatures, even the plowed and treated roads can be deceptively slick. It’s best to take your time on the roads and add extra distance between yourself and the vehicle in front of you at all times.