Four Steps to Take When Your Car is Stuck in Snow

It’s easy to find yourself stuck in the snow, even when things don’t seem so bad outside. Swallow your pride and read these tips to get unstuck in a hurry.

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Those of us living where the air hurts our faces for a large portion of the year (cries in Maine) are largely familiar with what it means to drive in snow, but for people in areas that receive only sporadic winter weather, a wintry blast can cause big headaches. Every year, people over-drive their tires, the conditions, and (most importantly), their skill levels, and end up paying the price by getting stuck in the snow.

Getting stuck may be embarrassing, but it’s not the end of the world. You can unstick yourself in a variety of ways, but it’s best to get help if you can. Extra eyes, and hands, will get you moving much faster than going it alone.

A few of The Drive’s researchers are lucky enough to live in places with nice weather, but some of them—including the author’s—are not. Either way, we’ve paid our winter-driving dues by getting stuck more times than we’re happy to admit. Stick with us and we’ll get you unstuck.

Going it alone is no fun in the snow.
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Going it alone is no fun in the snow.

What Should I do When I Get Stuck In Snow?

No matter the vehicle you’re in, there are a few things you can do to improve your chances of getting unstuck. Let’s dive in:

  1. Dig out the snow from around your tires. This will give your vehicle room to move back and forth. This also gives you the opportunity to check the underside of your vehicle for snow that may be holding it up. Beached, as it were. 
  2. Once you’ve cleared enough room for the vehicle to move a bit, you can start rocking it. You can do this by putting the car in drive or first gear for those of you clinging to a manual. Drive forward a bit then reverse, moving back in the tracks you just cleared. This repeat back-and-forth motion is very helpful for getting your vehicle to roll over the snow wall holding it in place.
  3. If rocking doesn’t work, your next best option is to add traction. This can be done in a number of ways that include:

    • Using sand, salt, or kitty litter under your tire to give it something to “bite” into
    • Chains can help greatly, but very few people actually carry them regularly
    • Turn off traction control. This may seem counterintuitive, but it’ll let your car’s wheels spin when needed without triggering the traction control system
  4. Recruit help. Look, we all know you’re a superhero, but getting a few able bodies to help push your jalopy out of the snow bank will save your back and time.
Sharing the fun is caring.
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Sharing the fun is caring.

What NOT To Do When You Find Yourself Stuck In Snow

When you’re first aware that you’re stuck, there area  few things you should never do:

  1. Do not floor the gas pedal. This will just dig into the snow deeper and make it harder to get out.
  2. Don’t ignore your vehicle’s pathway out of the snow. Getting your car unstuck is just part of the challenge here. You’ll want to be sure that its pathway back to sturdier ground is cleared of deep snow or you’ll just end up stuck again or careening toward a tree—the tree did nothing to you, Chad.
  3. Don’t panic. Losing your cool won’t help you get unstuck any faster, and it’ll make communicating with anyone coming to help you all the more difficult.
  4. Don’t try to go it alone. You may not have the luxury of people to help, but if they’re around it’s best to recruit some help. It’ll save time, and more importantly, it’ll save your back.
  5. Don’t go driving off like a wild person once you’re unstuck. You don’t know what else is beyond the snow pile you recently exited.

Explanation of Types of Tires and Chains

To better protect you from winter madness and getting stuck in all manner of snow and snow bank, you’ll want the appropriate tires for the occasion. Here are your options and their specific uses. Pay attention!

All-Season Tires

Though they’re called “all-season,” these tires are only actually suitable for all seasons if you live in a place with moderately temperate weather year-round. These tires use rubber compounds that harden when temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

All-Weather Tires

All-weather tires are made with special rubber compounds that allow them to grip in colder weather and on snowy pavement.

Winter Tires

Winter tires have tread patterns that help them bite and grip into snow, and they use rubber compounds that allow them to stay flexible when the weather turns. You should be switching your regular summer/all-season tires to winter tires whenever the weather goes cold. It’s that simple. 

Summer Tires

If you’re riding on summer rubber in the winter, give us a call. We want to know what life is like on the edge. Summer tires are made with sticky rubber compounds to provide ultimate warm-weather grip. They also feature tread patterns that won’t do you any good in snow.

Tire Chains

The term “tire chains” can refer to a wide variety of products to help improve traction, some of which aren’t even remotely close to being a chain. Some of the older varieties require the vehicle to be driven onto them before they can be secured in place, but newer versions are able to be installed without moving the vehicle, in some cases. It’s important to note that they’re not all that great for the life and durability of your tires, so they should only be used when there’s little to zero traction without them.

Learn How To Get Unstuck With Skip Barber Racing School

Learning the behavior of snow, ice, and sleet can be done on your own, but you’re not exactly doing so in a vacuum. A missed braking point or target fixating on that tree over there could mean a bent bumper or some serious medical bills. Why take the chance when you can learn safely how to drive in snow from the professionals at Skip Barber’s Winter Driving Clinic?

The Drive has partnered with Skip Barber, the legendary racing school, to ensure that when the snow starts falling, you aren’t stuck in a ditch.

Clear a path before you try to take off again.
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Clear a path before you try to take off again.

FAQs About Cars Stuck in Snow

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q. Will All-Wheel Drive Or Four-Wheel Drive Help Me Get Out Faster?

A. Having more than two driven wheels is a great way to get unstuck faster, but it’s not going to make your vehicle any taller or make your tires grip any better. All-wheel drive cars and small crossovers will still face the daunting challenge of having enough ground clearance to get over the snow and get moving, while drivers of large trucks and SUVs may find themselves hopelessly stuck in the snow with balding tires. 

Q. Ok, So How Much Will It Cost To Have A Professional Help Tow My Car Out?

A. This will depend on just how stuck you are, what kind of vehicle you have, and how far out in the stick you end up stuck. On average, you’ll pay between $50-$300 to get towed out of a ditch, but if you’ve driven way off the road the charges might be higher for a specialized rig to pull you out.

Q. If They Can’t Show Up, Should I Leave My Vehicle to Get Help?

A. If you’re down the street from a service station, sure, leave your vehicle to go get help. If you are anywhere without a line of sight to any part of civilization, it’s best to stay in your vehicle if it is safe to do so. 

Q. Then What Should I Carry In My Car To Help With Winter Driving Safety?

A. At a minimum, you should always have the following:

  1. Tire chains
  2. First-aid kit
  3. Emergency blanket
  4. Battery-powered phone charger
  5. A few non-perishable snacks
  6. Ice scraper
  7. Shovel

Bonus points for having:

  1. Emergency flares
  2. Salt, sand, or kitty litter
If you can help it, it's best to clean up before you try to depart.
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If you can help it, it's best to clean up before you try to depart.

Let’s Talk, Comment Below To Talk With The Drive’s Editors! 

We’re here to be expert guides in everything How-To related. Use us, compliment us, yell at us. Comment below and let’s talk! You can also shout at us on Twitter or Instagram, here are our profiles.

Jonathon Klein: Twitter (@jonathon.klein), Instagram (@jonathon_klein)

Tony Markovich: Twitter (@T_Marko), Instagram (@t_marko)

Chris Teague: Twitter (@TeagueDrives), Instagram (@TeagueDrives)