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Jan 20, 2017

5 min. read

It’s a rite of winter: at some point in the next couple of months, your car may get stuck in the snow. When that happens, don’t just jam on the gas and hope for the best. Instead, follow these tips, compiled with the help of Ryan Peterson from CAA’s Consumer and Technical Services team.

1. Get in the Know

The first step to freeing your car from the snow is understanding why it’s stuck in the first place. Usually, vehicles become trapped because they have no traction. Snow and ice prevent your tires from making contact with the pavement, leaving your wheels to spin aimlessly. Regaining traction is your key to freedom.

2. Don’t Spin Your Wheels

Once your wheels start spinning, it’s official: you’re stuck. Flooring it will just “do more harm than good,” says Peterson. It’s time to get out of the car safely and assess your situation.

3. Clear Your Exhaust

This is important. If your tailpipe is blocked by snow and ice, your car’s exhaust has nowhere to go. That could cause it to filter back into the cabin—the last place you want a potentially fatal cloud of carbon monoxide.

4. Clear the Snow from Around Your Tires

Snow is the enemy of traction. Grab a shovel and give the white stuff under your wheels the old heave-ho. If there’s ice, do your best to break it up. If you reach pavement, chances are your tires will have the traction you need to get free. (If there’s a lot of snow under your chassis, you’ll need to remove it too.) Most times, “if you shovel you’ll be able to get out,” says Peterson.

5. Start in Second

If your car is a manual, put it into second gear before attempting your escape. This will slow the wheels, giving them more of a chance to bite into the snow- or ice-covered ground.

6. Use Kitty Litter or Floor Mats to Gain Traction

Sometimes, it won’t be possible to clear away all the snow and ice under your tires. That means you’ll have to find another way to get traction. Try laying down some kitty litter or putting a floor mat under your wheels, which could give you just enough grip.

7. Melt Ice with Salt

Use rock salt to melt the ice under your tires. Table salt will also work in a pinch. If you don’t have either, try windshield washer fluid or antifreeze. But beware of the latter. Pets like to drink antifreeze, which is toxic, so use it in a place where it won’t pool.

8. Let Some Air out of Your Tires

Lowering the pressure in your tires will cause them to sag, putting more rubber in contact with the ground. That should give you a little more grip. But be careful, especially if you don’t have a tire pump handy. The last thing you want when you’re stuck in the snow is a flat.

9. Rock Your Car—Carefully

This is the classic method for getting out of a rut, but it’s a tricky maneuver. By shifting quickly between forward and reverse, you can rock your car back and forth, sometimes giving you enough momentum to get out. But those quick gear changes, especially when combined with a lot of gas, can be hard on your car’s transmission. “You could easily burn it out,” says Peterson. If you’re really stuck, he recommends just calling CAA Roadside Assistance.

10. Turn Your Wheels

If you have a front-wheel-drive car, turn your steering wheel left to right repeatedly. This will change where your tires are touching the ground, and hopefully they’ll hit a spot with a little more traction.

If you do get stuck in the snow, you could be there for a while. That’s why it’s vital to be prepared. Check out CAA’s list of must-have winter safety gear for your car.


Illustration credit: Breanna Rawn

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