What To Do If Your Car Gets Stuck This Winter, According To An Expert

On the art of digging motor vehicles out of snowbanks.

January 21, 2016 9:00 am
What To Do If Your Car Gets Stuck This Winter, According To An Expert
Jewel Samad/Getty

When you grow up in the Rocky Mountains — like this correspondent did — you learn a few things.

Like which way is west (toward the mountains). Or how to start a fire (with a can of camp fuel). Or what type of shorts look best with Tevas (all).

And come winter, you better know best practices for digging your car out of a snowbank. These are they.

1. Always Be Prepared

First off, you’re not getting anywhere without the right tools for the job. Starting with a shovel. They make collapsible, compact shovels specifically for digging cars out, but yours truly always preferred the more durable avalanche shovels that backcountry skiers favor. You’re also going to need some help getting purchase if you’re in deep — a bag of sand or cat litter will hunt; cardboard and floor mats work in a pinch.

2. Dig In

Dig smarter, not harder. First off, is your car rear- or front-wheel drive? That’s where you want to start. Make a “runway” for each tire by leveling the ground 2-3 feet both behind and in front of it. Lay some sand/cat litter down in each track to help with traction.

3. The Escape

First rule of getting-unstuck club is don’t spin your tires. Meaning: stay out of high gears and take it easy on the pedal. In your lowest gear (or 4WD, if you have it), rock the car back and forth a few times — forward, reverse; forward, reverse. This will further smooth out the tracks you made in Step 2. Now use the full breadth of the runway to get momentum and careen out.

Pro tips: 

Still stuck? Have a couple buddies sit on your trunk (RWD) or hood (FWD) directly over the wheelbase to give the tires more purchase. And if you’ve got a manual (those still exist?) you can usually “pop the clutch” a few times for a surefire escape.

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