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Is Your Car Stuck in Snow? Here’s What to Do

Winter tires and AWD give you the best performance in the snow, but if you’re buried in a parking spot, they count for nil.

Eric Yang

So you’re stuck. No problem.

If you don’t have a shovel, it’ll take time, patience and a little ingenuity to get you back on the road. All-wheel-drive will get the job done faster, but escaping isn’t impossible without it. Here are a few tips and tricks that’ll get you and your car out of a snowbank and, hopefully, to work on time.

Not to rub it in, by the way, but when temperatures dip and white stuff starts to fall, the importance of winter tires can’t be stressed enough. In the colder months softer rubber and specialized tread patterns give you better grip from a standstill, and more control and performance once you get going. Still, winter rubber alone may not be enough to get you out of that parking space the plow truck so kindly buried you in.

How to Get Your Car Unstuck In the Snow

1Clear your pipes. Before you even start the engine, check the tailpipe to make sure it’s clear and not blocked by snow. The last thing you want is for deadly exhaust gasses to leak into your car. Once the tailpipe is clear, start your car to warm it up.

2Clear the snow. Using a small hand shovel (every car has room for one of these: AAA 4004 Aluminum Sport Utility Shovel, $20), clear all the extra snow from the windows and top of your car. Then set to work digging out the area around your tires. If there is any ice surrounding your tires, use a tire iron (most cars have one stored with the spare), a screwdriver or any other heavy, sharp object you can find to break it up. Not only will it free your tires, but the rougher, shattered chunks of ice can provide a little traction as well.

3Get a grip. When snow is in the forecast, grit, rock salt, sand, kitty litter or MaxTrax are smart purchases to keep in your trunk. If you don’t have MaxTrax, rock salt is the best alternative; it’s more widely available, plus it helps melt additional snow, keeps ice from forming when the tires spin and adds a little gritty traction as well. When the area around the tires is clear, lay down a generous amount of grit or salt in front of and behind the driven wheels, giving traction to the wheels that need it most.

4Get a rockin’. After clearing the snow and laying down traction, get in your car and make sure the front wheels are facing straight ahead. Going very easy on the gas, making sure not to break traction (the more you tires spin, the deeper you can dig yourself down), roll the car as far forward as you can. This may only be a few inches, but when the car feels like it’s gone as far as it can, apply the brake, put it in reverse and use the momentum to roll back the other way. When you come to a stop, apply the brake and roll forward again. Repeating this rocking motion builds up momentum and speed using minimal power from the engine that might cause the tires to slip. Patience is your friend.

5Let some air out. If you still can’t get traction at this point — and it should be said, this is something of a last resort — let some air out of your tires. Slightly deflated tires give you a larger contact patch, allowing the now softer tire to grip the ground more readily. It’s important to remember to properly inflate your tires once you’re free. Driving with under-inflated tires is extremely dangerous, especially in adverse conditions.

6Watch your speed. When you feel your car making progress, take note of your engine speed. You may actually be traveling less than one mile per hour — but if your tires are spinning at, say, 15 mph, then the car will accelerate faster than you realize as soon as the tires gain traction.

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