How to Get Your Car Unstuck From the Snow

If you’re stuck in the middle of a big pile of snow or on a stretch of ice, you could depend upon the kindness of strangers to free you. Or you can take charge yourself. Here’s how.

Carry some weight

Packing a couple of sandbags in the trunk of your car can do more than help provide traction when you’re stuck. If you have a rear-wheel drive vehicle, they can help you avoid getting stuck in the first place. That’s because they add weight to the back, which enhances tire grip.

Gain traction

Add a shovel to the sandbags, and you’ll be able to pile sand under your tires to increase grip if you find your tires slipping on snow or ice. Of course, you should shovel as much snow or ice as possible from the path of your tires before you throw down the sand. Salt, dirt or even kitty litter will also do the trick.

Rock your ride

Once your tire paths are cleared and the sand is on the ground, your driving skill must take over as you rock your way free of the snow. “You go into drive, then reverse, then repeat,” says Mark Osborne, who oversees Michigan Technological University’s Winter Driving School. “But you have to be careful not to wreck your transmission. I put my foot on the brake at the peak of each ‘rock,’ so the car is motionless when I change gears. It’s also helpful to shift to neutral for a second before making the transition.”

Don’t floor it

You’ll always be tempted to floor it if you’re stuck. But don’t. Go easy on the pedal to give the vehicle just a little gas for a moment, then let off. Repeat to enhance the needed “rocking” motion. It’s momentum that sets you free, not power.

Keep a cool head

Hitting a stretch of slick, icy stuff will often trigger panic. But you need to stay calm. Don’t do anything abrupt, like slamming the brakes. “If you do that, you’ll transfer your vehicle’s weight to your front wheels,” Osborne says. “That lightens up the rear, making it likely that your rear end will spin.” Instead, Osborne says, gradually let off the gas and hold the steering steady until you’ve cleared the ice.

Don’t Get Stuck The Nationwide Roadside Assistance program helps ensure you’ll have help when you need it. Ask your agent how to add coverage to your policy.