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How to Get Car Out of Snow & Unstuck (12 Steps)

Driving in a winter wonderland may seem dreamy, but it is not without perils and challenges. People living in these parts of the globe can attest to getting their car stuck in snow at least once or twice (even if they are highly cautious). One can never be too prepared for heavy snowfall – which is why it pays to know how to get unhitched from an unwelcome pile of pillowy ice.

There are several ways to get a car unstuck from snow, such as deflating your tires, shoveling out ice, using an aggregate, and jacking up your vehicle. Depending on how deep into the snow you are, you may need to undertake more steps or call roadside assistance.

Fortunately, the situation does not always require a tow truck. When it comes to dislodging your car from the unwelcome clutches of a snowbank, here are 12 ways how to get it done:

  1. Map things out
  2. Put your vehicle in the appropriate gear
  3. Turn off Brake Assist or Traction Control (TCS) features
  4. Use a shovel
  5. Melt snow with crystallized salt
  6. Turn the wheels left and right
  7. Do the Rocking Method
  8. Increase traction with granular objects
  9. Deflate your tires
  10. Jack up your vehicle
  11. Use a recovery winch or snatch strap
  12. Ask for help

You and your vehicle may get into this sticky situation if you live in cold-weather areas, especially in locations with significant snow accumulation during winter. That said, knowledge of getting unstuck from snow is a necessary skill.

More of foresight than a tip, you will have better chances of getting your car unstuck from snow if you have winter-weather essentials in your trunk. These basic tools include the following:

  • Thick work gloves
  • Spade, like an Ortovox Pro Alu III Avalanche Shovel (view on Amazon)
  • Ice scraper
  • Screwdriver
  • Table salt
  • Kitty litter
  • Sand
  • Rubber car mats (not the ones you already have in your vehicle)
  • Molded recovery tracks
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Snow chains

If it is your first time living in a country with all four seasons, don’t worry – these items will soon make sense as you continue reading.

Car Tires Stuck in Snow

How to Get Car Unstuck from Snow

Here are 12 ways to get your vehicle out and unstuck from a pile of snow:

1. Map Things Out

Yes – even when in a panic, planning is still crucial. Assessing the situation and the depth of snow you are stuck in proves more effective than just flooring your accelerator pedal. Of course, you will first need to illuminate your hazard lights to ensure no one accidentally bumps into you from the rear end. Then, get out of your vehicle and visually inspect your tailpipe, the number of wheels stuck, and the amount of snow.

Note: Clearing your exhaust of snow or ice is a must if you do not want to suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning once your vehicle is back on the road.

2. Put Your Vehicle in the Appropriate Gear

If you have an automatic transmission, it is advisable to take your car out of drive mode and shift it to its lowest gear. This setting ensures your knobbies spin more slowly and that they are less prone to digging deeper ruts.

The reverse is true with manual transmission – you will need to set it to a higher gear while using the clutch to control wheelspin. Either way gives you the best possible control over your vehicle.

3. Turn off Brake Assist or Traction Control (TCS) Features

Depending on your vehicle, its package may include 4WD, locking differentials (view on Amazon), or an optional snow mode. And in cases where your car gets stuck in snow, these features combine to give your wheeler the best chances of escaping unscathed.

You may think that TCS should be part of these features, but it is not. It cuts power to the wheels when wheel spin becomes apparent – an inevitable occurrence when trying to gain traction in slippery situations.

4. Use a Shovel

In countries with harsh winters and heavy snowfall, a shovel (preferably a D-handle type) or anything that can scoop up ice is automatically part of every driver’s “winter emergency kit.” After all, it is the best tool for getting rid of snow surrounding affected tires and getting around your car stuck in driveway snow.

Dig around the tires (and under the chassis) until the pavement is exposed. Depending on how thick the snow is, you may need to use a screwdriver with the shovel to break up hardened snow. Take care not to puncture your tires while working through the accumulated ice.

5. Melt Snow With Crystallized Salt

Another way to reduce the snow or ice surrounding your tires is by using crystallized or rock salt. A regular or off-brand rock salt or table salt from Costco or Walmart will do. You will need to exercise patience when using salt, as it can take several minutes to melt snow or ice, depending on its thickness.

You may also use a small amount of antifreeze or windshield washer fluid in place of rock salt. But bear in mind that excessive washer fluid or antifreeze creates slush, causing your wheels to become more slippery. Hence, it is advisable to use these two substances sparingly.

Pouring hot water over the affected tire would not be a suitable substitute for these fluids, as the hot water will only refreeze (if not puncture the tire if the water is boiling).

6. Turn the Wheels Left and Right

Once you have made a clearing on the pavement and rid the wheels of as much snow or ice as you can, try steering them left and right. Sometimes, this method helps the wheels find that grippy spot on the tarmac.

The repetitive left-and-right motion grinds the last bits of hardened snow underneath the wheels, eventually exposing gritty ground. However, you should only do this for up to 45 seconds and move on to other steps if it yields no results. Turning the wheels for longer than the prescribed time may potentially damage your tires instead of helping resolve the situation.

Note: Remember not to leave the drive tires at an angle, as it will cause more stress on your tires – not to mention more effort in pulling yourself out of the snow later on.

Vehicle Stuck in Snow

7. Do the Rocking Method

This method entails driving your car a few inches forward and a few inches in reverse – somewhat like a back-and-forth rocking motion. When done correctly, this series of “quick directional changes” (followed by a slow, gradual acceleration) can get your vehicle out of its icy rut.

However, this maneuver is not for the inexperienced nor the faint of heart and can be harsh on your car’s drivetrain and transmission. This method has a 5-minute dead stop, as overdoing this trick can lead to costly tranny repairs.

8. Increase Traction With Granular Objects

At times, the preceding steps may not be enough to get your car out of its stuck situation. You may need to create traction for your vehicle. Things like sand, topsoil, and kitty litter (as long as it is not clay-based), can provide your tire treads a much-needed dry surface to bite and help propel your car forward.

If these items are not part of your emergency kit, place the rubber backing of floor mats or carpet squares under the affected wheels to assist with rolling. Small rocks, twigs, gravel, and cardboard can also help tires grip the ground.

Note: Any item you use as an aggregate (especially mats or carpets) will be obliterated by your vehicle in the process. Hence, it would be advisable to have spare items. If none, then make sure to first use the items with lesser value and that you are okay destroying. Save those special floor mats and tire covers for last.

9. Deflate Your Tires

If your tires are not yet frozen solid, you can let some air out to increase their contact patch or surface area and gain more traction. Different tire brands will have respective tire pressure recommendations. But the general rule is to not go beyond 15 psi when deflating knobbies.

To side with caution, initially release up to 7.0 psi and see if that does the trick. If it does not, release 8.0 psi more. Using a tire pressure gauge like Milton Precision Digital Tire Pressure Gauge S-580ekit (view on Amazon), regularly check the tire pressure as you deflate so as not to go beyond the limit.

10. Jack Up Your Vehicle

If the snow is deep and has large pieces of rocks, logs, or planks close by, then try jacking up your car to free it up. Your service manual should tell you where your car’s jack points are.

If you do not have your manual with you, hook up your Hi-Lift Jack (view on Amazon) to a solid metal part of the car capable of supporting the tool. Ensure that the ground underneath your vehicle is firm and even where you will position the jack. Otherwise, do not bother doing this step, as the jack would have a propensity to slip and cause injuries on a rutted surface.

11. Use a Recovery Winch or Snatch Strap

Though not commonly reported by car owners, you may need a recovery winch or strap – especially if you drive during harsh weather conditions. These tools are excellent insurance against any sticky situation and should be part of your car staples, rain or shine. A Warn 103253 VR EVO 10-S Electric 12V DC Winch with Synthetic Rope (view on Amazon) is a perfect example of this must-have.

Hopefully, there is a tree or a sturdy structure or object you can attach the winch come time to use one. Better if you are traveling with a second vehicle, as you can connect the winch rope or the ends of the snatch strap to designated tow points of each car and have your friend pull you back onto the snow-free ground.

Pulling a Jeep Out of the Snow With a Winch

12. Ask For Help

Either you have done all the recommendations in this guide to no avail, or you are in a bad spot and do not have all the tools you need to get your vehicle unstuck. At this point, nothing much is left for you to do except dial the number of a towing company or call a friend.

I know – the experience can be embarrassing. Nonetheless, never hesitate to call out for help – especially if you have already exhausted all other means to resolve your predicament.

Conclusion – How to Get Car Out of Snow

In summary, here are 12 ways how to get your car out of snow:

  1. Map things out
  2. Put your vehicle in the appropriate gear
  3. Turn off Brake Assist or Traction Control (TCS) features
  4. Use a shovel
  5. Melt snow with crystallized salt
  6. Turn the wheels left and right
  7. Do the Rocking Method
  8. Increase traction with granular objects
  9. Deflate your tires
  10. Jack up your vehicle
  11. Use a recovery winch or snatch strap
  12. Ask for help

If the snow is not deep, you should be able to successfully get your car unstuck without needing a tow truck or a friend to come over. In this case, do not forget to re-engage your Traction Control System and air your tires back to spec.

Also, keep an eye out for slight vibrations in the steering wheel, as the symptom pertains to a considerable amount of snow packed in your wheels. As soon as you experience this, pull over and remove the snow sticking to your tires.