My car is stuck in the snow - tips to get unstuck

11 minute read Published on Dec 4, 2023 by BrokerLink Communications

Aerial view of red car driving in the snow

There’s nothing worse than getting stuck in the snow while driving. Thankfully, BrokerLink is here to help you avoid this worst-case scenario and get you out of it if you find yourself stuck.

From providing important information about when to change winter tires to offering a range of winter car maintenance tips that can help you stay safe when driving in the snow, keep reading to learn more about what to do if your car is stuck in the snow.

How to get your car unstuck from the snow

Remove the snow from around your tires

Make sure your winter emergency kit includes a snow shovel. Keeping one in your trunk at all times will prove valuable in emergency situations. Here are some ways a shovel can help:

  • Use it to dig any snow out from around your tires. By doing this, you’ll create space for your tires to move back and forth.
  • When you’ve removed snow from around your tires, you’ll have the opportunity to check the underside of your vehicle for snow that may be holding it up.
  • Be sure to also remove any snow under the front and middle of your vehicle that is higher than its ground clearance.

Another thing to consider is swapping your tires out by season. There are many types of tires out there, but we encourage you to put your winter ones on as soon as the weather drops below 7 ºC.

Whether you have all-season or all-weather tires, winter ones are specially made to improve your chances of arriving safely to your destination. Winter tires also have a softer compound, so even if there’s no snow on the ground, you will still have better traction when braking or turning on frigid roads. Plus, you can enjoy additional savings if your car is equipped with four winter tires, so call your broker to see if you qualify. And check your tire pressure frequently (don’t forget about the spare!).

Rock your car free of the snow

What does that mean? Simply switch your gear shifter from drive to reverse, and repeat. This can help dislodge some of the snow around your wheels. The back-and-forth motion will improve your chances for getting your vehicle to roll over the snow wall holding it in place.

If rocking doesn’t work, the next best option is to add traction. Traction control prevents wheelspin, which is the rotation of a vehicle’s wheels without traction. This can sometimes help you get your car out of snow. Adding traction can be done in a number of ways:

  • Under your tire, put sand, salt or cat litter to give it something to bite into.
  • Throw several handfuls under your tires for improved traction, then try the gas again.
  • If you frequent remote areas, chains on your tires can prove helpful. Check your local laws and guidelines first though as some areas may prohibit the use of them.
  • Turn off traction control. You have to turn it off to let your car’s wheels spin when needed, so it won’t trigger the traction control system.

Stay warm inside your car

In winter, the treacherous road conditions make being trapped inside a car a common occurrence. The biggest priority in this situation is staying warm and protected from the freezing temperatures outside your vehicle.

While it may be cold and claustrophobic, staying inside your car is safer than being outside where you are exposed. Here are several steps you can take to ensure you stay warm:

  • Put on additional layers of clothing (include these in your emergency kit along with a blanket).
  • Run your engine intermittently and turn on the heater each time.
  • Use a windshield cover.
  • Bring a warm beverage with you during your commute.
  • Make sure to leave a window slightly open for ventilation.
  • Most importantly, try your best to stay calm and not panic. Consider bringing some forms of entertainment such as books or magazines on commutes with you.

To avoid asphyxiation from carbon monoxide poisoning, don’t run your car for long periods of time with the windows up or in an enclosed space. If you must run your vehicle, clear the exhaust pipe of any snow and run it only sporadically just long enough to stay warm.

Pro tip: before heading out, make sure your vehicle is properly maintained and winter-ready. Check out another article we wrote for some winter car tips.

Here are some items you may want to include in your winter emergency kit:

  • Blanket
  • Traction mats
  • Flashlight
  • Water
  • Kitty litter
  • Knife
  • Non-perishable food
  • First-aid kit
  • Booster cables
  • Windshield washer fluid
  • De-icer spray
  • Matches
  • Shovel
  • Phone charger
  • Survival candle

Ask for help

If there are other people in your car, or friendly onlookers who can help, simply pushing your car out of the snow can be an easy solution. If not, it’s important to reach out to someone as soon as possible.

Notify your friends, family or authorities about your situation. Make sure you provide your location. While asking for help, stay inside your car. Your vehicle will provide a temporary shelter and make it easier for rescuers to locate you. You can also:

  • Alert others to your presence by turning on your hazard lights, activating road flares or placing a brightly coloured cloth on the vehicle’s antenna or door handle.
  • Turn on a flashlight or keep the interior dome light turned on periodically.
  • Follow the tips mentioned above to stay warm inside your car while waiting for rescue.
  • If your situation gets worse, immediately call an emergency hotline.

Add as much traction as possible

Traction is critical when you find yourself stuck in the snow. Thus, it’s important to increase traction in any way you can. One of the most common ways of doing so is using items that may be in your car, like a cardboard box, kitty litter, salt, or even sand. If you have sand or kitty litter, sprinkle some around the front or back of each tire, depending on whether you need to drive forward or reverse to get out. If you’re using cardboard, lay them down in front or behind the tires. You can even use the floor mats in your car in a pinch.

Please be prepared for whatever you place beneath your tires to potentially be ruined or shoot out when you press on the gas pedal. It’s also important to note that increasing traction is most effective when the areas around your tires are clear, so clear out any snow or ice with a shovel before continuing.

Let some air out of your tires

Another tip for getting your car unstuck is to let some air out of your tires. This isn’t an exact science but you should aim to let out enough air that the tire pressure looks visible lower. While under-inflating your tires is not generally recommended, doing so when your car is stuck in snow will result in more rubber being in contact with the ground, which can increase traction.

That said, driving with underinflated tires isn’t safe, so you should only do this if there is a place nearby where you can reinflate your tires shortly after breaking free from the snow. Driving with underinflated tires not only reduces the lifespan of your tires but can reduce steering and handling capabilities, which increases the odds of a collision. Although your car insurance policy will likely cover you in the event of a collision, an accident is the last thing you want to deal with after having your car stuck in snow.

Do not use antifreeze

Although this isn’t a tip for getting your car unstuck per se, it is still helpful information to have when dealing with a vehicle stuck in the snow. Some drivers might be inclined to reach for antifreeze if their vehicle is stuck. However, this is a major no-no. Antifreeze is extremely toxic, and if poured onto the ground, you run the risk of it entering waterways and getting into the systems of pets, wild animals, and even humans. There’s a reason that pouring antifreeze is illegal in some areas.

Avoid using certain vehicle features

Though it might sound counterintuitive, there are certain vehicle features that will do more harm than good if you try to use them to get your car unstuck from the snow. One such feature is traction control. Using this feature will likely cause your wheels to spin, which will not only be ineffective but might even result in your car cutting off power to all four wheels, which would instantly make a bad situation worse.

Call for roadside assistance

Calling for roadside assistance is another step you can take if your car is stuck in the snow. For most people, this is a last resort, as roadside assistance can be expensive, and depending on your car insurance policy, it may not be covered by your insurer. That said, whether you have coverage or not, roadside assistance can be a huge help, especially if you get stuck somewhere remote or in inclement weather, such as a blizzard. It is important to note that leaving your car on the side of the road is not a smart idea in cold weather. If you know that you’re far from the nearest town, do not try to walk there for help. This can quickly lead to frostbite and even hypothermia, which can be fatal. Instead, stay warm inside your car and call for a tow.

Do not floor it

Whatever you do, don’t put too much pressure on the gas pedal. The goal is to achieve a rocking motion. It is the momentum that comes from this rocking motion that will eventually break you free, not the power of your engine. So never floor it when attempting to get out of snow or ice.

Manually push the car

If there are people in the vicinity, consider asking them if they would be willing to help you push your vehicle. Sometimes all it takes is muscle (ok - a lot of muscle) to get your car unstuck from the snow. When enlisting the help of others, make sure that everyone pushes at the same time and that everyone is out of harm’s way should the car successfully move forward or backward when you apply light pressure to the gas.

What to do when your car breaks free

If your car successfully breaks free from the snow, don’t celebrate just yet. By this, we mean, don’t break immediately after you feel your wheels release. Instead, continue driving a short distance until you reach somewhere with less snow. Only then is it recommended to come to a complete stop. Once you are safe to continue driving, turn on your car’s traction control system, if applicable.

Now is also the time to re-engage your car’s four-wheel drive if it’s equipped with this feature. It’s also a good idea to turn on the air in your car, as if there is snow built up onto the front of the grill, it can lead to engine overheating.

You should also use your snow broom or ice scraper to remove any snow or ice that may be blocking your visibility or may have built up around the tires. Further, if you let any air out of your tires in an effort to unstick your car, drive to the nearest service station to refill your tires.

Lastly, if your car is not already equipped with winter tires, you should consider purchasing a set and having them installed to reduce the odds of a repeat incident.

Tips to avoid getting stuck in the snow in the first place

Below is a list of tips that can help you avoid getting your vehicle stuck in the snow in the first place:

Take preventive action when parking in fresh snow

First, take preventative action anytime you are parking in the snow. What we mean by this is driving a little forward and a little backward from where you intend to stop and park. This creates a set of wheel tracks that you can follow when you eventually leave your parking spot.

Ease up on the gas pedal when driving in snow

Second, when driving in snow or ice, especially when backing into or out of a parking spot, ease up on the gas pedal. If you notice that your tires start to spin when you accelerate, the worst thing you can do is press harder on the gas. Instead, as soon as you can tell they are spinning, apply the brakes. Otherwise, you risk digging yourself even deeper, making it that much more difficult to get unstuck. The best thing you can do in this situation is attempt to rock your car back and forth by lightly applying pressure to the gas pedal followed by the brake pedal, shifting into reverse, repeating this motion, and then starting all over again.

Invest in winter tires

One of the best ways to avoid getting stuck in the snow in the first place is to install winter tires on your car. Swapping your summer or all-season tires for snow tires during the winter months can significantly reduce the odds that your car gets stuck in the snow. This is due to the fact that snow tires have several unique features that allow them to remain flexible in cold temperatures and better grip the snow or ice. As such, you will have an easier time driving on slick surfaces and are far less likely to end up stuck. Learn more about winter tires below.

The importance of winter tires

As mentioned above, installing winter tires is one of the best steps you can take to avoid getting stuck in the snow. In fact, it is one of our top tips for driving on icy roads. Why are winter tires so important? Snow tires offer protection for winter drives that you simply won’t find anywhere else. This is due to the many unique design features that these tires have. For instance, they use a type of tread rubber that doesn’t become rigid in cold temperatures. Instead, the rubber is able to remain soft and flexible, which leads to better traction on cold, icy surfaces. Further, winter tires have a deep and open tread pattern that allows them to better move through snow and slush. Finally, snow tires come equipped with biting edges that increase the tire’s contact with the snow, which again, allows them to grip the road better. All of this makes driving in the winter far safer.

Contact BrokerLink for more advice on what to do if your car is stuck in the snow

Getting stuck in the snow is a worst-case scenario for many drivers. Thankfully, there are many ways that you can prevent this reality from happening, as well as get yourself unstuck if such an incident should occur. If you want to learn more about how to get your car unstuck from the snow, as well as other safe driving tips, contact BrokerLink. We are a full-service insurance brokerage that can answer a range of automotive questions, including those relating to car insurance: How does accident benefits coverage protect me?. Reach out today to request a free car insurance quote and get started.