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Steps to Take if You're Trapped in a Vehicle in the Snow

Published on Dec 16, 2020 | Last updated Apr 19, 2021 7 minute read

Steps to Take if You're Trapped in a Vehicle in the Snow

As Canadians, we know winter driving can be scary. Winter often means longer commutes, increased accidents, and more places to get stuck (especially on rural routes). When it comes to hazardous driving conditions, it takes extra awareness and concentration to ensure we’re prepared for what lays ahead.

Have you ever considered what to do it if you get trapped in your car? Whether you’re stuck in a pile of snow or on an icy patch of road, these situations are more common than you think. We hope it never happens, but to be safe, here are some tips to get your car unstuck.

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.

Let BrokerLink be your resource for all things car insurance. From start to finish, our brokers handle the legwork to make sure you walk away satisfied. Give our brokers a call today and we’ll find the coverage that works best for you.

FAQs on steps to take if you're trapped in a vehicle in snow

Is it safe to sleep while being trapped in a vehicle in the snow?

You should be fine if you choose to sleep for several hours while waiting for rescuers. Unless there is a building nearby, it’s recommended you stay put in your car. This way you’ll be protected from the elements. Review our tips above on staying warm in your car.

To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning or suffocation due to recycled air, turn your vehicle off. While waiting for help, be sure to draw attention to your vehicle using some of the tips we recommended above. Coloured fabric placed on your antenna or honking will help rescuers pinpoint where you are. Of course, make that phone call to the proper authorities as soon as possible. The sooner you call, the faster help will arrive.

Will I run out of oxygen if I stay long in my car during winter?

Vehicles aren’t typically hermetically sealed, so there will still be some airflow if the car is not running and all windows are closed. There are a variety of studies that have been done showing that oxygen is replaced via vents, so if you choose to close your eyes while waiting for rescuers you can do so. Read our suggestions above, which go over leaving a window cracked open and turning your vehicle on and off to stay warm.

Does my car insurance cover damage if I break out of the car in an emergency?

Insurance policies are customized to fit your unique requirements and circumstances. Our brokers work with you to learn about your needs. What’s covered and what’s not depends on your exact policy. If you do make frequent commutes or have questions before a road trip, be sure to give us call so we can go over your policy with you. Knowing you’re protected before you head out will give you peace of mind should you encounter any surprises.