Getting Out of Mud, Sand & Snow: Equipment, Techniques, Rules & TacticsUpdated Dec. 14, 2020
Whether you are a keen off-road driver or just somebody that drives in extreme weather environments, there may one day come a time when your vehicle is stuck, and you need to know how to free it. Vehicles that have not been properly prepared for winter driving conditions can easily become stuck in snow or ice. In other situations, deep mud or even sand can be enough to ground your vehicle. All it takes is loss of traction.
The information on this page will help you make smart decisions to prevent your vehicle from getting stuck in the first place. When deep mud or snow catches you off guard it may already be too late to avoid a stuck vehicle. Fortunately, all the guidance you need to free your vehicle can be found right here too.
Tips & techniques
You may be able to maneuver your way out of trouble when your car gets stuck in mud or snow, without any specialist equipment. Do not make any hasty decisions. Consider your situation carefully and then follow the guidance below:
First, shift your vehicle into a low gear and make sure the front wheels are straight.
Gently press down on the accelerator. Accelerating too quickly will likely make your wheels spin. Move as far forward as you can.
Shift into reverse and repeat this step, driving as far backward as possible.
Repeat this forward and back “rocking” motion until your vehicle rolls free.
If necessary, put boards, tree branches or other traction-building material under the tires. This will probably be necessary for very deep mud or snow.
Taking steps to equip your vehicle for wintery weather conditions is the best thing you can do to avoid getting stuck in snow or ice. If you live in a state that experiences harsh winters and heavy snowfall, winterizing your car is imperative for your safety and the safety of other road users. Consider the guidance below and drive with extreme caution in snowy and icy conditions.
Choosing the right tires
Making sure you have tires that are appropriate for your driving environment and in tip-top condition is the smartest way to prevent yourself from getting stuck.
Many drivers opt for “all-season” mud and snow tires on their vehicles, which offer a deep tread with wider gaps than standard winter tires. While all-season tires provide better traction in adverse conditions than standard road tires, they do not perform as well in extremely low temperatures as winter tires. If you live in a snowy state, winter tires are your best option in colder months.
Your tires must be inflated to the pressure recommended in your car owner’s manual, to give you the maximum amount of traction in slippery conditions.
Checking your car battery
The colder it is, the more battery power is needed to start your car. At 32 degrees, your car battery is 35 percent weaker at full capacity. If you are at risk of getting stuck in the snow or ice at freezing temperatures, your battery will need to be in excellent shape to get the vehicle going again. Find a qualified technician to load-test your battery in preparation for the winter months.
Stocking with emergency supplies
If you do get stuck in ice or snow, you will need warm clothes, emergency provisions and the right tools for getting out. Most importantly among these tools is a snow shovel for digging your tires out, and snow chains to increase traction on ice and deeply-packed snow. You may also need a flashlight, spare batteries, food, water and a first-aid kit.
Using a snow shovel
Freeing your car from snow begins with clearing space around your tires. Obviously, this will be far quicker and easier with a snow shovel on hand, which is why we recommend keeping one in your trunk for emergencies.
Use the snow shovel to clear a space around each tire. Be sure to leave room to lay materials that will help your tire gain traction as you attempt to move it. This may be wood, or even cat litter if you have any available. Finally, make sure you clear snow from around and inside your exhaust pipe before starting the car. A blocked exhaust could result in deadly and undetectable carbon monoxide leaking into your vehicle.
Using snow chains
If you do not have snow chains on your car when you set out on a journey in treacherous conditions, make sure you have a set on hand in the trunk. Drivers who have good quality winter tires on their car should only need to use snow chains if the snow is extremely deep. It may be impossible to free your vehicle without snow chains if you get stuck in snow or ice with regular tires. Make sure that you have practiced installing the snow chains and can do so with relative ease before you need them during an emergency.
Install your chains on the car’s drive wheels, pulling forward about a foot to finish fitting them to the entire outer edge of the tire. As soon as you get rolling the chains will relax on the tires and slacken slightly. You should drive around 100 feet and pull over to tighten them, before continuing your journey.
The rules dictating the use of snow chains vary quite a bit around the United States. Practically every state permits the use of snow chains when necessary – or has no specific prohibition law – though many also place restrictions on the circumstances when snow chains may be used. You may find that you are only allowed to use snow chains when a snow warning has been declared, or between certain dates. Be sure to check your state driver’s handbook for details.
If you get stuck in snow and cannot shift your vehicle, the only thing left to do is seek assistance. Calling 911 is an option when you are stuck in extreme weather conditions such as a winter storm, providing your cellphone is charged and has reception. When you get through, be prepared to describe your location to the best of your ability. Use obvious landmarks and the last road signs you remember seeing to help you with this.
If you cannot get through to 911, do not panic, you will just have to sit it out a little longer. You can attract the attention of passers-by who may be able to assist you, by switching your hazard lights on and securing a piece of brightly colored cloth to the vehicle’s antenna.
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