How to Avoid Getting Stuck in the Snow

Tips to avoid getting stuck in the snow and what to do if you end up stuck.

Published: December 26, 2012, 2:00 PM
Updated: October 11, 2021, 9:57 AM

Stuck in snow

No matter how good a driver you may be, sometimes winter just gets the best of you and you find your vehicle is in danger of getting stuck in the snow – or already is stuck.

Tips to Avoid Getting Stuck in the Snow

Here are some tips on how to deal with those situations.

Take preventive action

When you're parking in fresh snow, drive a little forward and back from where you're going to stop. That way you'll create a set of clear wheel tracks you can drive in to generate some momentum when it's time to leave.

Doing so can be particularly useful if more snow falls while you are parked.

Don't dig yourself in

If your winter tires start spinning when you try to drive away in deep snow, and your vehicle stops moving, ease back on the pedal. If the tires don't regain traction immediately, apply the brakes.

Don't sit there with your wheels spinning. You'll just dig yourself in deeper.

Try moving back and forth

Try again, applying very light pressure on the accelerator pedal. If you can't move forward with that gentle pedal application, shift into reverse and try again that way – applying the brakes immediately if the wheels spin and motion stops.

Move the vehicle as far as you can in that direction, up to a metre. Then shift back into a forward gear and accelerate gently forward in the wheel track you have just created, using the vehicle's momentum to carry you past your initial starting point.

Do it again and again

If wheelspin stops you again, apply the brakes and repeat. Do it over and over again, if necessary. Even if you only gain a couple centimetres each time, you'll eventually clear a driving path if you're patient, don't let wheelspin dig you in deeper, and don't ride up on top of deep snow.

You'll be surprised how effective that maneuver can be.

What to Do When You're Stuck in the Snow

If you're still stuck

Unless you are willing to install tire chains – not easy to do at the best of times but especially if you're already stuck – traction aids (which you should have in your emergency kit) can be amazingly effective. The best are metal cleats, available at many Canadian auto-parts stores.

Make sure the saw-tooth side is down, slide them as far under the driving tires as possible, and accelerate gently. Again, don't spin the tires. Doing so on the cleats can ruin your tires.

If snow packs up under the vehicle

If the snow is so deep your vehicle rides up on top of it, the tires will be left hanging, without traction

In that case, you'll have to shovel enough snow out from under to let the vehicle settle back down on the tires and regain traction. Either that, or call your auto club.

On hard-packed snow or ice

On hard-packed snow or ice, ashes, sand or commercial traction aid may help. Contrary to popular myth, kitty litter isn't very effective. You need something with more grit, to dig into the surface.

Putting floor-mats under the tires isn't very effective either. They don't necessarily have any more grip on the surface than your tires do, so you're likely simply to eject them into snowbank as soon as the wheels start to turn.

Of course, in all those circumstances, your best chance at not getting stuck, or getting out if you are, is to have a set of good winter tires on your vehicle.