Survival Tips for Being Stuck in Your Car
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Survival Tips for Being Stuck in Your Car

With so much severe winter weather here in Wisconsin, it’s not hard to get your car stuck in the snow, whether you slide off the road, hit a snow bank or just find that a new layer of precipitation is keeping you from driving your vehicle out of its parking spot. Here are some things you can try to get moving again, and ways to stay safe if you need to wait for a rescue.

Preparing for the Worst

You can make your life a lot easier if you have these items in your winter car kit:


  • Flares and reflectors
  • Extra clothing and blankets to stay warm
  • Kitty litter or sand
  • A shovel to remove snow around the vehicle
  • A cell phone charger
  • Water
  • Shelf stable food like nuts and protein bars


Do you have roadside assistance? This is included with some credit cards, cell phone plans, car insurance policies and in-car communications services like OnStar. Make sure you know how to contact this service if you need a tow. If you don’t have roadside assistance, you should have the number of a local towing company on hand.

Keep your gas tank at least half full. Not only does this help with vapor lock, it adds weight to the rear axle for traction and can keep your engine running to supply heat if you get stuck.

Getting Unstuck

Start by digging out any snow around the exhaust pipes on the back of your vehicle. This lets carbon monoxide escape the area instead of gathering underneath and eventually in the vehicle, which can cause asphyxiation.

Dig a trench around the tires, clearing the area directly around them and creating a path a few feet in front of and behind your car. Remove any snow next to your vehicle that is higher than its ground clearance.

Turn off traction control. It’s designed to apply the brakes to keep the wheels from slipping, which is good for keeping your car on the road. However, if your tires slip a little bit, you may be able to build up the momentum needed to pull your car out.

Start the car and roll down the window so you can listen to the tires. Put the transmission in its lowest gear. If you have a 4×4, put the transfer case in low. If you have an automatic, shift it to “1” or move the shift lever into manual mode and leave it in first.

Gently drive forward and backward in the trench you made. This will crush the snow, creating a solid surface that your tires can grip so your vehicle can roll back onto the road. If you hear the tires start to spin, let off the gas immediately. If they lose their grip, your vehicle can slide sideways, forcing you to dig your car back out again.

If that isn’t working, put down the sand or kitty litter down in the trench to help your tires get more traction. In a pinch, you can put down your floor mats, but it’s likely that they will be ruined in the process.

Once you’re underway, find a safe place to stop, re-engage traction control and shift your transmission and transfer case back into their normal driving modes.

Waiting for Rescue

Still stuck? Once you’ve contacted roadside assistance, you’ll probably be in for a long wait. Don’t leave your vehicle unless it’s unsafe: both you and your car will be easier to find if you stay together. If you haven’t already, clear out the area around the exhaust pipe to let gases escape. If you’re stuck for a while, you should check the tailpipe periodically to make sure snow hasn’t fallen back over the opening.

Make your car visible by turning on your vehicle’s hazard lights and using the reflectors and flares from your kit. If you don’t have these items handy, tie a cloth to your antenna.

You don’t know how long you’re going to be stuck, so you need to conserve the fuel you have. Run the engine in cycles, getting the cabin warm, then shutting off the engine for 15-20 minutes, relying on your blankets and clothes to stay warm.

Getting Your Car Fixed After an Accident

Merton Auto Body can get your car repaired quickly and correctly so you can be on the road in no time. Our Autobody Estimating Center can get work approved by your insurance company shortly after you bring your vehicle in, and our staff of I-CAR and ASE certified technicians have the tools and techniques to bring your car back to its original condition. We can also do alignments to get your suspension back into position for better traction and reduced tire wear. To see what we can do for you, visit our website at or stop by our Sussex, WI location. We happily serve the Lake Country and Waukesha County areas including Pewaukee, Hartland, Delafield, and Oconomowoc.


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