Off-roader or not, all of us will eventually find ourselves in the situation of getting our vehicle unstuck from mud, sand, snow, or a ditch.
Have you ever seen a flooded road and thought, “Maybe I can drive through or around it?” The car up ahead thought the same thing and got through with no problem. That means you should be fine too, right?
Wrong! This is how many people get stuck. Don’t underestimate the power of water and flooding situations. Most flood-related drownings occur when a vehicle is driven into hazardous flood water. This is usually because many people try to drive through or around flooded roads and barriers that warn of flooding ahead.
The best way to prevent a sticky and potentially dangerous situation is to avoid these types of scenarios all together.
While you may have to add some time to your trip, it’s a lot better than getting stuck, or worse, swept downstream.
How to Avoid Getting Stuck
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over half of all flood-related drownings occur when a vehicle is driven into hazardous flood water.
Turn Around Don’t Drown PSA (National Weather Service)
Many deaths are caused when vehicles are swept downstream.
- Pay attention to flash flood warnings and Turn Around Don’t Drown® Warning Signs.
- A mere 12 inches of rushing water can carry away a small car; 18-24 inches for larger vehicles.
- Never walk or drive into flood waters!
- If you see a flooded road, don’t try to drive around it. You are likely to get stuck in deep mud.
While it may feel instinctual to follow someone else’s path, you don’t know what kind of car or tires enabled them to make a safe passage. Additionally, mud ruts tend to be a lot softer, increasing your likelihood of getting stuck.
Don’t be a follower. If come upon mud or flood water, turn around and find a different route.
Sometimes, however, there is no other option. If you absolutely must drive through the mud, we recommend stopping the vehicle and assessing the situation first. You want to plan your attack before mindlessly driving into the muck.
How to Drive Through Mud
- Check the depth of the mud with a stick.
- Avoid the mud if you see tire tracks going in but not coming out.
- Speeding through mud can cause you to lose control. Too slow and you might get stuck. Try to find the right balance and move your steering wheel slightly from right to left to gain more traction.
- Avoid driving in the same tracks left by someone else. This mud is softer and a lot easier to get stuck in. Be different—blaze a new path.
- Keep your tires properly inflated and in good shape.
- Consider carrying a shovel, winch, car jack, gravel, sand, kitty litter, and/or planks in your vehicle in case you do get stuck in the snow, sand, or mud.
- Learn how to winterize your vehicle and which items you should always have in your vehicle.
Recommended Items to Get Your Car Unstuck
Here are the most useful tools and materials to have on-hand in case you ever get stuck in mud, sand, or snow:
- Wood Planks, Carpet, and Cardboard
- Wheel Tracks (for example, Trac-Grabber — a plastic self-rescue device that gets strapped to the drive wheels)
- Car Jack
- Tow Strap (can be used by another vehicle to help free your vehicle)
- Winch (if attaching to another vehicle, always hook it to the frame)
- Snow Chains (put them on your tires before you drive around in the snow)
While every situation is different—mud, snow, sand, a ditch—the principles behind getting your car unstuck remain relatively the same. Learn them now before you spend hours of toiling in vain.
How to Get Your Car Unstuck from Any Situation
If you do find yourself in a sticky situation, don’t keep spinning your wheels. You’ll only dig yourself a deeper hole.
Before calling a tow truck, follow these steps for getting your vehicle unstuck:
Before you start spinning your wheels and digging yourself a deeper hole, get out of the car and assess the situation. Find the trouble spot and make a plan.
If you are in snow, make sure your exhaust pipe isn’t blocked. This can cause dangerous carbon monoxide to build up inside the vehicle.
Determine which wheels are spinning/stuck.
Build Up Traction
Traction is essential for getting your vehicle unstuck. Look for any obstacles that may be causing the problem and remove them. If you have sand, gravel, or kitty litter (make sure it’s not the clay-based type!), add them to the front and back of the tires to aid traction. If you don’t have these items, find some rocks, logs, and other items that may work (for instance, your carpet mats).
If you do use a floor mat, keep in mind that it will probably be destroyed by the end of it. If you ever replace your floor mats, consider saving one or two for just this kind of situation.
In a truly desperate situation, you may be able to use the removable panel that covers the spare tire (found in most trunks). It is usually a large flexible panel with carpeting on one side. Insert it in front (or behind) the worst stuck tire and drive onto a dry area. Bear in mind that the panel will probably be destroyed and need to be replaced.
You may also want to try digging a path for each tire.
Jack Up the Car (if you have planks or plenty of gravel)
You can try to jack up the car, but only if the ground is firm and you have some planks and gravel that you can use to fill the depression in. Otherwise, skip this step.
Release Air from Tires
You may get better luck freeing your vehicle if you release some air from the tires. By releasing the air (not too much!), you can increase the surface area of the tire on the ground. Try not to release more than 15 PSI. At that point, you are doing more harm than good.
Push the Car
If there is anyone around to help you, have them push the car from behind while you very gently press on the gas.
Use a Winch (if available)
If you have a winch, now is the time to use it. Find a tree or another steady object that you can attach the winch to.
Call a Tow Truck
When all else fails, you will need to be towed out.
The Easy Method
This process can get most vehicles unstuck:
- Stop the car as soon as you feel stuck. Do NOT spin your wheels!
- Get out of the car and scoop some salt or sand in front the drive tires.
- Have your assistants push the car forward while you slightly wiggle the wheel to gain traction.
If no one is around to help you:
- Dig around your drive wheels (the wheels that do the turning when you accelerate).
- Try to wedge a carpet, blanket, plank, or mat under the wheel.
- Get back in the car and gently press on the gas to inch yourself out. You want to feel the tires grip the item.
- If there’s a lot of spinning, but no gripping, stop and reassess.
Once you are successfully out of the mud, wash your car thoroughly and take it to a mechanic to check for damage.
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