BIG BOLD ALL CAPS DISCLAIMER: DO NOT DRIVE IN THE SNOW IF YOU DON’T HAVE TO. STAY HOME. STAY OFF THE ROAD. STAY SAFE.
Leith wants to help you prepare for future events where you find your car is stuck in the snow. We do not want you to think that just because you are armed with this knowledge you should go out needlessly. This post is only to help you if you later find yourself stuck. If you are one of the many from yesterday who abandoned your car outside your neighborhood, this might be helpful if you don’t want your car towed by the NC Department of Transportation.
With that being said, what can you do?
Yesterday was the kind of day that felt like it was out to get everyone. Snow was in the forecast, a 100% chance, so we all knew it was coming. Weather reports had been talking about it for days. School was cancelled, which probably lessened the impact of the storm by a huge margin, so we should all be thankful for that. Too many of us remember the nightmare event ten years ago when some students didn’t get home until more than twelve hours after they were released.
Yet we were caught off guard.
We still went into work. We thought we had more time, and even set a time for when we would all leave early. Didn’t want to take any chances. The snow had other plans, though.
The scene at our office was probably echoed all across the state: Abandon ship. Everyone packing up, running to their cars as already the wind was picking up and the snow was falling faster and harder. Too soon the roads were choked by cars, the snow building up steadily. We were surprised, and we all had the same idea, so we all exacerbated the problem. It was the tragedy of common reaction.
Generally speaking, if you were on a flat, straight road, you were ok. You had a long wait ahead of you, so hopefully you didn’t have far to go. Hopefully you’re a patient person. Hopefully you had some good music cued up. Hopefully you didn’t have to use the bathroom.
But the longer you wait the more snow packs on, the more it turns to ice, the more you start to slide sideways. And many of us didn’t have flat, straight roads to negotiate. North Carolina has a lot of hills, and if your car doesn’t have four-wheel drive, sometimes a hill, even a short one, can get you stuck. When you step on the gas and find the pedal’s on the floor, your tachometer’s in the red, and your tires are screaming at you, that means you’re stuck.
So what can you do?
1. Clear snow away from your tailpipe. If you’re returning to a vehicle that was left over night, snow may have built up around your exhaust. You need to check the tailpipe and clear obstructions so that fumes don’t back up into the car.
2. Do a full visual inspection. Clear away any snow that is built up around the sides. A shovel would be ideal for this, but if not, just do what you have to. You want to move as much snow out of your way as you can.
3. Equip traction aids. If you have an A+ in preparation, then we probably don’t even have to tell you to do this, but if you have snow chains, or special traction panels to put down in front of your wheels, do so. If you have these, you probably aren’t stuck, but go ahead and put them on if you haven’t.
4. Straighten the wheels. If you’ve just gotten stuck or if you’re just getting into the car, the first thing you should do is turn your steering wheel so that your tires are straight. It’s much easier for your car to get moving when the wheels are straight, and momentum is key here. The exception to this step is if you have front-wheel drive. With front-wheel drive, turning your wheels to different angles might help them find some kind of traction.
5. Put it in low gear. This may be an option for more of you than you realize. Even if you don’t have manual transmission, check to see if you have a sequential shifter. They’re the kind where you can move the shifter laterally with a Plus/Minus setting. Use the Minus position to keep your car in first or second gear, and then…
6. Accelerate slowly. Whatever you do, don’t let your tires spin. You’ll just wear them out and generate more ice. You want to lightly press on the accelerator so that the car stays in low gear and to give your tires a chance to find some traction. Don’t push your engine into the red. Be super gentle. If you manage to move at all, that’s great, but go a few feet at a time until you’re safely unstuck.
7. Ride the brakes. This is a tactic that should be used as a last resort, but if you still can’t get anywhere, or if one of your tires is spinning more than the other, you might give it a try. If you lightly step on the brakes while accelerating, you’ll increase the torque needed to turn the wheels, which could give you the extra boost you need to get moving. You will also heat up your brakes and possibly damage them, so again, this should be a very last resort.
8. Sacrifice your floor mats. If you’re still stuck, there’s too much ice around your wheels, and you don’t have the special traction gear, take your floor mats out and put them in front of your wheels. They’re probably going to be ruined, but maybe it’ll help. Rock salt, sand, or cat litter might be a long shot, but if you’ve got those and can spread some in front of your tires, they can also improve traction.
9. Clear snow again. When you get your car out, find a safe place to stop and check your car again. Knock away any snow that’s built up on the wheels, and clear your radiator and grille so that the engine’s airflow isn’t disrupted.
10. Know when you’re beat. If none of this works, seek help or leave your car if it’s an option. If you’re within walking distance of home, leaving your car until the storm passes and the snow melts is probably the best option. Short of that, waiting for a tow truck is probably your best bet. Call a friend with four-wheel drive if you need to, or seek the nearest means of shelter. It’s not worth it for you to stay out in the cold and do any more damage to your car.
Leith hopes that this information is useful to you. After yesterday, most of you are hopefully already safe at home, resigned to leave your cars until a sunnier day, but if after reading this, you can get your car unstuck, or if it helps you avoid getting stuck in the future, then we’ll be glad.
We hope you are in a position to enjoy this snow day. If there’s anything Leith can do for you, let us know.