Getting out of a Snowbank

By Lori Straus

One thing no one looks forward to in winter driving is ending up in a snowbank. At best, you may have accidentally straddled your car over a parking medium you didn’t see because the snow was too deep. At worst, your car drove nose first into a ditch and your windshield is covered in white. In this blog post, we’ll quickly walk you through how to get out of a ditch.

Breathe and Inspect Your Environment

Young woman calling for help or assistance inside snow covered car. Engine start in frost. Breakdown services in the winter.

It’s very easy to panic when the car goes off the road, especially if you have passengers with you. Take a tip from lifesaving classes: assess the situation first. If everyone is safe, then you’re already half-way there. (If they’re not, call 911 immediately.)

You’ll have a few options to help you get out of the snowbank, but sometimes the safest option is to stay in the vehicle. You’ll only know that if you first evaluate your situation.

If Your Car Is Really Buried

In this situation, you likely won’t be able to dig yourself out. Call a tow truck company or roadside assistance. Turn your car off but remain inside to stay safe. Leaving your car on not only risks draining the battery , but if your tailpipe is clogged, you can also poison everybody in the car cabin. Now is a good time to eat those snacks you packed in your winter emergency kit, pull out the extra blankets, and enjoy the camaraderie of your fellow passengers.

If Your Car Is Just Stuck

If your car is stuck in a snowbank, first things first: do not spin your wheels. You not only risk damaging your transmission but also digging yourself deeper.

You can try rocking back and forth to get yourself out of the snowbank, but if done for too long, you can also damage your transmission. Rocking can also be tricky for less experienced drivers.

The last option you have without getting out of your vehicle is turning the front wheels in a different direction to try picking up traction that way. This only works if you have front wheel drive.

Create Traction

Closeup of car tires in winter on the road covered with snow.

If the above ideas don’t work to get your car unstuck, you can try creating traction to get out of the snowbank. First, clear snow away from your car, including your wheels, undercarriage, and exhaust pipe. If your wheels are spinning on ice, throw some salt down to try to melt it. Then lay something down in front of your tires: kitty litter, corrugated cardboard boxes, floor mats, or traction boards (e.g., Maxtrax).

You can try releasing a little air from the tires so more rubber makes contact with the ground, but be careful that you don’t let out too much, or you could end up with a flat, too. Ideally, you should pump your tires again once you’re on the road, so long as it’s safe for you to do so.

Don’t Be Afraid to Call Roadside Assistance

If the weather conditions are particularly harsh, or you don’t have enough space to drive out of the snowbank without risking hitting another vehicle, or you see any other reason where getting yourself out could get you into more trouble, call roadside assistance and stay in your car. (With the engine off.) Getting stuck in a snowbank is one of the inconveniences of winter. It’s best to play it safe rather than rush to get where you’re going.