Essential Guide to Get Your Car Unstuck In Any Situation




Get your car unstuck

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Getting stuck is part of driving. Therefore, getting unstuck is also part of driving, but can you do it? In order to get unstuck, you must first be prepared to get stuck.

This requires having the proper tools and items with you BEFORE you actually get stuck. Below is a list of items you should have that will help you get unstuck in almost any situation.

Items You Should Have

  • Sand or Kitty Litter
  • Shovel
  • Two 2×4 or 2×6  planks or Traction Mats
  •     (What is a traction mat and why should you have them?)
  • An idea of what you are going to do if you get stuck

How to Get Your Car Unstuck

How To Get Your Car Unstuck

Stop Spinning Your Tires

Take your foot off the gas, you’re not going anywhere

Straighten your wheels

Turn steering wheel so your front tires are facing forward

Examine the situation

Get out of the car and look around. Find out why you are stuck

Remove obstacles

Take your shovel and dig around your tires. Snow, sand, mud whatever needs to be removed

Need Traction

Use your traction mat or throw down some sand or kitty litter


  • Place your planks or tire traction mats down
  • Rock your car (read below to learn how to do this)
  • Get Unstuck (hopefully)


Being prepared is the first line of defense.  Okay, so it’s a little difficult to be prepared for getting stuck because you don’t know when it’s going to happen.  However, there are things you can do to help yourself out if you get in trouble.

Know your vehicle.  I used to have a 2000 Nissan Xtrerra, It was a 2 wheel drive / rear wheel drive vehicle.  All the weight was in the front with the engine. I loved that car, but I hated it in the winter when I lived in Maine. 

 It was terrible in the snow, even a little bit of slush or ice and I was spinning my wheels. So what did I do? First thing, I had the right tires for the job.  For this particular car, the tire of choice was an oversized studded snow tire. Yes, it was loud but those bad boys would get the job done.

Second, I always had at least 150 pounds of play sand in the cargo area.  This equalized to some degree the weight distribution of the car. This weight also kept the pressure on the rear tires which helped them to maintain traction on the road.  These two steps greatly helped me when driving through the winters in Maine.

Now I still needed to be careful.  I could still get my car stuck if I wanted to, but for getting around this worked wonderfully.  But I am not done. There were still two more things I carried with me. A shovel and some wood planks.  Despite my best efforts, I would still end up stuck once in a while.

Okay, so you are prepared.  You have all the equipment that you need and it’s time for you to get on the road.  What do you do when you are entering a possibly messy situation?

Just Keep Driving

If you find yourself in a sandy pit, a mud puddle, or a slushy mess do your best to keep moving forward.  Your car’s forward momentum can carry you through many stucky (I know it’s not a word) situations.

 As long as you’re moving you have a chance to power through whatever is in your way.  To keep yourself on the road requires you make some adjustments while you are driving; so you have to be on your toes:

Use the proper amount of power.  

This is probably the most important thing to learn when trying not to get stuck.  If you give the accelerator to much power, you will cause your wheels to spin and this is bad, as we will explain below.  If you give it to little power, your car will lose momentum and you will get stuck

Use a lower gear.

 If you are driving an automatic shift down to “L:” or “2” whatever is the low gear on your transmission.  This will give you more control over spinning your tires and should keep you from giving your car to much power. 

 If you are driving a manual transmission you want to rely more on your clutch to control the spin. So put it in third gear and feather your clutch to keep your car under control.  This is a skill that can only be learned by experience, it is impossible to describe how this procedure with words.

Do your best to keep your wheels straight. 

 This is easier said than done. Whatever mess you are in is going to be pulling your wheels in different directions.  Don’t panic. Just do your best, because if you start to turn your wheels you will probably end up stuck anyway (follow this link to an amusing anecdote on how I got yanked off the road by some slushy snow). 

Okay so you have done your best to keep your car moving forward, but the driving fates were against you and you end up stuck anyway.  What do you do now?

Do Not Spin Your Tires

If you get stuck in sand, snow or mud; never spin your tires. It may be fun at first, but all you are doing is making the situation much worse for yourself.   Think of your spinning tire as a round shovel that is spinning at 2500 RPMs.

 It’s just digging further into whatever mess you are stuck in. Resist the temptation and don’t spin your tires.  You need to get out and assess the situation to see what you need to do.

Alright, so you are sitting there NOT spinning your tires wondering what you need to do next.

Turn off Traction Control

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You can read about the benefits of traction control here but in this case, traction control is not your friend.  Your tires are stuck and traction control is going to keep shifting power to the wheels that are not stuck. That’s not what you need right now.  You need traction on the one tire that is spinning.

Examine the Situation

You have to get out and see what you are hung up on.  If you are in the mud or sand, your tire(s) are buried. If its snow your tires could be buried or your chassis could be hung up on a large pile of snow. Whatever it is, you need to make room for your tire(s) to get out. 

Whenever I got stuck, I always started with digging the obstruction away from my tire.  I cleared all four of my tires just to give myself a better chance. I didn’t want to break one tire free just to get hung up on another tire.  

You’re already stuck, you might as well take a few extra minutes and make sure you remove all your obstacles. Check underneath your car and make sure there is nothing under there that you are stuck on. 

Remember that sand I used to carry around in the back of my Xterra.  Some of it was always in a tote for just such a situation. I would take some of that sand and throw it around my drive tire.  The drive tire is the one that spins when you hit the gas. 

If I was stuck pretty good, I would throw sand around all my tires, again, just to improve my odds of getting unstuck.  So, if you have sand (kitty litter will do as well) throw some down around your tires. You are trying to get traction on snow or ice, in a pinch, this will work very well. 

Obviously, throwing down sand or kitty litter when you are stuck in sand or mud is not going to help you any; it only works in snow. (Sorry).

Another recommendation that I came across was letting the air out your tires.

 I have not tried this method, but it makes sense; so why would you let the air out of your tires?  The idea is that you are giving your tires a little more surface area with which to grip. Just please don’t forget to reinflate your tires to the proper air pressure when you are done.  

Keep your speed down and don’t drive far if you try this. Also, be mindful about how much air you release, you don’t want to give yourself a flat tire while you are stuck.

How do you let the air out of your tires?

This is a very simple process and one that you won’t need too terribly often. Nevertheless, here is how you do it.  Take your very inexpensive tire gauge, like the one shown here. 

There is a little nubby on the back. That little nubby fits nicely into the valve stem.  Push down in the center of the valve stem and you will hear the air whooshing out. Let the air out for 30 seconds or so and this should be sufficient. 

If you don’t have a tire pressure gauge; find a pen, paperclip, anything that will let you depress the pin in the middle of the valve stem.

Rock the Car

Okay, so this is what it comes down to and how I broke my car free eight out of ten times.  You have to build momentum up in your car. “But I’m stuck!” , you say. Yes, that is why we do what is called “rocking the car”, this manuever takes some practice, but it is fairly simple.  

Think of a child on a swing.  You don’t immediately have them as high as the swing will allow them to go.  You start with a small push, and then another, and soon their momentum is carrying them higher and doing most of the work.  We are going to use the same principle to rock your car out of whatever you are stuck in.

Put the car in a low gear and hit the gas.  Every situation is different so you have to feel it out.  You don’t want to punch the pedal so much that you spin the tires, but you need to give it enough to move the car A LITTLE BIT forward.

When you make a little forward movement, throw the car in reverse, and hit the gas again. The idea is to get a little past where you were stuck in the first place.  When you feel your car rolling back forward again; throw it back in the low gear and hit the gas again.

Do you see the pattern here?  Keep doing this until you get your car unstuck.  As I said, it takes practice and you have to get a feel for it.  But it works.

If you’re feeling a little bit more adventurous. You can actually have a friend help you with this procedure, but you need to be very careful because you can run over your friend if you don’t know what you’re doing. 

Your partner (if they are willing) can push on the the back of the car when you are rocking forward. 

This will help give your car a little bit more when it’s trying to get out of the rut that it’s in. But like I said you need to be careful because when you’re throwing your car in reverse you can you can hit you’re the person behind you and also he could slip and fall if you’re on ice or snow.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I like to carry a board or two with me. these come in handy because sometimes you cannot rock yourself out of a rut whether it’s snow, mud, or sand. So it’s at this time that I like to have the board because the board does help you to use have a little bit more traction. 

How do you use the board? 

Simply place the board underneath the drive tire, the one that spins. When you’re doing your rocking motion the board will actually help you get a little bit more traction. Maybe even a little bit more than this sand or kitty litter that you have thrown down already. 

If you don’t have a board, because it’s not sexy to carry a two-by-four or a two-by-six with you. You can use a rubber floor mat if you have one. However, be cautious when you do this because the floor mat can fly out from underneath the tire. Also, you will probably end up destroying the floor mat.

So you kind of have to count the cost here is it worth being stuck or is it worth buying another set of floor mats that’s up to you.

Final Thoughts

I have had good success in getting myself out of sticky situations using these very steps. 

You have to be patient and make sure you clear your path before you try to get out. If you are prepared you should be able to extricate yourself from most situations. 

This is assuming of course that you have not taken your car down some ominous looking path deep in the forest. That takes a getting unstuck to a whole new level.

Sometimes, however, you simply may not be able to get yourself unstuck (I will refer you once again to my  So what do you do?

Now it’s time to call your friend or a tow truck. Sit down and wait for the cavalry to arrive, satisfied that you gave it your best shot.

Safe travels….

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