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Getting Out of the Groove: Winter Driving Tips

Car in a Ditch
Photo: iStockphoto

With the advent of all-season tires, many drivers don’t feel they need to change out their tires for the winter. After all, they’re called “all-season tires”! Not “all but one season” tires! Ha ha! But seriously, folks, if you live in an area that sees regular snowfall throughout the winter, it’s best to have winter tires for your car.

That said, sometimes even your winter tires, with their wider, deeper grooves and better flexibility at lower temperatures, can’t get you out of the snowy ditch you just slid into. There are few things more frustrating – or panic-inducing – than feeling those wheels spinning out while your vehicle stays put.

Here are a few tips on how to get yourself out of the rut and back on the road.

Prepare ahead of time. Make sure that your emergency car supplies include a bag of sand or cat litter (very helpful for traction) and a collapsible shovel.

Rock it out. Put your car into four wheel drive, if you have it. Shift your car into the lowest gear possible. Rock the car forward and back by switching between drive and reverse, keeping the wheels straight and using a very light touch on the gas. If your wheels start to spin, stop and change direction. Once you get going, don't stop until you reach solid ground. But if you get nowhere after eight or 10 attempts, time to move on! Rocking the car too much can damage your transmission.

Dig it. Use the shovel (or whatever you have on hand – I remember my dad used a 3-ring binder once) to clear away as much snow as possible from around the wheels.

Add traction. Lay down whatever you can in front of the wheels to help with traction. Focus your efforts on the front wheels if you have front wheel drive or four wheel drive. Focus on the rear wheels if you have rear wheel drive. Use sand or kitty litter for traction, if you’ve got it, or small tree branches if you have access to those. If you’re really in a bind, you can use your floor mats, nap side down. This will likely destroy your mats but hey – you’ll be able to buy new ones when you get out of this mess!

Be gentle on the gas. Once you’ve laid down your traction, slowly press down on the gas pedal and try to ease the car out of the rut.

Be ready to brake. If you are lucky enough to have assistance in getting your car unstuck, make sure that no one is standing in front of your vehicle while you’re trying to pull forward (or behind it, if you’re trying to back out). Once free, your vehicle might lurch further forward than you intended and you don’t want to hit your Good Samaritan.

Do you have tips to share on how best to get out of your groove? Please share them in the comments! And in the meantime, check out this previous PumpTalk article featuring tips for winter driving.

- Erin F.


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