Winter travel tips: How to get vehicle unstuck from snow, list of emergency supplies to take with you

If possible, do not travel during hazardous winter weather

A man pushes a car stuck in the snow. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The 4Warn Weather Team is tracking a winter storm that is expected to arrive in Metro Detroit before Christmas.

They predict that it will be a significant storm that will strongly impact holiday travel and vacation travel across much of the northeastern part of the country.

Several inches of snow are possible Friday afternoon into Friday night. The weather team is expecting significant wind gusts, possibly 45-55 mph gusts either Friday or Saturday (or both).

They will also be monitoring the potential for Lake Michigan lake effect snow bands. The bands could extend all the way across the state on Saturday with moderate to heavy snow.

Read more: Tracking a winter storm arriving before Christmas in Metro Detroit, across Michigan

What to pack if traveling during winter weather

The National Weather Service advises against traveling during hazardous winter weather whenever possible.

If you absolutely have to travel, you should make sure you have some emergency supplies in your vehicle.

The following items have been recommended by the NWS or the AAA:

  • Cell phone, charging cord and portable charger
  • Drinking water and/or sports drinks
  • First aid kit
  • Non-perishable snacks for human and pet passengers
  • Abrasive material (sand, salt, cat litter or traction mats)
  • Snow shovel
  • Blankets or sleeping bag
  • Warm clothing (gloves, hats, scarves)
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Extra window washer fluid
  • Ice scraper with brush
  • Rags or roll of paper towels
  • Jumper cables
  • Warning devices (flares or reflective hazard signs)
  • Basic household tools (screwdrivers, pliers, wrench, small hammer, electrical or duct tape)
  • Tow rope
  • Knife
  • Waterproof matches
  • Compass
  • Road maps

Tips for getting car unstuck from snow

The AAA in Oregon has shared some advice on how to get your car out of snow if you are stuck.

The first step is to not spin the tires because that will only dig the vehicle deeper into the snow. To free a vehicle you need to clear away as much snow as possible from around the tires, under the vehicle and near the exhaust pipe.

After that, you should try to improve traction by scattering sand, cat litter or another abrasive material around the front tires for front-wheel drive cars or around the rear tires for rear-wheel drive cars. Special traction mats are also an option. If you don’t have anything, the AAA said vehicle floor mats may work.

Place the car in low gear (automatic transmissions) or second gear (manual transmissions) and apply gentle pressure to the accelerator. If the tires begin to spin you should ease up.

Another option is to try rocking the vehicle. Slowly move forward with the car in low gear (automatic transmissions) or second gear (manual transmissions). When the car won’t go forward anymore, allow it to roll back. When it stops moving backward, apply a little pressure to the accelerator again. Keep trying until the car is unstuck.

The AAA warns that rocking a vehicle for prolonged periods can cause serious damage to the automatic transmission or clutch. If you have other people with you, you can have them push to help the car rock.

The people pushing the vehicle should not stand directly behind the wheels due to the risk of flying gravel, sand and ice. Overexertion can be dangerous in cold weather.

If you cannot get the car unstuck you should decide if the weather will allow you to abandon the vehicle or if you should stay with it until someone can come help. If you are staying with the car and it is running, make sure snow does not block the exhaust pipe.


Download this auto emergency checklist from Michigan State Police


About the Author:

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.