Guts. Glory. Ram. That’s what the absurdly deep-voiced narrator says in all of Fiat Chrysler’s truck commercials, trying to convince you to set down that protein, nail and raw-egg shake, and head down to your local Ram dealer to get yourself a macho truck. But you know what can make those big, “macho” trucks look downright silly? A little bit of crystallized water. I found that out this weekend.
The thing is, freeing a car that’s stuck in snow can be time consuming, but it’s actually relatively straightforward and it can be done with no tools. Here’s how you do it.
On Friday evening, my friend and I disembarked from the Detroit area bound for the Sno*Drift rally in Atlanta, Michigan. Upon arrival, we had to figure out where we’d actually sleep. As we were both too cheap to find a motel, we decided we’d build an igloo in the woods and stay the night there.
Our first attempt at an igloo failed, as the powdery snow wouldn’t adhere to itself. Turns out igloo-building is harder than it looks. We decided to move on and see if we’d have better luck elsewhere, so we hopped in my friend’s Ram 2500 and scouted for a suitable campground with sticky snow.
As the 8,000 pound truck barreled down a snow-covered forest road, the ruts that we’d been tracing came to an end, and we started into some fresh snow.
Within seconds, the truck came to a halt. We dropped the beast into reverse and tried to turn around, but we got stuck. We attempted forward and reverse, we turned the wheel lock-to-lock, but there was no use: we were buried.
By this point, it was about 11 p.m. and we were in the middle of nowhere. We would remain stuck until four the next morning. But while it took a long time to free ourselves, I was confident the entire time that we’d eventually escape even with our lack of tools. I’m a Jeep nut; I’ve dealt with worse before. Here’s how I do it.
The first thing I usually try when stuck in snow is turning the steering wheel all the way in either direction while applying gentle throttle. When you turn your wheel, you allow your tire to grip fresh terrain. And if your tire can get a good foothold on that terrain, it might just be enough to get your vehicle moving.
If your vehicle is moving at all—even an inch in either direction—you should try rocking it. This means quickly alternating between first and reverse. In time, your vehicle will build up enough momentum and free itself.
Apply the brakes between first and reverse to prevent the tires from rolling back into the holes they’ve dug. Ideally, you drive an inch forward, then two inches back, then three inches forward, then four inches back. You get the idea. You want to gradually push the snow out of your way and build momentum.
If the car isn’t moving at all and the rocking method isn’t going anywhere, give the vehicle a nice push. If a straight-up push doesn’t work, try rocking the car by imparting short impulse loads.
You’d be surprised what a little push can do in snow and ice. Even if you’ve got a really heavy truck, the force you exert by pushing can be enough to get the vehicle moving even a few inches. And once it’s moved a few inches, that’s when you can start the rocking method.
The main reasons why our truck got stuck were its lack of ground clearance and its terrible all-season tires. The tires meant we had no grip, so they dug themselves into snow. The lack of ground clearance meant we high centered in no time, giving our tires even less tractive force.
So the truck was turtled and not moving in the slightest. We knew that, to get the truck moving, we had to get some weight on those wheels. To do that, we used a small portable shovel to break up the compact snow between the low-hanging components and the terra firma. This lowered the truck and created more traction between the tires and the ground.
You can do this without a shovel, too. Just break up the dense snow with the stick or your feet, and remove it with your hands. It takes longer, but it’s doable. That’s the beauty of snow: it’s easily displaced.
The real ticket is to find the low spots and remove snow from beneath them. In our case, the low spots were the lower control arms, running boards and differentials.
In addition, we cleared snow from in front and behind our low-hanging parts, as we knew once we started moving, that snow would provide resistance. We cleared out in front of our lower valence, as it hung low and tended to plow snow as we tried to move forward.
Spinning your tires will dig a hole into the snow and dirt, so you’re going to want to carve all the snow and dirt out from in front and behind thoe tires. Ideally, you want your tire to be sitting on a flat surface so that it doesn’t have to traverse a mound to get the car moving.
Any dirt or snow left in front of the tire means it needs to get that much more traction to get you out of the hole. Flatten out the mounds as best you can.
Releasing air from the tires isn’t always the solution when it comes to off-road driving, despite what many gung-ho Jeepers might tell you. But in our case, since we were already stuck, we wanted to increase the size of our contact patch to see if our tread could get us out of this hole.
So we pushed a key against our valve stem core and released pressure. Note that this will decrease your ground clearance, so if you’re struggling to remove all the snow between the ground and your truck’s low-hanging parts, you might skip this step.
What many people do is place floor mats, twigs and rocks under their tires for grip. This has never worked for me, though, as the objects usually just slide on the snow and gets shot out from underneath the tire.
Still, it’s worth a shot.
If your vehicle doesn’t move at all when you give it gas, let off the pedal. Your tires aren’t going to magically gain traction unless there’s pavement under the layer of ice your tire is burning through.
See that hole our front tire ended up digging? That happened because, even after the truck stopped moving, my friend remained on the gas pedal. That made it a lot harder to get the truck unstuck. We not only high-centered because of it, but now our tires had to make it up a steep ramp to get us moving.
Once we dug our tire out, we put the truck into 4-low, and slowly applied throttle. The axles hopped up and down as the tires lost and regained grip. The bouncing of the axle, along with us turning the steering wheel back and forth made a huge difference.
This one’s obvious. If your vehicle is high-centered and you’re really stuck, call someone up and try to get tugged out.
Everyone I tried calling was fast asleep getting ready for the next day’s rally, so I sent out a distress tweet just to see what would happen. As it turns out, Twitter is a pretty powerful tool, as people started tweeting to their followers, asking if anyone’s nearby to tow me out.
And while nobody ended up being around, if I had more than six Twitter followers, it could have worked.
After getting the truck unstuck, and then stuck another three or four times, we managed to finally get the big girl back on a paved road. A combination of breaking up the compact snow under the truck, removing snow from around the tires, steering the wheel back and forth and especially rocking the truck between forward and reverse ended up finally getting us free.
By then it was almost 4 a.m. and we just passed out in the truck. Good thing the rally the next morning was so fun, or it would have been a struggle to stay awake. Still, we took on nature, and we won.
A couple more pics: