The feeling of your car’s wheels spinning uselessly on the snow and ice no matter how hard you push the gas is both frustrating and terrifying.
Getting your car stuck in the snow is almost inevitable at some point during Maine’s snowy winters. Taking a few preventative measures will keep you from getting stuck in the first place, but if you’re in a sticky situation, there are a few simple steps you can take to get yourself moving again.
Mike Nadeau, co-owner of Mark’s Towing Service in Caribou, said that the first step for any Mainer in the winter — whether you’ve been here for one year or 100 — is to swap out your car’s regular tires for snow tires.
“I feel like 9 out of the 10 vehicles I pull out of the ditch have bald summer tires on them,” Nadeau said. “Get yourself a good set of snow tires and plan your day according to the weather. Don’t rush your schedule, give yourself adequate time.”
Snow tires come in a few different varieties, from all-season tires that provide a little extra traction for light snow conditions to tires with metal studs that grip snow, slush and ice.
“I do recommend studded snow tires,” Les Foss, owner of Island Towing in Bar Harbor. “Here in Maine we get a lot of ice, especially down here on the coast. Studded tires will help you the best in the icy conditions.”
However, studded tires need to be removed before May 1, lest they cause damage to snowless roads.
If you get stuck despite your best efforts, look to see where snow is piling up around your car. In many cases, the snow will have accumulated around the wheels. Shoveling snow away from the vehicle and tossing kitty litter or sand on the snow in the direction that you are trying to move will help increase the traction underneath the wheels. Nadeau said that mud flaps or rubber floor mats can also work to add traction under tires.
Clearing the snow from directly in front of the wheels will not get you moving, though. you have to make a “runway” for your vehicle with the snow that you clear and whatever you lay down to increase traction, Foss said.
“If you’re going to shovel your way out, you need to shovel the width of your car and the length you’re going to go,” Nadeau said. “Make a set of tire tracks up the driveway and follow up that.”
Also, Nadeau said, focus on adding traction to the wheels that actually power the vehicle.
“Don’t throw it in front of the wheels that don’t power,” Nadeau said. “If your car is front wheel drive try to throw it in front so when your tire spins it’s grabbing onto that.”
In other cases, snow will gather underneath the cars and “high center” them.
“If you’ve high centered yourself, the best thing you can do is get a shovel and try to scoop that snow out from underneath your vehicle,” Foss said. “Applying sand isn’t going to do anything for you.”
Nadeau said that all Mainers should have a small shovel, a bucket of sand or bag of kitty litter and a warm blanket in their car during the winter. Foss also recommended snow chains for tires for added security.
Nadeau said that if you are on a road or in low visibility conditions, the safest thing you can do is stay in your car and not try to get yourself unstuck.
“The road’s a dangerous place,” Nadeau said. “It’s possibly the worst place you could possibly be standing, summertime or wintertime. If you’re stuck in the roadway, call a tow truck. Stay in your vehicle, keep your lights on. That’s the safest place to be.”
If all else fails, though, don’t be afraid to call a tow company. Foss recommended that all Mainers have some sort of roadside assistance, whether through their car insurance or with the American Automobile Association (AAA).
If you are in an area without cell service, Nadeau said to call 911, which should work even if you do not have cellphone service.
“Call 911 and if you can’t get connected they’ll at least send an officer and they can dispatch a tow truck from there,” Nadeau said.