Getting unstuck. Do you know how?

Unless you live in a snowy climate, you might think that getting stuck only happens to the off-road guys. We’ve all seen photos and videos of Jeeps splashing through mud and towing trailers with off-road toys through the sand dunes. But why should the every-day commuter worry about the possibility of getting stuck? Well, it’s better to be prepared and not experience it rather than sand experience it and not be prepared; and by being prepared we  mean knowledge. Do you know the steps to getting unstuck if you had to?

We all carry spare tires in our vehicles but don’t ever think about getting a flat. Could you change a tire by yourself if you came out of the store and saw your vehicle sitting on the rim? It’s the same with getting stuck. What happens if you go to a sporting event that has a parking lot of soft sand and all of a sudden you find your tires spinning but your car isn’t moving? Or worse, you’re driving home in the icy snow and you took one curve too fast which sent you straight for a shallow ditch. Now your vehicle doesn’t have traction to make it up the 3 inch hill.

Did you know that calling a tow truck can cost $300+ depending on where you are, the severity of the situation, and how long it takes to get out? Or that in most cases for getting unstuck, all you need is a little forward momentum to get your car moving again so you aren’t stranded all night. These are all simple points that we don’t think about in the rush of every day life. Driving schools don’t even teach these skills either, so you’re left to research on your own. That’s where we come in!

We’ve Seen it All

Traction Jack was started because the owner of the company spent lots of time getting stuck and getting unstuck in two-wheel drive (2WD), four-wheel drive (4WD), and all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicles. Each vehicle behaves differently but if you know what you are looking for, you improve your chances of getting out. It also makes a differences what you are stuck in. Snow/ice is the most difficult

A Topeka City snow plow operator pushes a car that was stuck at the intersection of SW 12th and Kansas Ave Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 in Topeka, Kan. Kansas was the epicenter of the winter storm, with parts of the state buried under 14 inches of powdery snow, but winter storm warnings stretched from eastern Colorado through Illinois. (AP Photo/The Topeka Capital Journal, Thad Allton)
A snowplow operator helps a motorist who’s front wheel drive vehicle got stuck in icy conditions.

because the cold prevents friction from doing its thing making the road slippery. When you are stuck in sand, the surface is very porous which means it’s always breaking away from the tire. In both instances you’ll need to either get your vehicle pulled out, or find a way to increase friction and improve traction.

Lets start with snow. Obviously the more ice you have on the road, the less friction. Friction is caused by the roughness of a surface and how well two objects have contact with each other. Ice creates a smooth surface which reduces friction significantly. When your vehicle is stuck, the tires spin because you don’t have a jagged, rough surface for your tires to catch on to. There are many ways to combat this, and their degree of effectiveness varies. People carry kitty litter, wooden boards, hot water, sand, or they use objects like blankets, floor mats, etc. Although these may work, you should really carry a device that is made for helping your vehicle get traction again (*cough* Traction Jack *cough*).

Anyways, you’ll want to clear a path in front of the tires first. Do you know if you vehicle is front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive? This is important because it will determine in which direction you’ll clear for the tires and for which tires. A quick shackleexplanation to that would be if your front wheels are spinning, your car is front wheel drive. Same idea applies for rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. Next, see if you can use anything around you before you start ruining your floor mats and blankets. Rocks might betow-hook too frozen and tree branches might be too wet but sometimes they’re the only option. The reason we made Traction Jack foldable, is so it could easily fit in the trunk of a small or large vehicle. Once you’ve found something to place in front of the driving tires, you’ll need to put the vehicle in a low gear and try to get some momentum. If you have someone with you, make sure they give the vehicle a push.

If using “traction objects” doesn’t work to get unstuck, you’ll have to call for help. If you can get a friend out that can pull you, I suggest that. One very clever piece of equipment everyone should carry is a shackle hook. These make finding a surface to hook on to much easier if your vehicle doesn’t already have one. I’ve tried recovering tiny Chevy Sonics and Ford Focuses, and without a hook point, you risk damaging the vehicle. It’s interesting because I’m sure most people don’t know, but a lot of modern vehicles come with a spot to screw in a tow hook that comes with the vehicle. The picture on the right shows a Mazda 3 with a rear tow point, and the picture below it shows a Volvo with the front tow point. Now you need someone with a strap. If your vehicle doesn’t have a tow point and you don’t have any shackles, the next best thing to do is look for a strong point on the frame. I’ve used suspension points such as springs and control arms before but it’s not recommended because ecause if not done right you can cause major damage. The moral of the story is, you have a lot more to think about than you thought. Being prepared for these situations will save a lot of time, headache, and money.

What about sand? So you live in the Southwest or frequent to the beach and sand is your thing. Have you ever experienced the headache of getting stuck in the sand when it is 104F, no clouds in sight, and no immediate help around you? Unfortunately, this lady paid the ultimate price because she wasn’t prepared for getting stuck in the sand. As mentioned earlier, sand is extremely porous. It is not a solid surface to drive on although it can easily be done. Things to remember in sand: 1) once your vehicle stops moving, DON’T try and spin the tires more. All you’re doing is digging yourself in. 2) the more sand you clear from in front of your tires, the better chance you have of getting out. 3) if you have to, try releasing air pressure in your tires because the lower the air pressure, the more surface area the tire has. 4) finally, keep the vehicle in a low automatic gear like “L,” “1,” or “2.” This will help prevent the tire from quickly spinning out. You’ll want to use the same technique and look for a bunch of solid material to place in front of the tires. This way, they’ll have something to grip on to. Just always remember to be prepared in some sort of way for the situations you put yourself in. If you know you are going to be driving on the beach or absolutely have to drive on the road in the snow carry the right equipment with you to help give yourself the best chance of getting unstuck quickly.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for driving, recovery, and safety tips! If you have any questions, please email us at gooffroad@tractionjack.com. Cheers!