A Girl’s Guide To Getting Unstuck

Okay, actually, there’s nothing gendered about this guide—the principles of getting your vehicle unstuck are the same whether you’re male or female. Although we might all try our best to avoid finding our vehicles stuck far from pavement it happens to the best of us at times. Dedicated 4x4ers will often have a winch on their vehicle but the rest of us can usually save ourselves from expensive tow bills with minimal equipment:

Step 1: Take your foot off the accelerator.

Mashing your foot into the accelerator is not going to help matters. In fact, a lot of the time you can go from being “kinda stuck” to “really stuck” in a few seconds by spinning your tires in the snow, mud or sand.

Step 2: Visually inspect your situation

Now is the time to figure out why you’re stuck. The main reason is likely that you don’t have enough traction and your tires are simply spinning in place. However, if you’ve already spun the tires enough, you might find that the frame of your vehicle (or at least the axle) is now resting on the ground. If this has happened, it’s time to start digging. I usually carry a short shovel for this purpose but if you don’t have a shovel, get creative. Since the vehicle is already struggling for traction, you don’t want to have to fight any additional friction as well!

Step 3: Air down

If you still have your tires at full highway air pressure, it’s time to change that. Most cars have pressure of about 35-50 psi in the tires. Airing down can be a little bit of an art: there is no hard and fast amount you should air down to. In general, I air down a little bit at a time dropping first to 18-20 psi, reevaluating, then dropping to 15-10 psi. In some situations it might be okay to go as low as 5 psi—much lower than that and you risk unseating your tire from the bead of the wheel. You’ll want to have a low pressure tire gauge since most gauges don’t read accurately below about 20 psi (it can be helpful to have a regular gauge too for airing back up). Let the air out by pushing in the center of the valve stem which lets air pass out of the tires.

I carry a compressor in the Jeep so I’m not near as afraid to air down as I would be otherwise since I have the ability to air the tires back to a better driving pressure once I’m unstuck. Once you’ve aired down your tires, they will experience excess wear running on asphalt and they’ll also get hot increasing chances of a blowout.

(If I’m going to be on dirt roads for an extended period, I’ll often air down to at least 20 psi just for comfort. This can often help prevent getting stuck but it also removes some of your margin of error if you do.)

Step 4: Attempt to extricate

Attempt this step carefully! At this point, I tend to attempt to drive out of the situation with my head hanging out the window alternately checking my front tire and my back tire for traction. Often, airing down your tires will be enough to allow you to “walk out” of your situation, especially if you didn’t bury the vehicle before admitting that you were stuck.

Gently press on the accelerator. If nothing happens, continue on to the next steps. If you’re out, great! Congratulations!

Step 5: Attempt to find additional traction

Your car is stuck because it doesn’t have enough traction so now your job is to find a way to get it more traction. Tree branches can form additional traction. I’ve used a pack as traction. Vehicle floor mats could work as well. Once, I used found carpet strips to give traction on silty mud (reallllly slippery!)

Step 6:  Get moving

Hopefully, by now, you’re mobilizing. Beyond airing down and giving yourself a little bit of extra traction it’s hard to do much else by yourself without a winch.

Faster isn’t always better but once you’re moving again, the gas pedal can be your friend! I once got the van stuck in soft desert wash sand, aired down, and got moving again only to feel myself getting stuck. I gave the van a little extra gas and found that the extra momentum was enough to get me back onto the hardpack.

Step 7: Carrying the tools for help

If you weren’t able to get yourself out, it’s time to start walking towards help or calling for a tow truck. Fortunately, the above tricks usually get you free!

Just in case you run into a friendly stranger who might want to help but isn’t prepared, carrying your own recovery strap and “D-ring” or shackle can be a real life saver! Knowing where your vehicle has a good tow point is always nice before you have to go crawling around in the mud to find it!

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