What’s your tire plan for snow? By Nick Nicholson


There is a story about how a novice driver came into the house to say she was stuck in the snow. Her mother advised, “Rock it.”  Later, Mother went out to check on the progress. The car wasn’t moving at all but the driver was sitting in the front seat rocking her body back and forth.

Many people do not understand what happens when snow invades our world. We put oil in a pan to keep the food from sticking, we put grease on a bearing to make it rotate freely and we dry our hands off so we can grip the top of a jar to open it. All of these things operate on the same principle. Friction reduces with a lubricant. Snow is a lubricant between our boots or tires and the traction surface. If we could wipe all the snow off, we’d have good traction.

Every so often we get “stuck in the snow”. It might be right from, your parking space where you left the vehicle before it snowed. The correct answer is “rock it”. (the vehicle, not your body) If you have one-half inch of movement, you can get the vehicle out but, it takes a lot of patience and a cool head.

The object is to move the vehicle WITHOUT EVER SPINNING THE TIRES!  There is this lubricant between your tires and the ground called snow.  Sometimes, there is snow build up under your vehicle creating a greater resistance to movement. If you spin your tires on this stuff, it turns to ice and you lose any traction you might have had. That’s it! Go call a tow!

With a manual transmission, use the accelerator and clutch.  With an winter pictureautomatic, use the accelerator and the brake. With your half-inch of movement, put the vehicle in gear. Without accelerating to any degree, allow the vehicle to roll ahead until it stops on its own. Apply the brakes and change gears to the opposite direction. Again, release the brake and allow the vehicle to roll back until it stops on its own. As the vehicle moves, it is creating channels for the tires to roll in where there is now less resistance.  At the same time, any snow built up underneath is breaking down, again, creating less resistance. Repeat this process over and over again. Do NOT spin the tires!

With extreme patience, you will eventually find you have created long channels for your tires and snow height underneath that is broken down or pushed out of the way. Your vehicle will begin to gain small amounts of speed, all on its own with this gentle maneuvering with no resistance.  Depending on the height of the snow ahead of you, when you figure the channels are long enough that you can get enough speed to break through the snow piled up ahead, you are ready to try getting out. Resist the urgency to rush. Take your time.

Back the vehicle to the rear of your tire track channels and stop. Change gears, release the brakes and gently accelerate forward gaining speed through your channels without spinning and by now you should be able to break into the snow. With the same pressure on the accelerator, keep it going until you come to a place where you know you are free of the snow resistance on the front of the vehicle. If necessary, repeat, repeat and repeat until you’re out. Persistence until you run out of patience.

The only times I have ever experienced this failing is when ice ruts take you off the road into a ditch while making your channels (seven days later we were able to get a tow truck in far enough to get me out) or when you have a loaded, single drive axle, truck with a tag axle that is down. In the latter case, the tag wouldn’t allow the drive wheels enough traction to get it to move that half inch.

In winter time, it’s a good idea to leave your vehicle with a full fuel tank. This reduces the risk of moisture forming inside the tank resulting in water in your fuel. Another useful idea is to lift your wipers off the windshield so they don’t freeze to the glass and cover your windshield and mirrors to keep ice from forming.  A tea towel hung over your door before it’s closed can keep your doors from freezing on certain cars built without gutters above the doors.

If you are going into extremely cold climates, get rid of your aluminum rims before you go. Aluminum will contract so much in the cold that the tires will lose the seal and you’ll find all flats. Remember, in that type of climate, diesel fuel will gel up and become useless.

If you are on the road and have a CB radio, make sure it’s on so you get early warning of pileups or obstructions ahead.

Little tips;  If you are on an icy road, you can sometimes use the soft snow at the sides to get minimal traction. Driving through slush wets your brakes to the point ice forms – apply the brakes in a safe zone after slush to ensure the ice is broken off, giving you brakes again. Make sure you bleed those air brake tanks.

Keep your people safe.

The beauty of life is in your hands.

About the Author

Nick Nicholson, is a retired safety practitioner who spent many years researching the human behaviour factors of driver and pedestrian actions. Specifically, he spent 25 of those years devoted to highway crash investigations, regulatory compliance, the design, implementation and presentation of safety programs. Nick enjoyed many hours presenting professional driver enhancement training to adult participants.

As a long time Fleet Safety Council Member (1988) and the Founding Chair (1992-1995) of Council’s Hamilton-Niagara Chapter, he presents his opinions in hopes of improving the safety knowledge of readers. Nick is a firm believer in human advancement through positive attitudes, solution thinking and the understanding that the beauty of life is always in your hands.

Old Uncle Nicky’s Opinions are his own and in no way reflect the opinions of Fleet Safety Council

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