Snowdrift savvy

Snowdrift

I consider myself a bit of an expert in dealing with snowdrifts. In western Kansas where I grew up, the wind always blows from the south-southwest. When you get three inches of snow, combined with the low humidity, you also get three-foot snow drifts. We are also likely to experience conditions like this in Overland Park in the next couple months. After helping countless stranded autos get out of the ditch, these are some great pointers I can swear by:

Take a cell phone with you and keep an extra charger in the car.

Keep an emergency kit with you, including a blanket, gloves and an extra coat. A small shovel and a bag of sand may also prove to be handy. A real treat would be a tow rope with metal hooks on each end. Don’t by a cheap one—you will get what you pay for.

Keep your gas tank at least half full through the snow season.

Consider joining a roadside service like AAA. If there is a big snowstorm, many people will also be calling them, so you may need to be patient.

Be nice to your car. It is an inanimate object and it went where you pointed it.

Don’t try to “plow through” a snowdrift. Drifts will ramp up, so the farther you drive into one, the deeper it gets.

If someone stops to push you out, don’t forget to tip them generously.

Try rocking the car back and forth. For moderately deep drifts, dig the snow away from behind the tires. If front-wheel drive, place a floor mat as far under each front wheel as possible (if rear-wheel, do the same). Then gently rock to create a long enough rut to slowly but steadily accelerate out of the drift. Keep the steering wheel straight. This requires a little finesse. Put the car in reverse, straighten the wheels, give it just enough gas until the tires start to slip. Then apply the brakes and let off the gas at the same time, put it in drive, let off the brake and move forward until the tires begin to slip again.

Repeat until you create a big enough path to get a good run at it. It may help to spread sand in the rut.

It is important to let the engine idle down before changing gears, otherwise you will damage the transmission. All this shifting will also heat up the transmission, so periodically leave the car in neutral if safe to do so. This keeps the transmission cooler by circulating the fluid. A car needs momentum to move, so that is why it is important to apply the brakes as soon as the tires start to slip. This gives you a bigger run at it.

Don’t beat on the steering wheel out of frustration—it may cause the horn to stick.

All this shifting will heat up the transmission, so periodically leave the car in neutral if safe to do so. This keeps the transmission cooler by circulating the fluid.

Minimize the amount of time spinning the tires. This creates heat, which melts the snow and turns it to ice.

If you are still trapped, get your shovel out. Dig out the area between the tires (behind the car). Don’t try to dig down to the pavement. The car’s undercarriage is what you are really hung up on. Shut the engine off while doing this, so you don’t gas yourself out.

Patience is the key. Most likely you are late to wherever you were going to start with, so rushing is futile.

If you are not able to get the car moving, stay with the vehicle unless you are extremely familiar with your surroundings. Not only will you be better protected from the elements, it is much easier to spot a snowbound car than a person on the side of the road.

When you finally get home, make an appointment with your Overland Park auto service technician to make sure you haven’t damaged your vehicle during the process.

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