How To Get A Vehicle Unstuck

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Have you ever been out and about and find yourself stuck in the mud, snow, or sand? We’ve been in countless situations like that! If it hasn’t happened to you, it’s either a question of time, or you’re just not going far enough.

When this happens, one of the biggest things people wonder is how to get a car unstuck by yourself. This is even more true for those that are in more remote areas.

In this article, we’re going to talk about how to get a vehicle unstuck and what you should do in different types of situations on the trail. With that said, let’s dive right in.

Assess the Situation

Before we get too deep into talking about how to get a vehicle unstuck, it’s important to know that you should assess the situation before doing anything. Not only will this keep you safer, but it might make things a little easier.

We’re going to talk about the steps you should take when assessing the situation and what you need to do to have the best chances of getting unstuck.

Safety First

One of the most important things you can do while trying to get unstuck is to make sure you’re being safe. Since this situation can be extremely dangerous, you want to take as many precautions as possible. Some of the things you should do to stay safe are listed below.

  • Put something around the car, like flares, to alert others.
  • Wear reflective clothing to let others see you.
  • Try and stay away from any running mechanics.
  • If you aren’t sure if it’s safe, just don’t do it.
  • Make sure everything is secure before trying to get unstuck.
  • Make sure everyone is at a safe distance to avoid injury.
  • Use items from your survival kit to keep you safe until help arrives.

Consider the Vehicle

Another tip for assessing the situation is considering the vehicle you’re stuck with. Not only do you want to think about the size, but you should also think about whether it’s 2WD or 4WD and whether it’s front-wheel or rear wheel. If you have 4WD, you want to think about whether or not it has permanent or part-time 4WD. 

In addition, it’s a good idea to make sure you know whether or not your 4WD has differential locks or a low range gearbox.

how to get your car unstuck

Check for Recovery Gear

The next step is checking to see what recovery gear you have with you. For starters, ask yourself if your vehicle has a winch and if it doesn’t, do you have a portable one?

You’ll also want to consider if you have anything for traction, a recovery snatch strap, a hi-lift jack, or any other materials that can help you get out. Once you know exactly what you have to work with, you’ll be able to come up with a game plan.

Check Your Surroundings

Another really important step is to check out your surroundings and see if there are any helpful materials. Some things that would help with the process are large rocks, trees, large chunks of wood, or thick branches. 

Make sure the item is large enough to stay in place and support your vehicle. If there isn’t anything you can use, you’ll want to try to come up with a plan that doesn’t need those materials.

Consider Traffic

Since many people get stuck in more remote areas, it’s important to pay attention to traffic. Not only will this help you stay safe, but anyone passing by may be able to help you. If you see a vehicle coming, stand in a safe area, and flag them down. 

See if they can help or give any tips or suggestions to help your situation.

Consider Why You’re Stuck

Finally, you want to consider why you’re stuck. The best method for one reason might not be a good idea for another. The most common reasons for getting stuck are listed below.

  • no traction
  • the bottom of the car is beached or bottomed out
  • mechanical issue

Being stuck as a result of no traction or being bottomed out is perhaps a little easier to deal with than a mechanical issue. If you’re in the 3rd situation, you’ll want to try and see if you can find the problem. 

Some issues will be easy to fix without many tools, but others won’t be able to be fixed without them. If this is the case, you’ll want to try and find a way to get help. There are a few different options, including waiting for someone to drive by, calling someone, getting on the radio if available, or walking to the nearest town or house.

You can always check your vehicle’s user manual, or, if you have cell-phone signal, try to find instructions online. Once you have information on what should be done, it will only depend on your tools and your bush-mechanic skills whether the issue can be resolved.

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Principles of Vehicle Recovery

Before trying to get your vehicle unstuck, there are a few things you should know. Not only will you be more prepared, but it’ll reduce the chances of making the situation worse. Take a look below to see some of the most important points that you should keep in mind.

  • It might seem like it’s a good idea to just drive out of the mud or sand, but this can cause your tires to spin excessively, which will make them get stuck even deeper. In addition, if you keep revving the engine, you can damage important parts like the tires, axels, transmission, and drivelines.
  • If you’re vehicle is deeply stuck, the best thing to do is increase how much traction each tire has against the ground. After that, use momentum to help your car get unstuck.
  • The most important thing you need to get unstuck is momentum. Once you start moving freely, try and keep it going until you’re on solid ground.
  • It’s also very important to communicate clearly if you’re trying to help someone else get unstuck. You want to make sure you’re explaining everything you’re doing and what they need to do.
  • Remember that none of these methods are guaranteed to work and the effectiveness of them is going to depend on what kind of vehicle is stuck and how deep it’s stuck. This means that you’ll need to try many different methods.

Some of the things we’re going to talk about include how to get a car unstuck from mud, how to get out of mud without a winch, and how to get out of sand.

If you still can’t get unstuck, you might have to try different methods. Take a look below at 12 of the methods you can use to get yourself unstuck.

how to get out of mud

Getting Out of Snow and Mud [ALONE / WITHOUT A WINCH]

If you’re trying to figure out how to get out of mud without a winch or by yourself, then these methods are for you. While it’s no guarantee that they’ll work, they’ll give you a fighting chance.

Traction Mats

One of the most common methods of getting your car unstuck is by using traction mats. Not only can this help stop you from going deeper, but it can also stop your tires from spinning.

While they sell special traction mats that are specifically made for this purpose, many people find that they have to improvise. You can use pretty much anything that will give traction, including cardboard and car floor mats.

how to use traction mats

With traction mats, you’ll be placing them under the tires to try and have a better connection to the ground. Some people will only put them under the tires that are stuck, while others will put one under every tire. To put the traction mats in place, you’ll want to get as close to the tire as possible. If you can, try and dig out a little area to make positioning easier. 

Once all of the mats are in place, you can get in and try to get out. At first, slowly rev your engine. When you feel your tires catch, rev a little more. If this doesn’t work, you’ll want to get out and see if the mats need to be repositioned.

If you notice that you’re getting more stuck or if you aren’t making any progress at all, then stop and try a different method.


Another option is to use a jack or lift. While you can use one of the basic jacks that come with the car, you’ll get better results if you use a bigger lift and it’s a good idea to invest in one that stays in your vehicle at all times. If you don’t have any kind of jack, you’ll need to either try a different method or see if you can flag someone down that might have one you could use.

If you’re using a normal jack, you’ll need to do this with each tire individually, but using a lift means you can do them all at once. First, look around and see if you can find any rocks, wood, twigs, or something that can give traction. Once you have it, you’ll want to lift each tire and put some of the materials underneath. Once all tires are done, get in and slowly rev the car. Similar to the traction mats, you’ll want to rev faster once you feel your tires catch.

If you don’t get unstuck, get out, and look at the situation to see if you’re making progress or getting even more stuck. You might need to put more of the materials underneath the tires, find completely different materials, or stop and try out a different method.

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Snow Chains

Another method for getting unstuck in this situation is using snow chains. This might come as a surprise to some, but snow chains actually work well in mud. 

The biggest obstacle here is getting them underneath or around the tires while it’s stuck. Before we get into how you can try and make this happen, it’s important to know that you should thoroughly wash them after use to remove any dirt or debris.

Before trying to get the chains on, you’ll want to try and dig out as much space as possible. Once you get as much space as you can, you’ll want to try and get the chains in the right position. You’ll want to get as close to the tire as possible and make sure it’s centered in the middle.

After positioning, get in your car and slowly rev the engine. If you feel the chains bite, you’ll want to get out and try to finish mounting the chains. This might take a few tries, but you’ll want to keep trying as long as it’s safe

Once you have the chain wrapped completely around the tire, you should have an easier time getting out. Keep in mind, if you’re stuck extremely deeply in the mud, they might not work and you’ll need to try something else.

Vehicle Rocking

One of the most common methods to get your car unstuck is to rock back and forth. The idea behind this method is that you’ll be able to get enough momentum to get your tires to pop out. While you can do this alone, you might have better results if you have others rocking on the outside of your vehicle.

You’ll want to get in your car and start rocking. First, try and see if you can get the tires to pop out without starting the car. If that doesn’t work, you’ll want to see if you can drive out. As you start rocking, make sure you slowly rev the engine.

When you feel the car start moving, you’ll want to slowly increase your revving. Keep doing this until the wheels pop out and you get back on solid ground. If you still aren’t unstuck, you should get out and see if you’re getting anywhere or making the situation worse.

If you seem like you’re making progress, try using one of the other methods along with the rocking. If you notice that you’re just getting yourself deeper, then you should stop and go to a different method.

It might not seem like a big deal, but letting your tires spin can cause quite a bit of damage.

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Lower Tire Pressures

If you find that none of the above methods work, you can try lowering the tires pressures. This can be dangerous and could potentially cause quite a bit of damage. The key is to make sure you’re taking the correct amount of pressure out of each tire and try to be as patient as possible.

To do this, you won’t need any kind of special tool. A flat head screwdriver will work just fine. A tire pressure gauge would help the process but it’s not absolutely necessary.

Go to each tire and remove the cap that screws onto the tire stem. The stem should have a small, long piece of metal right in the middle. Take your screwdriver and gently push down on the metal rod. Let a little air out then check the pressure. You should do this in increments of 5 and make sure each tire has similar psi amounts, but most passenger vehicles should be able to get free by taking out around 15psi. 

Keep in mind, putting the air pressure too low can damage your tires. Once you’ve done every tire, get in, and try to drive yourself out. If it doesn’t work, you’ll want to get out and take 5psi from each tire again. 

If you’re able to get out with this method, make sure you get your tires filled to the optimal pressure as soon as possible.

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Hi-Lift Jack

If you happen to be stuck and only have a hi-lift, then the good news is that you can use it as a winch. Keep in mind, this can be dangerous, so you want to make sure you’re being as careful as possible. For this method, you’ll need 2 sets of straps, the hi-lift jack, and a large towing hook. You can buy pre-made sets, but if you don’t have these, you’ll need to try a different method.

When doing this method, you’ll want to secure your straps onto the area where you’ll be pulling. Next, you’ll want to connect the end of the straps with the hi-lift. You should have a second set of straps that can go around the tree or rock that you’ll be using. Use the towing hook to secure the ends of the second strap. 

Take the hook and connect it to the free end of the hi-lift jack. Make sure all of the extra slack is out of the straps and start pumping the hi-lift. As the straps start to move, the car should start to move along with it.

You might need to let the straps have some slack and try again. When it starts pulling the car, it’s going to get a little harder to pump the handle, so having a little help can make the process easier.


Now we’re going to talk about how to get a car unstuck from mud or snow when you have another vehicle there to help. 

For this to work, you’ll need some kind of tow rope or recovery/snatch strap, and the other car can’t be stuck (unless you can use the other vehicle as an anchor).

how to use a snatch strap to get a vehicle unstuck

It’s important to remember that this can be very dangerous, so you’ll want to take as many precautions as possible. In addition, you’ll need to make sure you pick recovery spots in areas that won’t cause damage or injury. You can look at your user manual to check any recommendations.

To tow out the vehicle, the first thing you’ll do is attach the rope or strap to solid recovery points on both vehicles, you can start trying to get unstuck. Both parties should get into their vehicles and start the car.

The person pulling should be in drive and the person that’s stuck should be in neutral. The car that’s doing the pulling should slowly start to inch forward and should speed up when they feel the stuck car starting to move. If this doesn’t work, you might need to try putting the stuck car in drive before trying again.

If you don’t want to tow your vehicle out, you could try to use the snatch recovery method. First, you’ll want to put the strap between both of the vehicles, while making sure it’s flat with no knots or twists. You’re going to make an “S” shape, so you want to make sure there’s plenty of material between the vehicles.

The next step is to attach the strap to the vehicle that isn’t stuck. Don’t attach it to a tow hitch. Make sure to attach the snatch strap to the chassis itself or to purpose-made recovery points. Not all vehicles are suitable for the snatch recovery method.

Once secure, connect the strap to the vehicle that’s stuck. The car that isn’t stuck should start going forward slowly and keep that speed until the stuck car is back on solid ground.

Getting Out of Snow and Mud [WITH A WINCH]

If you happen to have a winch, then this section is for you. As long as you know what you’re doing, the winch can be built-in or portable. Take a look at a few methods below.

warn winch

How to Use a Winch

If you get stuck and happen to have a winch with you, then things should be quite a bit easier for you. This is especially true if there’s something big, like a tree or stone, that you can connect the winch cable to. 

Keep in mind, using a winch can lead to damage or injury if you don’t know what you’re doing, so take as many precautions as possible.

When the winch was installed, you should have gotten a remote that plugs right in. You’ll want to look for the plug on the end and plug it into the inside of the winch. Next, run the cord into your car and position it close to the driver’s seat. Before starting the recovery process, you’ll want to make sure you put on a thick pair of gloves that will completely protect your hands. 

The next step is to find something big that you can anchor your car to. Find the lever on the winch that will let you release the cable, then grab the end and pull it out until you get to the anchor. 

Wrap a strap on the anchor and clip the end of the winch to the loops using a large D-ring shackle, then connect the shackle to the winch. Turn the remote to the engage setting and slowly push the button. 

As the line gets taught, your vehicle should start moving. If you’re stuck too deep, this might not work and you’ll need to figure out a different method.

How to Use a Winch When There’s Nothing to Attach to

More often than not, you’re going to be in a situation where you don’t have anything to anchor to. The good news is that there are a few things you can do to create your own anchor. Keep in mind, these can be dangerous, so take extra caution. We’re going to look at 2 methods, which are using a winch anchor and burying your spare wheel, hi-lift, or ‘Deadman offroad’ to use as an anchor.

With a winch anchor, all you do is bury the end into the ground and hook it up to the winch. Keep in mind, you’ll want to bury it as deep as possible to give you the most stability. Once it’s in position, you’ll hook the winch to the large D-shackle and use it the same way as you would if you were anchored to a tree or rock. For the second method, you’ll need to have something that’ll make digging easier. In addition to making sure you bury the spare wheel, hi-lift, or Deadman offroad deep enough to support your vehicle. 

Just like before, after getting everything in position, connect the large D-shackle to the end of the winch and use the remote. 

If you don’t start moving, it’s a good idea to stop to avoid any damage or injury.

Safety Precautions

Since using a winch can be extremely dangerous if it isn’t used correctly, it’s important to talk about some of the safety precautions you should take. Not only will this reduce the amount of damage your vehicle sustains, but it’ll help ensure that everyone stays safe. Take a look below to see some of the safety precautions.

  • Thoroughly inspect your winch for any spots that are damaged or compromised. Even if it seems like it’s a small area of damage, you want to try and refrain from using the winch.
  • Make sure you never hook the line to itself and always use a stable anchor.
  • Ensure that the hook is facing up instead of down or sideways.
  • If the car is stuck too deep, make sure you use a snatch block to ensure you don’t max out your winch.
  • Stand as far from the winch line as possible to reduce the chances of injury.
  • Designate someone to be the spotter. This person will be the one that directs you and tells you what to do. It’s much better than having multiple spotters because information can get crossed and confusing. The spotter needs to keep a safe distance from all the action.
  • Try not to jerk or get the winch going too fast. Even if you have a limited amount of time, the best thing to do is go slow and steady to avoid damage or injury.

Getting Out of Sand

Getting out of sand is a bit different than getting out of mud or snow and some methods won’t work. Take a look below at some of the methods you can use.

How to get a car unstuck from the desert

Avoid Snow Chains

Many people will try and use snow chains when they get caught in the sand, but this actually isn’t a good idea. With snow and mud, it can give you enough bite to get out, but using them in the sand can actually dig you even deeper and get you more stuck than you were, to begin with.

Instead of trying to use snow chains, you should try to use one of the methods mentioned below. Keep in mind, before starting to do anything, you want to make sure you dig as much of the sand out as possible and try to dig a path onto solid ground. This might not help much, but you could have an easier time getting unstuck.

Traction Mats

When using traction mats to get out of the sand, it’s a very similar process to using them to get out of mud or snow. In addition to having some kind of mat, you’ll also want to make sure you have something that you can use to dig yourself out. You’ll also want to make sure you and anyone helping you stand out of the way to avoid injury.

First, try and use what you can to dig some of the sand out from each tire. You’ll want to dig enough so that the mat can scoot as close to the tires as possible. Once you’ve dug the sand out, you can place the mat in the correct position.

Try and get the mat as close to the tire as possible and keep the tire as close to the middle as you can. Once you’re in your car, slowly push the gas. If you feel the tires catch, then you can accelerate a bit more. If you don’t feel the tires catch, you’ll want to get out and readjust. 

Keep in mind, it might take a lot of readjusting to get onto solid ground, so patience and caution is the key.

Lower Tire Pressures

Another option would be to lower the amount of pressure in each tire. Often this is the most effective method when it comes to getting out of loose sandy areas.  If you’ll be doing this method, it’s important to have a tool like a flathead screwdriver and a tire pressure gauge to ensure you don’t let too much air out.

Remember, if you’re able to get out doing this method, you’ll want to get your tires filled to the correct pressure as soon as possible.

You’ll want to do this to each tire and make sure that all tires have the same pressure before trying to get out. To start with, release 5psi from each tire. Try and slowly drive out of the sand to see if you’ve released enough. If you still can’t get out, let another 5psi out of each tire.

Do this in increments of 5 and stop when you get too low. If you still can’t get out by doing this, your best bet is to just get winched out. You can either use your own winch, call a friend that has one, or call a professional to get you unstuck.

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Winched Out

If you’ve tried all of the other methods on the list, then you might need to get winched out. While you can do this yourself, you don’t have to worry if you don’t have a winch. You could call a friend or a professional to help get you out. Provided you’re relatively close to civilisation. If you have your own winch, make sure you have all of the pieces you need ready and in good working condition.

If you’re going to winch yourself out with no help, you’ll want to make sure you have somewhere to adequately anchor the rope and use the safety precautions that were talked about earlier in the post. Sand is harder to work with and there’s a higher chance of getting even more stuck, so it might be best if you call a professional that has access to more heavy-duty tools.

If you don’t know the area well, try and do a quick search on your mobile phone for professionals around the area. Make the call and use the items in your survival kit to ensure you stay safe until help arrives.

How to Get a Bottomed Out Truck Unstuck

Finally, let’s take a look at how you can get a car unstuck that has bottomed out. These can be more difficult to get unstuck, so keep reading to see the 2 most common methods.

how to get a car unstuck if bottomed out

Shovel Method

If you happen to be bottomed out in soft soil, sand, snow, or mud, then the good news is that you can use the shovel method. You only need a shovel or something that you can use to dig with.

Since the tires often aren’t actually touching the ground, digging them out won’t help. You’ll want to try and remove as much material as possible from the area where it’s bottomed out to try and get the tires back on the ground. If the mound of mud, snow, or sand is really large, you might not be able to dig it all out. Depending on how deep you’re stuck and what you’re stuck in, you might need to use traction pads to help get back onto solid ground.

how to get a car unstuck safely

Lifting Method

There are 2 ways that you can use a hi-lift to get unstuck when you’re bottomed out. Keep in mind, this can be very dangerous, so you want to make sure you take as many safety precautions as possible. With the first method, you’ll want to look to see where exactly you’re stuck at.

Go to the tire that’s closest to the rocks and using a lift-mate, lift the tire up so that the bottom of the vehicle is lifted sufficiently. You want to see if you can just move the rocks or other material your vehicle is stuck on out of the way. This method might not work if the rock is too big, too heavy, or stuck in a spot that you can’t really get to.

Alternatively, if you don’t have a farm jack, you can try to use the scissors or bottle jack that your vehicle is equipped with and try to lift each wheel one-by-one. Please note you will need to lift the axles close to the wheels in order to lift the tires with the same goal of placing a traction mat or rocks underneath them.

For the other method, you’ll be working with the tires that are still on the ground. You’ll be trying to raise those tires higher, again using a lift-mate, to try and get unstuck. Take your hi-lift and position it next to the tire. Using the lift-mate start slowly raising the tire and stop when there’s enough space to fit rocks or traction mats between the tire and the ground.

Keep raising the tire and placing more rocks until it’s at the same height as the stuck area. Once you’ve done this to each tire on the ground, you can carefully get back into your vehicle. 

Try and slowly drive forward to see if you can get unstuck. This could cause damage to the vehicle, so try to make sure you’re taking things slow.

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Safety Is The Most Important

When you’re trying to remember how to get a car unstuck by yourself, you’ll want to be as safe as possible. Make sure you thoroughly assess the situation and stay aware of your surroundings. If you can’t get unstuck using the methods above, it’s best to call a professional to come to get you out. 

While it’s especially important to make sure you have a complete survival kit, as well as warm clothes, blankets, and plenty of food and water when you overland in remote areas, you really should have it with you wherever you go.

It’s much better to have the supplies and not need them than to really need them and have nothing to work with.

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Ferenc Elekes has been a devout Overlanding enthusiast for many years. During that time, Ferenc has explored 75 countries on six continents, with overland travel involved in 40 countries on three continents. From his trusty 2006 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado with a roof-top tent, he’s blogged about experiences that can only be found in the remotest regions on Earth. Along the way, he's gained in-depth knowledge of the novel challenges overlanders encounter and practical ways to meet them. On his website, he shares informed opinions about everything from the best overland gear to how to get a vehicle unstuck. Ferenc has also written for Ih8mud, the Expedition Portal, the Overland Journal, and he is often invited as a guest to outdoors-related podcasts.
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