How to Free a Stuck Car in a Ditch

Ralph J. Jiminez explains how to free a car from the mud or a ditch using a rope, tree and secure knot-tying abilities, including diagrams and directions.

| November/December 1975


The key to this setup is the nylon rope, which doesn't jerk like a chain . . . but is elastic, like a rubber band.


Here in New Hampshire, the word "road" is used pretty loosely . . . to mean any track a vehicle just might be able to make it over in most seasons. During my first winter on the homestead, I quickly learned that getting there is a lot less than half the fun when you're scratching your head in minus 20 degree weather, wondering whether a crane would work better than a team of oxen to put that old heap back on the road (and you next to a fire). Since I have a strong aversion to shelling out the week's grocery money to a guy with a tow truck a couple of times a year, I've picked up a few tricks for liberating a car in a ditch . . . and I'd like to share them with you.

Freeing a Car in a Ditch

The elemental problems drivers usually encounter are snow, ice, mud, and the roadside ditches that machines are prone to leap into if not properly supervised. Since those of you in the city will probably meet only the first two conditions, I'll begin with them.

Often, coming unstuck from snow is only a matter of getting enough traction. Snow tires or studs will usually take care of this . . . and, if you have a front-engine auto, keeping a little extra weight in the trunk will help.

Still, those measures don't always do the job. On sheet ice, for example, snow tires get even less traction than standard tires because — at any given moment — they have less surface area in contact with the road. Which is why that extra weight in the trunk should be sand . . . and please note that you can't just scoop up a couple of boxfuls somewhere and leave it at that. Unless your non-skid material is properly prepared before it's packed away with the jack and tire iron, you may find yourself trying to throw a 100-pound frozen brick under your wheels (which won't do any good at all).

I know only two ways to keep stored sand from freezing:

[1] Mix salt with it

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