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Automatic transmission, tires, and getting free from snow

I am not a car expert, so I will try to make this question as brief as possible while including everything I think might be relevant. My car is a '96 Infiniti i30t, automatic transmission.

Last night I got stuck in snow. With my cousin’s help, I was able to get the car free. Basically, what I did was inch toward the more packed in snow on the street by placing my floor mats in front of the front wheels (my car is front wheel drive) and pushing from the rear in a sort of rocking motion while my cousin attempted to accelerate in 1st or 2nd gear mode. We made progress, but he had a habit of letting the wheels spin at high speed doing nothing for what I am afraid is too long. If it kept going for 7 seconds or thereabouts I told him to stop, but it happened a few times. At one point I smelled hot rubber and made us wait for a minute to avoid warping the tires. Eventually he left to get more tools and I continued to inch forward using the floor mats. I eventually got the car all the way out this way, but since I was by myself toward the end I had to reverse and back up a few times before going forward again in 1st or 2nd to get momentum.

My question is whether I should be worried about tire or more importantly transmission damage from this. Does anyone have any insight?

EDIT: This morning I drove the car around the neighborhood for about 5 or 10 minutes, and did not notice anything different as it changed gears. It drove as well as it had before. Not sure if that is relevant.

Welcome to winter driving! All of us from snow states have been in your shoes a time or two.

You prematurely wore your tires a little bit by spinning them - just like you would if you did a burnout in the summer. How much you wore them depends on several factors, including the tire itself and how long/fast they were spinning, and what kind of surface they were spinning on (solid ice/snow/drilled down to dry pavement?).

Basically, this kind of stuff is going to happen sometimes in the winter. You’ll end up replacing your tires a month or so before you would have had to replace them anyway. Don’t worry and drive on.

Relax, this kind of thing is being done a lot right now. No harm done.

I cannot see possible damage, but for the future you may want to carry a small snow shovel and some sand. The shovel will allow you to clear a long enough strip in front of the tires to get some inertia going to your advantage. Shoveling in front of the front tires as well as the rear tires helps this process greatly.

For the sand, I recommend a plastic bottle with a screw-on top. Sand in an open container will absorb moisture and promote rot, and if it spills you’ll have a mess to deal with. In a plastic bottle it’s totally inert and easy to spread. I use old Gatorade bottles.

Great idea about the bottle @“the same mountainbike” . I always have to carry sand in the winter, but mostly to spread around my truck so I don’t fall.

I doubt that any damage was done and that you have worn the tires enough to make a difference when you need new tires. I’ll bet all four will have the same wear.


I can’t add much to the good advice already given, but if the OP’s transmission is one that allows second gear starts (rather then just first gear starts), you should always use the second gear position when trying to gain traction on a slippery surface.

Reducing the available torque will help you to gain traction, and that is exactly what happens when you start in a gear higher than first.

I recommend carrying a container (not a paper bag, it will burst and make a mess in your cargo area) of kitty littler, not sand. It is much lighter, and will give better traction.

Ideally you do want to spin the tires the minimum amount needed to make some headway. Spinning the tires faster than that doesn’t help you get out but does add wear. Unless you do this often, it’s hard to judge what the “right” amount is. I will point out that your perception of how much the tires are spinning is often quite different from outside the car versus from inside the car.

To each his own, but I’ve found that Kitty litter just makes a mess once it absorbs moisture. Then you just have a greasy mess. Alright if you are not parked where you may have to walk over the stuff later on or the next week. The stuff sticks sticks to your shoes worse than cat poo.
Same goes for fireplace ashes. They really give good traction but are a mess to work with.
Try to spread them facing the wind and you will look like Santa that got stuck in the chimney.
In the 80s I lived on a farm with a long driveway and the ashes from the fireplaces helped greatly on the drive, but I used sand where we parked so we wouldn’t be dragging the ashes back into the house on our shoes.

Sand is still the best I have found.


Lately, I have a 2 pound box of kosher salt I’ve been carrying around. It’s course grain, so It’s as good as sand or better for traction, plus the added benefit of melting ice.

I wouldn’t keep salt of any kind in the car. Chicken grit is safe but you only use that stuff if you are on an icy spot and need a little traction. Stuck in snow is something else. You have to try and get the snow out from underneath the car and clear the path for the wheels, then easy does it. I’ve never heard of warped tires though.

Drove 200 miles through the snow yesterday getting out of South Dakota. It was not fun.

Rocking a vehicle back and forth in snow to get it unstuck causes the transmission to start to overheat. This then causes the transmission fluid to break down causing damage to the transmission.

This should be avoided whenever possible. Instead, have the vehicle pulled out by another vehicle.


To each his own, but I've found that Kitty litter just makes a mess once it absorbs moisture.

I assume you’re talking about “clumping kitty litter” (basically granulated fine clay). The cheap, old-style stuff is what you want to use.

Thank you everyone for your feedback, it’s been very helpful. Also, thanks to the same mountainbike for the sand-in-a-bottle idea. I think I’ll start doing that.

Another tip, when you get stuck, if you have a shovel, shovel out the snow in front of the REAR wheels. You have front wheel drive so the front wheels will try to climb up the snow, but to the rear wheels, the snow acts like a pair of chocks.

I got stuck in the snow when I lived in Colorado quite often, but always had a manual transmission vehicle. I was usually able to get free just by the rocking method, like you did. You did the right thing with the floor mats too, good for you. Other people would tell me to start out in second gear, but the trick that worked for me was to just use the normal first gear, and try to apply as little power to the wheels as possible without stalling the engine, to avoid spinning the wheels. Eventually I’d get out. Sometime I’d have to ask some nearby pedestrians to help push from behind is all Patience seems to pay off for me when dealing w/snow.

Edit: Now that I think about it, I carried a can of stuff that I sprayed on the tires that was supposed to make them sticky and not slide so much. I dont’ think it worked. One time my buddy sprayed in onto the base of my skis, but that’s another story … lol .

I should mention that I did have a high school friend who damaged his parent’s car’s transmission when he got stuck in the snow and tried to get out too aggressively.

I carry grit in a screw-top plastic container with a wide mouth - one that originally contained almonds, purchased at Target. Cat litter is a big mistake in my experience. The slightest amount of spinning tire turns it to slick mud, which detracts (pun not intended) from traction. The cat litter recommendation is repeated ad infinitum in various media’s winter driving tips. Sort of an urban myth.

I carry a narrow, long-handled scoop bladed snow shovel and it is the best for getting snow from under a vehicle. It’s also great for shoveling a path through really deep snow… many reps of lesser loads is better exercise and less strain on the body.

About using the floor mats for traction. I’ve done it and they’ve saved the day, but the tire marks remain! Now I carry a nondescript rubber-backed rug in the trunk.

“Cat litter is a big mistake in my experience. The slightest amount of spinning tire turns it to slick mud.”

Cat litter is essentially particles of clay, and while they may provide a little bit of traction for a few moments, once they are soaked with moisture, they just turn into a wet mess.

Related to this, the township in which I was employed for 35 years was ridiculously bad when it came to snow removal, but just to add insult to injury, rather than spreading salt, or sand, or some kind of grit on the roads, they dumped clay that was dug out of the local clay pits.

In addition to not helping with traction (and very possibly reducing traction), the sight of snow discolored by red clay is…not pretty. They finally ended this ridiculous practice some time in the late '90s, IIRC.

I remember having a can of that traction stuff back in the 60’s. I think I used it once but didn’t help much.