Torrential rains and melting snow can turn less-than-paved roads and driveways into mud. When your tire is mired in the mucky stuff, how do you get going again?

Your instincts could make things worse.

The number one mistake is trying too aggressively to get unstuck, says William E. Van Tassel, Ph.D., driver training programs manager at National AAA. “Particularly, using acceleration to try to get the car to move and the result often is the tire just spins and you get stuck farther in.”

Another reason it’s a bad idea to keep hitting the accelerator: It’s not good to have mud splashing up into the engine, as it could damage it, says Van Tassel.

Here’s the right way to save your car from the mud.

Related: Are Your All-Season Tires Really Good Enough for Winter?

Getting unstuck

First, keep the wheel pointed straight. This makes it easier for the car to move forward or backward. If you start turning the wheel, it adds friction and makes it harder for you to get the car moving.

Next, Van Tassel advises following these steps in order.

Step 1: Move the opposite way. Try going in the opposite direction you were going when you got stuck. If you were moving forward, try to back up. If you were backing up, try to move forward. Be very gentle with the accelerator. If that doesn’t work, move on to step 2.

Step 2: Step on it a bit. Add just enough pedal pressure to get the car to slowly glide forward while keeping the wheel straight. If you have a manual transmission, use a lower gear. If this doesn’t work, move to step 3.

Step 3: Try to rock it out. Gently move forward as far as you can, then switch to reverse as soon as you reach that point. Now go backwards until the car stops, and so on. “It's a little tricky because you have to be fairly quick in shifting from forward gear to reverse gear to do that,” says Van Tassel. “Don’t be too aggressive as it could damage your transmission,” warns Van Tassel.

If you go back and forth three or so times and you're not seeing any progress, move on to the next step so you don't put your transmission at risk.

Step 4: Create additional traction under the tire. Get out of the car, grab your gloves and use a traction mat or your own car mats. “What you're trying to do is fill the space between the underside of the tire and the ground,” says Van Tassel.

Stick the mat directly into the center of the tire, in the direction you are moving. For example, if you're moving forward, put it in front of the tire. If you have multiple mats, try putting one in front of the tire and one behind it.

Avoid using a jack, as it may not work in the mud unless you have a very stable surface to prop it on.

Once you get going, don’t stop until you reach solid ground.

Related: What to Do If Your Car Plunges Into Water

If all else fails

If nothing worked, Van Tassel suggests contacting a roadside assistance professional through your car insurance or a membership-based organization rather than asking a friend pull you out.

“For safety purposes, work with a professional, since they've been trained to do this and do it all the time,” says Van Tassel. Even if you have a car that can pull you out, you may get the second car stuck or risk damage to both cars and yourself if the chain used to pull your car breaks.

How to avoid getting stuck

Aside from avoiding potentially unstable areas, Van Tassel has a few tips to avoid getting stuck in the future.

  • Make sure your tires have plenty of tread.
  • Try to park on paved surfaces.
  • If you hit a piece of soft road, keep going and steer toward more stable ground.
  • Add an emergency car kit to your trunk and include gloves, a traction mat, a shovel, a rain poncho, reflective triangles and a flashlight.

“Safety is the primary issue here. If you get stuck, just make sure that you are not going to get hit by any approaching traffic. It happens way too often,” says Van Tassel.

Related: 10 Things to Keep in the Trunk of Your Car

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Muriel Vega is a writer with a passion for budget travel and staying safe while abroad. A Georgia State University graduate, she has over 6 years of editorial experience and has written for The Guardian, The Atlantic, The Billfold, among other outlets. In her free time, you can find her baking pies, playing with her two dogs and cat, or planning her next vacation. She spends way too much time on Twitter, one of her favorite social media channels. Her favorite safety tip: Make sure you have all the necessary shots before you go abroad.