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Snow test: Winter tire traction aids

Consumer Reports News: March 13, 2008 05:35 PM

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Ever wish you had a little extra traction in the snow? We tested two products that promise to help you get up a slippery driveway.

Here's the scenario: You're driving home in snowy conditions. Maybe it's been snowing all day long, and the roads have been plowed well enough for you to make it to your destination—almost. Now all you need to do is ascend a steep driveway that is covered with unplowed snow. You make an attempt to climb the driveway, but the car tires are just spinning like mad. Now what? You could leave the car on the roadside and attempt to walk up to the house with your family in-tow, but that's not a great option. (I'm talking from experience here.) So, what if the solution was something you could grab from your trunk and apply to the tires in a few minutes, getting the family to the cozy comfort of home and the car tucked away, safe from passing snow plows? There are two products on the market that claim to deliver added tire grip to get out of a tight spot like this or worse: Tyre Grip and AutoSock.

Tyre Grip comes in a can and you spray it on the tire tread of each drive wheel.  Its claim is "better grip on snow, ice, and slush [by creating] an adhesive surface that grips the roads."  We bought a can for $24.95 plus shipping from an Internet store, though a 16-ounce can is now listed at $19.95 on the company Web site.

AutoSock is a cloth and mesh cover that you slip over the tire and wheel like a sock.  When installed, the AutoSock envelops the tire's tread and provides a gripping surface for traveling through snow. We purchased our AutoSock pair from TireRack for $99.00 plus shipping. They come in a variety of sizes to fit different tires. We bought ours to fit the 16-inch tires on our 2008 Honda Accord LX.

How they worked

We did some acceleration and brake testing in Vermont, comparing the grip of the all-season tires on our Accord with and without Tyre Grip applied. Our objective testing revealed a very modest 1-percent traction gain in accelerating with Tyre Grip and a more significant 5-percent gain in grip in stopping. Still, traction waned quickly after only traveling about 1 mile, far below the claimed 50 miles per application.

We didn't try the AutoSock in these tests, as wheel spinning, extreme braking and acceleration are not recommended. Further, AutoSock should only be used at speeds no higher than 30 mph.

The next test was our snow-covered hill climb test. We first tried to climb to the top of the hill, simulating our driveway scenario, with the Accord's all-season tires. We then applied the Tyre Grip to the tread and finished off using the AutoSock over the drive tires. The all-season tires failed to climb to the top of the snow-covered grade. Adding Tyre Grip did give a bit more starting traction, but not enough to reach the top of the hill. But with the AutoSock over the front drive tires, the Accord actually made it up the hill on numerous attempts. The winner here: AutoSock.

Bottom line
Tyre Grip might provide some added traction, but the cost per can is rather steep - you'll likely get only two or three liberal applications per can. Also, take note of the warning label: "Extremely Flammable, Harmful Vapor, and Harmful or Fatal if Swallowed."

The AutoSock is not cheap, but it can effectively get you out of a tight spot. The downside is that it's very cumbersome to slip over a tire—expect to get dirty and wet putting it on. The AutoSock is only meant for use on ice- and snow-covered roads and should be removed immediately when conditions improve. Also, the difference in grip it produces between axles with and without AutoSock will adversely affect handling. Finally, AutoSock warns that it's not a substitute for winter tires—we agree.

Gene Petersen

See our winter tire buying advice and Ratings. And our complete guide to winter driving.

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