Tire Socks: An Alternative to Snow Tires?

Difficult installation might have you wondering why you didn’t splurge for winter tires

Last updated: January 02, 2016 08:00 AM

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In the winter, there are times when most drivers wish they had a bit more traction, particularly when scaling a slippery hill or ascending an icy driveway. Beyond winter tires and all-wheel drive, there are aftermarket products that promise to provide added grip for occasional use.

Consumer Reports recently evaluated three textile products that fit over tires to aid traction. Think of them as alternatives to clunky metal snow chains. (See below for a note about states that require tire chains.) Two of the products—AutoSock and ISSE—resemble a cloth sock that slips over the tire. The Michelin Easy Grip looks and works more like a snow chain made out of rope. Like the “socks,” the Easy Grip slips over the tire.

Installing these products is straightforward, but by no means is it easy or clean. Kneeling in the snow and working in close proximity to a wet, cold, and dirty wheel well is no treat. Plus, it takes some muscle and patience to slip one of these products over the tire. All are intended for use on snow- and ice-covered roads only, and they have limited speed ranges of 25 mph (Michelin Easy Grip and ISSE) to 30 mph (AutoSock).

We purchased all three products online, in a size to fit the 215/60R16 tires on our 2012 Toyota Camry. (Tip: Be careful when ordering to get the appropriate size, as proper fit is vital.) Each product comes with a pair for the drive wheels of a front- or rear-wheel drive car, but they can be used in a set of four for an all-wheel-drive vehicle. The Michelin Easy Grip cost $139.60, the AutoSock was purchased for $109.95, and the cheapest was the ISSE was the least expensive at $71.96. Prices will vary depending on retail outlets and sizes.

Michelin Easy Grip, ISSE, and AutoSock

Where the Sock Meets the Road

We measured the snow traction performance of these products on a set of Michelin Premier A/S all-season tires in our standard snow traction test where we accelerate from 5 to 20 mph. Less distance needed to reach 20 mph equates to better snow traction. With no traction devices installed, our Toyota Camry took 73 feet to reach 20 mph. The AutoSock and ISSE “tire socks” significantly improved snow traction, shortening the distance to 58 feet, while the Michelin Easy Grip did even better at 49 feet. For comparison, a dedicated winter tire took 57 feet to reach 20 mph.

The good news is all three products offer added grip on snow. The bad news is installation can be tough, particularly when you factor in the cold. It is important that these be installed in a safe place away from traffic. In our experience, the ”tire sock” products were a little easier to install than the Michelin Easy Grip, but all three are hard to pull over a tire. Each requires the tire to rotate periodically during installation to position the traction aids properly over the tire’s tread. Consequently, this process is easier with an assistant.

If you need temporary traction to get out of a slick-wintry spot once in a great while, then these products might make sense as a part of a winter emergency kit in the trunk. For most snow-belt drivers, dedicated winter tires are more practical and versatile for the wide variety of wintry conditions.

*Used on Michelin Premier A/S.

Tire Chain Laws

Some localities require tire chains on certain roads under certain conditions, even for vehicles fitted with snow tires, and these products may or may not fit the bill. Some states allow textile-based products; others require actual metal chains. Before deciding what to buy, consider where you will be driving and do a Web search for tire chain requirements in those states.

Check our tire ratings to find the best-performing models for snow traction that fit your car.

Gene Petersen

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