What the heck are tire socks? Here’s a review.

So last week we had to chain up for the first time. You can read that whole story in my last blog entry. It was kind of crazy.

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Winter is certainly here, and it's already been a little crazy!

We got back to the office and a discussion ensued. Were the cables we were carrying legal or not? The Caltrans (California Department of Transportation) guys at the checkpoints in the middle of a slushy snowstorm said they weren’t. A lady we spoke on the phone said they weren’t. Our crew at work tried calling the same number but no one answered or returned their calls. Three different people at our office searched the caltrans website finding no specific information on what SIZE cables were legal or not. Everything was very vague, usually just referring to chains and “other traction devices,” and that’s it. So… were we crazy? It probably seemed so.

I guess this opened up the discussion of arming us with the latest technology in traction: tire socks.

Caltrans clearly weren’t fans of the socks when we went through, saying the only reason they were legal was because “someone was greasing the pockets of politicians.” I don’t exactly know what that means or how it works, but two separate caltrans dudes told us the same thing, nearly word for word. Makes me wonder – are they trained to say this? I’m already feeling skeptical after they convinced us to buy $300 in chains last week. I don’t know. I don’t have anything against chains, especially since I know how to install them now. But honestly? They’re a pain. They’re heavy, they’re tricky to get tight, and they can fall off. They’re also tough on tires and equipment.

The tire socks on the other hand? They are not a pain. They kind of rock, actually. We ended up having to use them over Donner Pass in California again, only we had to start at the Nevada border this time, instead of just the summit like last week.

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The socks - installed, driven on, centered and secure.

So here’s a review of our first use of them – a brief description of what the heck they are and how they work, installation and a downside we discovered, too. Keep in mind this is one use in one particular weather situation (16 – 24 inches of snow at the summit). I can’t really speak for other unique weather situations. But we did get a good feel for them on this week’s trip.

So what are tire socks?
These things are weird. They are basically a special cloth that covers the tire and it grips the snow and ice. The AutoSock website does a better job than I could really do to describe it (which would be “fancy fiber grippies”):

AutoSock, a high-technology textile tire covering, utilizes GripTech® technology. Specially patterned fibers optimize grip on slick surfaces by managing the thin layer of water on top of ice and snow. Through its weaving pattern and thousands of small fibers AutoSock clings to snow and ice, increasing vehicle traction, improving safety and adding to driver confidence.

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This is what they look like installed, brand new, before rolling on them at all.

I also read somewhere on the website that snow won’t stick to the fabric, like you might see with wool, for example. You know, the little icy cling-on snowballs when you’re trying to roll out a snowman. They don’t do the cling-on thing.

So yeah, little fibers. It sounds crazy, but I think they actually work!

Installation
Our first time installing these in the cold and sloppy snow took a tiny fraction of time compared to our first time with chains. They are stupid-easy. You just drape the sock over as much of the tire as you can, roll the truck forward or back about three feet, then pull it the rest of the way on. It’s elasticized, so it kind of wraps tightly around the tire.

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This one is half-way on. Then we roll the truck a few feet forward and pull the loose side on over the other side of the tire. Done!

If they’re not perfectly centered, no worries. We rolled forward and back a few times like you’d do with chains to make sure they were on securely, and they were. And sure enough, we checked again a mile or so down the road and they were all perfectly centered and looking solidly secure on the tires. Self-centering! Nice! I felt pretty confident they were going to stay on. And they all did – for the entire 50+ miles we had to drive with them on (it was a longer stretch this week!).

The downside to these crazy things?
Wear. First of all, they’re pretty expensive. They are sold in sets, and the four sets we got (eight socks total) cost about $900. Youch. I’m not sure how many uses you can get out of them, or more specifically how many miles you can put on them, but inspecting them after their first 50 miles, they generally held up well. I’d be comfortable using them again, and we’ll have to reassess their condition then.

Here’s the downside part – as we were driving, we were able to dodge four out of five chains in the road that other trucker’s had lost. The one I did run over was covered in snow so it was hard to identify it as a chain, and there was another truck passing me on my left so I couldn’t really swerve around it. I wouldn’t want to swerve for something on an icy road, anyway.

Running over that chain ripped some holes in one of the socks that was covering a trailer tire. Our safety guy theorized that when it rolled under my front steer or tractor drive tires, it got jumbled up, then wrapped around that trailer tire, causing more than just one rip. So we’re not exactly sure that one sock is legal any more, or how less effective it will be now. We have a spare set (only three sets are needed in California when max chains are required), so we’ll hang on to the damaged one as a spare or something to throw on in an icy driveway for dropping a trailer (for example).

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The damage. A big bummer.

How did they grip compared to chains?
This is hard to tell. The important observation is that we stayed on the road! It didn’t feel like we were sliding around at all, but we were also going 20 mph the entire time we had them on.

Sidenote: 20mph is the recommended max speed you want to drive when the socks are on the tires. I believe going too fast, accelerating too quickly or braking too hard could possibly bunch them up and cause them to pop off. You also want to drive very slowly with chains on, so it’s not like the 20mph speed is a disadvantage to the tire socks.

With chains on, you really feel them clattering under your tires, and this kind of gives you a confident feeling like, “Wow. These are really doing their job digging into that snow!” Whether or not that’s true, I don’t know, but history shows they’re effective.

With the tire socks you don’t even feel them on. The truck feels smooth and normal, so you don’t have that hard, clunky grip feeling, but this new technology from AutoSock has apparently been tested in a lot of different situations and I guess they hold. They did for us!

A couple of odds & ends regarding the tire socks:
If you’re installing tire socks in California, Caltrans will lecture you when you go through the checkpoints. As I mentioned, they really have something against these things. In fact, one guy told us they’d be ripped off by the time we got to the summit, but we found that hard to believe because he also told us we had 3,000 more feet to climb at that point, which would’ve put us at 9,000 feet. The highest we get is at the summit (Donner Pass), which is 7,000 feet, so he was oh… only 2,000 feet off. That’s a big difference in this situation!

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One of two Caltrans check points. They don't let you through if you don't have the proper chain set up.

If using socks in a MINIMUM chain law area (one set on the drives and one set on the trailer), you must use the MAX configuration with the socks, which is a set on both drive tires, and one set on the trailer tires (so three sets total instead of two).

Second, Caltrans will warn you that if you get stuck up there with socks on, “You get NO second chances. You get towed back to the STATE LINE (Nevada!).” Apparently they just pull you out and send you on your way if you have chains on? It’s a question – I don’t really know.

They are machine washable! For some reason I just find that kind of funny. Not sure I’d want them in my home machine, though. They pick up quite a bit of road grit and sand. You’d at least have to be sure to shake them out really well first.

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How they look after driving on them (and not running over a chain). Still in good shape!

AutoSock sells these for big trucks and cars, but you need to know your specific tire size to order. And I believe their website said max speed with a car wearing tire socks is 30mph – but you may want to double check that detail if you get them for your car. (I keep thinking how nice they’d be for ice fishing.)

Just a couple more tidbits – first, don’t let them freeze. Don’t park overnight with them on or store them used and wet somewhere they could freeze. Second, obviously, try not to run over thrown chains when you have tire socks, but don’t drive off the road to avoid them, either! And last, if you’re in a situation in which chain laws are in effect, shut down if you can. It’s really the safest bet. If you do proceed, please drive slow, safe, and courteously.

Well, that turned out to be quite the long review, but what else would you expect from me!?

If there are any other tire sock users out there that have experience using them and would like to add to this review, please comment! Thanks!

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Tonight I love NOT having to chain or “sock” up.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

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4 thoughts on “What the heck are tire socks? Here’s a review.

  1. I wear cotton socks when I’m cleaning my bathtub to keep from slipping, same principal I guess! Socks for your vehicle – kookie crazy.

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