What are snow socks?
Snow socks (also known as tire socks or auto socks) are textile devices that wrap around the tires of a vehicle in order to increase traction on snow and ice. They are normally composed of a woven fabric with an elastomer attached to the inner edge.
The woven fabric covers the tire tread and is the contact point between the vehicle and the road. The elastomer keeps the snow sock in place and facilitates the installation.
Some snow socks have an additional component that covers the rim of the tire, which prevents snow or debris from gathering between the tread and the woven fabric.
Do they directly replace snow chains?
When regions invoke snow chain laws – a common precautionary measure during inclement weather – tire socks are generally not considered a legal equivalent to snow chains.
However, some snow sock brands are individually approved according to the related governing body like CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation).
Currently, the only snow sock brand that covers the entirety of North America is AutoSock.
Occasionally, snow chain laws will only apply vehicles that are not equipped with winter tires or four-wheel drive.
If snow chains are prohibited (usually to prevent damaging the pavement) or by vehicle manufacturer recommendations, socks without metal components are normally permitted or the only traction device that can fit in the wheel well.
However, neither snow socks nor snow chains are considered equal substitutes to winter tires.
Are tire socks available in different sizes?
To find if a size is available for your specific tire, click the image above.
Snow socks are sold in pairs and come in sizes that are specific to a range of tire size found on the sidewall of the tire. Just like tire chains, it is important to have the right size for your tire as they are tire size specific with one size fitting multiple tires.
How do snow socks work?
Typically a fibrous textile is used to create traction by penetrating the thin film of water on snow or ice, connecting the vehicle directly to the road surface. In comparison to snow chains, socks create traction on the surface of the layer, while snow chains create traction by compressing the surface.
The fabric partially removes the thin film of water and create dry friction, when the outermost fibers of the woven fabric connect with the surface layer of snow or ice. Mud and snow (M+S) or winter tires rely on the same mechanics, but fabrics have the advantage of a significantly larger surface area in comparison.
Each thread on the woven fabric of a snow sock consists of numerous, small synthetic fibers, which becomes a large, frictional surface area to creates traction.
Snow socks or tire chains?
Alternative traction devices are usually cheaper to purchase and easier to install than snow chains, but they are more prone to damage on surfaces such as dry pavement or gravel.
The primary advantages of AutoSocks are their ease of use, ride comfort and compatibility with vehicle safety technology.
Snow chains are more durable and can be used on dry surfaces (e.g. by skidders), but when damaged they risk tearing up the wheel well or wrapping around the axle and brake lines. Snow chains can also cause damage to the rim, directly to the pavement or other vehicles on the road as the “fly” off your vehicle.
How fast can I safely drive with tire socks on?
When driving with snow socks, the maximum speed of the vehicle should be reduced.
Driving with socks on your wheels usually reduces the maximum allowable speed to between 30 km/h (20mph) and 50 km/h (30 mph) depending on the snow sock brand, snow sock size, and vehicle type.
These restrictions are usually stated in the product owner’s manual or vehicle owner’s manual, but depending on the region these limits may also be legally enforced under snow chain laws. Socks are typically labeled with the recommended speed on the packaging.
- Passenger cars, vans and light commercial vehicles (including pickup trucks) are normally restricted to the same speed as snow chains, which is up to 50km/h (30mph).
- Buses and heavy commercial vehicles (such as semi-trucks) equipped with snow socks are normally limited to a maximum speed of 30km/h (20mph).
Tire socks work well where tire chains are not permitted.
When snow chain laws are in effect, most snow chains are considered legal, while only specific brands of sock are considered legal alternatives.
When snow chains are prohibited, fabric socks are usually permitted.
Both snow chains and snow socks are only intended for short stretches of road and inclement conditions but can be used for multiple uses.
Are AutoSocks compatible with studded tires?
Another advantage of fabric is that it can be machine washable, but their compatibility with studded tires varies between brands.
AutoSock is fully compatible with studded tires.
Are there disadvantages to using chains?
While there are “easy fit” snow chains available, car socks are usually more compatible with vehicle safety technology such as ABS or ESC, or physical obstructions such as narrow wheel arches or low-profile tires.
Many automakers advise against using snow chains on newer vehicles due to the narrow space in the wheel well. Also, snow chains, unless properly maintained, risk corrosion.
Are auto socks for cars, pickup trucks or semis?
Like tire chains, snow socks are sold in different sizes and cover most of the commonly used tire sizes on the market.
Snow socks are available for different vehicle classes, but most brands focus on cars and pickup trucks rather than semi-trucks or larger vehicles.
Since the largest variation of snow socks is in the market for cars and pickup trucks, unusual tires such as wide or low-profile tires are often covered.
What about buses or other types of transportation?
Buses, semi-trucks or larger vehicles require special snow sock models that can support the heavier axle load and larger wheel dimensions. Some brands also offer snow socks for specialized vehicles such as forklifts or airplane ground support equipment (e.g. pushback tugs or loaders).
Are snow socks legal?
Signs like above are now being replaced ones like below, thanks to companies like AutoSock.
AutoSocks are the most widely-certified and approved alternative traction device in the world.
Buyer beware, not all alternative traction devices are made equal. While some claim to be approved, unless listed on the state’s DOT website like in Washington or Colorado you can still get cited and potentially not have the traction you need endangering yourself and others on the road.
AutoSock meets the requirements of ÖNORM V5121 and complies with the French winter equipment regulations B26. AutoSock can be used when snow chains are required in France, Spain, Andorra, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia. AutoSock is endorsed with TÜV 53219 (cars) and TÜV 53283 (trucks and buses).
For your local regulations, see our state-by-state guide:
The history of snow socks.
The Scandinavian population used to pull wool socks over their shoes to avoid slipping on ice-covered surfaces, so the concept of using textiles to increase traction is fairly old.
There is a story that claims Henry Ford used a carpet to get his car moving during the difficult winter months.
In 1996, a Norwegian tire specialist recalled this story and started thinking about a solution that could continuously apply an equivalent traction on the wheels of the vehicle.
Instead of placing the textile on the road, he came up with the idea of a textile that wraps around the tire itself. From there, the conceptual idea of the snow sock was born.
After several years of research and development – and through working with automakers, yarn producers, tire experts and textile engineers – the first snow sock came to market in 2001 under the brand AutoSock.