While winter tyres can help you in bad conditions, there’s only so much they can do. When the going gets particularly snowy, you’re going to need a little something extra to keep going - snow chains. But there are a few issues with these simple but effective accessories.
Although snow chains are the most obvious and extreme method for maximising a car’s grip in snow, slush and ice, they are notoriously difficult to install in a hurry and can slap against the wheel arches once any tangible speed is reached. Alternatively, your local hardware store should offer snow socks and grip spray that are supposed to replace the need for a full set of snow chains, both of which are proven to enhance grip over a standard tyre when the tarmac gets slippery.
Snow socks are lengths of fabric that can be wrapped around the circumference of a tyre just like a snow chain. The fabric material uses ‘dry friction’ to help snow stick to its surface, creating a sticky contact patch for traction. If you’ve ever had a snowball fight in a wooly jumper - or found your gloves covered in particles of snow - you will have seen dry friction in action.
The snow sock is made up of ‘hairy’ fibres that are placed at 90 degrees to the direction of tyre rotation to maximise grip. Unfortunately, the need for dry snow makes for a lack of traction in wet snow or icey conditions. Although some socks have materials deliberately woven into them to absorb and wick any unwanted liquid, they perform near their optimum levels in cold, crisp weather.
Snow spray is an even cheaper alternative, with cans priced at around £18 ($24). The contents of the spray create an adhesive layer between the contact patch of the tyre and the snow, somewhat simulating the same properties as a sock or chain. Usually employing a natural resin called isopropanol, the spray cleans the tyre tread of any grime and replaces it with a thin adhesive layer.
Also known as ‘liquid snow chains’, this alternative has mixed reviews across the board. The spray is very much a temporary fix, getting you moving from snowy and slushy conditions but wears off quickly once the car has got going. Although manufacturers will quote effectiveness of up to 50 miles of driving, many online reviews talk of little increase in traction and the layer simply washing away a short distance down the road.
An upside of the grip spray is its ease of application compared to the snow sock, and repetitive coats can be added along a journey to top-up traction. Also, if a snow sock was to tear or wear down due to extended contact with tarmac or interaction with stones and drains, it would be rendered useless, leading to a £60 ($74) outlay for a new set.
Some countries - where snowfall gets particularly heavy - will force drivers to use snow chains for safety reasons, leading to a grey area as to whether socks are a reliable alternative. Despite their convenience, socks and sprays are still being rejected by law enforcement in wintery countries, so it’s safe to say that multiple governments don’t believe in their safety prowess. In Alpine Europe it seems only France have fully legalised snow socks as a straight alternative for chains. Its neighbour Switzerland however still produces heavy fines for those found driving without proper chains in the car.
Whatever winter driving alternative you use should always be down to your own discretion and analysis of the weather conditions. Snow sprays may be all well and good for UK drivers but utterly useless in the uppermost reaches of Scandinavia and Northern America where socks and chains may be the only safe solution.
Have you ever tried the snow socks or snow spray? Have they proved to be cheap and reliable alternatives or have they been complete failures? Comment below with your winter driving experiences!