Introduction: Get Un-Stuck - Snow Treads for Your Car

About: I started using tools a loooooong time ago and never stopped. all the guards and safety warnings on today's tools and equipment are mostly a pain to me. Hot things burn, sharp things cut. Be careful or pay som…

This is the season to get your car stuck, whether in snow drifts or, farther south in warmer weather, mud. In many places, tire chains are illegal. Other places you can use them but they're a pain to put on and take off. They're noisy and, most of the time, in your trunk when you need them. They're also impossible to install when you're already stuck.. And, when you need a tow truck, it seems like everyone else does too! Often it's several hours' wait until the one you've called shows up. Then he spends about three minutes pulling you out --- for a small fortune.

But you should be grateful he showed up at all.

However, this Instructable is about a trick that I learned about long ago and far away (in Michigan, where I grew up and learned to drive). We used to called them "Snow Treads" or "traction strips". They were very simple, fairly cheap and we carried them in the trunk of all our vehicles - and kept them when we sold the car! When mud or snow (or sometimes even ice) kept the car from going, we went around to the trunk, got them out and jammed them under the tires of the car (in the direction we wanted to move). I can't say that they worked every time. You can get a car stuck so that even a winch or a tow truck has a tough time getting it out, but, in many cases, all you need to do is to get it moving, or get it out of a relatively small area that your car and regular tires can't handle. This is NOT going to get your car out of a ditch or past a 3 foot bank of snow.Those are situations that call for extreme measures.

Step 1: Why So Few Pictures?

The reason there are so few pictures - and no video - demonstrating making these things or the use of them is that now I live in the American Desert Southwest where it rarely snows (and it doesn't last if we do get any) and even mud doesn't last very long. Witness the picture of the mighty Rio Grande (with no water in it) that runs nearby.

I haven't needed something like this in 30 years.

And I don't have any 4WD vehicles either.

Step 2: What Is This "miracle Equipment"?

The things that can save you time and money are simply pieces of steel "expanded metal". You may have seen it in industrial floor gratings.They have diamond-shaped openings in sheet metal (generally steel) and are made by a huge stamping press that cuts and stretches the sheet metal. It takes very large, specialized equipment to make it (definitely not a DIY project) and is normally sold by steel yards, metal supply companies, or sometimes by reallygood hardware stores. You may be able to get your hardware store to order some if he doesn't carry it - and he likes you - or really wants your money. Unfortunately, it's often only available in 4 foot by 8 foot sheets (or smaller pieces at the same price as a whole sheet) (typically $35-45 for the kind I recommend.for this purpose - 9 gauge "raised" expanded metal with open diamonds between 3/4" and 1-1/2". Heavier stuff gets too expensive and, strangely enough, too heavy to handle easily (around 3 lbs per square foot). Lighter weight mesh doesn't hold up very well when run over by a car or truck (which, after all, is its intended purpose).

Step 3: How Can You Cut It Down?

While expanded metal is available in many different thickness and different-sized openings, and you can get it either "raised" or "flattened", for this purpose, you definitely want the raised stuff - it really bites into snow, ice, and mud. I recommend the 9 gauge (made from 5/32" thick sheet steel) with something between 3/4" and 1-1/2" diamonds. Because you are getting the raised version, the actual thickness of the stretched-out stuff will be more like 1/2".

It generally comes in 4' by 8' sheets and is quite difficult to handle. It is awkward, has very sharp edges, and a full sheet weighs between 36 and 58 lbs, depending on the size of the openings. It's sort of like trying to handle a full sheet of plywood with sharp saw blades for edges. Handle ONLY with heavy gloves ... and you still need to be careful!

It can be cut with an oxy-acetylene torch, which has the advantage of not leaving sharp edges (just re-hot ones for a while), but it's much faster and easier to cut with a circular saw with a steel-cutting abrasive blade (which are quite inexpensive). But these will leave very sharp edges! They will shred cloth, leather, and especially skin - practically anything they touch but rock or cement - and they'll wear away at that!

If you have a circular saw guide, it's not too hard to clamp it to the sheet of expanded metal (with several 2x4's underneath to support it) and cut it up into the size pieces you want. Cutting it will make lots of pretty sparks! You want pieces four feet long and between 8" and about 9-1/2" wide each. You can get 12 - 8" x 48" pieces or 10 - 9-1/2" x 48" pieces out of one 4 foot by 8 foot sheet. You want to cut each one so that the diamonds go crossways to the length of the tread - it bites better and slips less.

That's enough for one pair of these snow treads for five or six cars. "But I don't have five or six cars," you say? They make wonderful gifts for anyone else who drives in crummy weather. Or you could probably sell extra sets to the first people who watch you use them for a tidy profit. However there really is one more step to making them. That's where the work comes in.

Step 4: How to Dull the Sharp Edges

Unless you dull the sharp edges of this stuff, it's a given that you're going to get hurt on it. It's about as fun to handle as a large piece of cactus. It will take care and some heavy gloves to keep from damaging yourself.

You could dull the points with a file and a lot of patience. You can melt the ends with an oxy-acetylene torch, leaving you with little knobs on all the ends. You can dull those sharp, pointy edges with a rotary wire brush. If you have a bench grinder with a wire brush or a good, fast powerful power drill with a rotary wire brush, you can fairly quickly get rid of all those razor tips by just going over each tip (fairly heavily) with a good strong wire brush - the faster it's moving, the better. It's safer to clamp the tread to a work table and use the drill, but most drills don't turn fast enough. At lower speeds, it can take a LOT longer and not do as good a job. You have to be very careful not to let the brush catch in the mesh of the tread and drag your hand into its edges. I've done this before. There are definitely hazards to handling expanded metal.

Since I haven't made any of these in years, I'm not sure, but it might work to put several layers of duct tape (also called "Duck" Tape, although I've never seen it used on a duck) around the whole outside edge as protection, but I don't know how well it would stay there, especially in use. If you try this, please let me know your results.

Coarse sandblasting of just the edges also might work to dull the points (I haven't tried it) and it would be faster and safer than wire brushing. I'll have to try it. If it works, I'll come back and add it. If you try it, please let me know how it worked - or didn't work.

Step 5: How to Use the Snow Treads

These are very simple to use. If the best way out wherever you're stuck is to go forwards, jam them under the front ofany tires that spin .If it looks like it would be better to get out backwards, jam them under the back of the tires. Then, after making sure no one is standing inline with the tires and treads, gently and slowly try to drive the car in that direction. If a tire spins (you should be able to hear it), stop immediately and check to see which tire is spinning. It's easier if you (or someone else) can watch to see if any of your tires are spinning (which is undesirable). If one is spinning, you either need to jam the tread in harder or make sure that the tire hasn't shot it through under the car (which is why you have to make sure that no one is standing in the way of a potentially fast-moving piece of snow tread).

Unless you're hopelessly stuck, these will get you out and on your way in a relatively short period of time. Make sure you stop as soon as your vehicle is in a movable situation and go back to pick up your treads and put them back wherever you store them.

I hope this trick saves you time and money. Let both you and the tow truck driver stay comfortable and warms.