At their simplest, the Trac-Grabber traction aids are a heavy-duty strap with metal loops on one end, and a rectangular block of ribbed rubber on the other. They come in a zipper bag you can leave in your trunk. The idea? Strap them around two of your ride’s wheels and tires when you’ve absolutely mucked things up and become desperately stuck, and they’ll provide added bite to help get you moving again.
I call it the ‘notch’. It’s the stripe of melted-down ice and snow beneath spinning wheels, an inch or two deep, born of multiple attempts to free a stuck vehicle. The notch is formed after you shovel the snow from under your ride when its hung up, and after sand and salt fail to free it, and after numerous attempts at rocking, and spinning, and swearing to get just a snudge more traction wind up ineffective in getting you moving again.
When I think to the times I’ve been really, badly stuck, exhausting all options to get myself out (including breaking branches off of a nearby tree or using an old gym towel for extra traction), there’s always this notch left behind, which has proven fundamental in trapping the drive wheels.
I created the notch the other day on purpose, for science, in an attempt to see if the Trac- Grabber straps would work to get a hopelessly stuck vehicle moving once again.
The test consisted of planting one Jeep Wrangler (on factory tires), into about a foot of heavy, rutted snow, leaving said Jeep in two-wheel drive, and trying to escape. Though the Wrangler has four-wheel drive, it was left off for the purposes of this test.
(The idea here, was that if the Trac-Grabber straps weren’t successful, a switch to 4×4 could be made to escape, sans shoveling).
With its two rear wheels spinning, momentum was insufficient to push the Jeep through the heavy snow and ruts, and it soon started digging in. Numerous back-and-forth rocking exercises failed to free it, either. The escape was attempted with traction control both on and off, and the test vehicle was not equipped with a locking rear differential.
Note that the test vehicle was not hung up in deep snow, that is, all weight was resting on the Wrangler’s tires.
Ultimately, the Wrangler dug itself in, polished the snow down beneath its rear wheels, and created a notch beneath each one. Though able to move an inch or two in each direction, it ultimately wasn’t going anywhere.
When completely stuck, I installed a Trac-Grabber strap – placing the rubber block against the tire, then fishing the yellow strap through the wheel and back around, through the loops on the rubber block, and snugging tight. It’s about a 30-second install procedure, and required far less snugging down of the strap than I had expected. The excess strap material is held in place with some Velcro. These things go on in a jiff.
There are two Track Grabber straps in a kit, and with just one of two installed, I figured on trying to get the Jeep to escape.
With one of two Trac-Grabbers installed, working on a single rear wheel, the Wrangler was able to virtually walk out of the notches it had created with its tires.
Be gentle with the throttle, and keep the wheels spinning slowly. The Trac-Grabber rotates round with the wheel, encounters the ground just ahead of it, causing the spinning wheel to slow, and the block to get pulled beneath it. At that point, the weight of that corner of the vehicle is pressing down on the thin, ribbed Track Grabber block, not the entire, smooth contact area of the tire. This provides more direct bite into the surface beneath.
In this case, the (single) Track Grabber block amounted to a shape that wouldn’t fit perfectly into the notch, biting into its edges instead, and helping find more traction for an escape. On further investigation, I noticed the Track Grabber had also helped by breaking up the packed and polished snow and ice beneath the tire, clearing it away, and creating a fresh surface to bite into. This effect is amplified when the wheels are spun more quickly, though ultimately, slow and steady seems best to get things moving again. You can see that in this quick and dirty video.
Again, remember, all of the above refers to using just one of the two Trac-Grabber straps.
A few notes. First, the tested vehicle’s wheels were large, open-spoked and easy to see through. If you’re running steel wheels with hubcaps, or a steel wheel with small holes through it, hookup will be considerably more difficult, if possible at all. Seeing ‘through’ the wheel makes the install process easier and faster. The gist? Be sure whatever vehicle you’re buying the Track Grabber for has a wheel design where a fairly thick fabric strap can be passed through.
You’ll also want to check for clearance. The block assembly is 1-1.5 inches thick, depending on the Trac-Grabber kit you’re using. On a Jeep Wrangler, there’s no risk of the rubber block hitting the body as it spins around, since there’s plenty of clearance. On a smaller or sportier car, where the body is closer to the tires, there may be. So, be sure the vehicle you’re using the Trac-Grabber on can facilitate an extra, say, 1.5 inches of heavy rubber rotating around with its wheel, without hitting anything.
Finally, you’ll probably still want to keep a compact shovel in your ride, as well as some sand or kitty litter, for extra traction, just in case. Most important is the shovel – if your ride is hung up, that is, if most of its weight is supported by snow beneath it and not its tires, the Trac-Grabber won’t work as well, as it depends on having plenty of weight on the wheel(s) in question Finally, note that my successful test was in one type of vehicle, on one type of surface, in one set of conditions, and that your results may vary.
The verdict? Provided you’re not hung up, that you can fish the strap through your wheels, and that your ride’s wheels and body-to-wheel clearance will fit the Trac-Grabber without interference, even just one strap will probably get you moving again, and two, almost definitely. When thinking back to any time I’ve ever been badly stuck (and there are more than a few of them), I’m certain a set of these would have got me moving again, lickety-split.
Compact to store and requiring less than two minutes to install, this is one of those safety products that makes a strong argument for taking up permanent residence in your trunk.
Trac Grabber traction aid straps can be found at Canadian Tire for $42.99 for the car model, and $52.99 for the truck model