Snow chains, or tire chains, are devices which are affixed to the tires of vehicles to provide superior traction when driving through snow and ice. Snow chains are usually attached to the drive wheels of a vehicle (e.g. the front wheels on a front-wheel drive car), though all four wheels should be chained to provide extra stability. Some owner’s manuals for four-wheel drive cars specify that two specific wheels can be chained, leaving the other two unchained if necessary.
Snow chains are sold as paired sets of two. You should buy chains that match your tire size (tire width and radius numbers can be found printed on the tire).A set of chains are placed on the wheels that are connected to the drive train in order to gain traction in icey, snowy or muddy conditions.
Front Wheel Drive Vehicles: Most passenger cars are front wheel powered vehicles, so the snow chains would be placed on the two front tires. (Though all four wheels should be chained to provide extra stability as long as the vehicle’s owner’s manual does not indicate chains cannot be used on all four wheels.)
Rear Wheel Drive Vehicles: Pickup trucks, older cars, sporty cars and most German cars are usually rear wheeled drive so the chains are placed on the rear tires. (Though all four wheels should be chained to provide extra stability as long as the vehicle’s owner’s manual does not indicate chains cannot be used on all four wheels.)
Four Wheel Drive Vehicles: Four wheel vehicles can use two pairs of chains to cover all four wheels. With only one pair of chains they are often put on the rear wheels, but can be placed on the front wheels instead for the added steering and braking benefit. (All four wheels should be chained to provide extra stability as long as the vehicle’s owner’s manual does not indicate chains cannot be used on all four wheels.)
Putting Tire Chains
Putting tire chains on your vehicle is not the most simple task, but it is sometimes required to keep you rolling, and once you have installed snow chains for a first time, you will be ready to chain up and keep on driving through the snowy mountains, every time.
When obtaining your tire chains, you must first make sure they will fit your tires. Most tire chain packaging has a guide that indicates which tires it fits. Stores and markets where chains are sold also have guides, or employees who can help you get the right size. Never try to attempt to use chains that are too large or too small for the tire, as this could result in dangerous driving and damage to your car.
The same way it is a good idea to test the braking and steering on a snowy or slippery road, you should test putting on the tire chains before you reach the mountain roads where they may be required.
Pick an open stretch of street, or a vacant parking lot. Take the chains out of their packaging or case, and untangle all of the links so they are hanging free in a web shape. Place the two separated chains by the tires to which you will apply them. For a front-wheel-drive vehicle, the chains should go on the front two tires. For rear-wheel-drive vehicles, the chains should be applied to the rear two wheels. Some trucks and extreme conditions may call for tire chains on all four wheels, which is fine, but make sure you put the chains on the right tires when you only have two.
With the car parked, parking brake engaged, and car in gear, place the chain onto the tire, holding it from the top and ensuring that it is evenly placed over the wheel. Obviously, the bottom part of the chain cannot cover that portion of tire that is touching the road. Just fit the rest of the chain onto the wheel as best you can.
Some chains have rings that go on the inside of the wheel, and help guide the chains into place. For these ring-type chains, be sure the open connection is on the bottom of the wheel. Once you place the chains on and the ring is going around the inside of the wheel, you can connect the bottom of the ring. This usually requires you to get right down under the car by the tire. You may need to change position to get the best angle on the connection.
Once the chain is evenly and securely on the three-quarters of the wheel that is not touching the road, repeat the process on the other side. When both chains are on, check to make sure the front of the car is clear, and drive forward a few feet. You only need to drive far enough to expose the rest of the wheels that were previously touching the ground. Put the car in gear or in park, engage the parking brake, and get out of the vehicle again. Now you can secure the chains squarely on the remaining wheel surfaces.
Next, tighten the chains by using a closer link on the chains. Now you are ready to drive, but only for a little bit. After you have driven 50 to 100 feet, you must get out and re-tighten the chains, which will likely have some slack from evening out across the tires.
Don’t be alarmed by the bumpy ride. After all, you are driving with chains on your tires. For your practice run with the tire chains, you will likely be on a dry road, so limit the driving, but this is a good chance to get to know how they feel and how the car rides with the chains on.
Taking the chains off is much easier, once you have disconnected the inside rings or chains. This once again requires you to get right down to the lower inside of the wheel. However, once the inside ring or chain is disconnected, you can’t simply pull the chains off. The chains will not disconnect on the bottom, where the tire is resting on the ground.
Simply lay the chains to the side of the tires as flat as possible, making sure that they are not still around the wheel or axle of the vehicle. Then you will drive forward a few feet, enough to get the car’s tires clear from the chains. When putting the chains back in a bag or packaging, try to make sure they are not tangled together, and make sure they are dry.
The reason it is often good to have practice putting on chains and knowing what you are doing is the adverse conditions in which you may have to repeat the task. Chains are required on snowy, icy, or possibly slick mountain roads and passes, where rain, snow, sleet, and wind can be formidable. This highlights the need for good gear to put your chains on.
Don’t depend on your ski wear or other clothing you plan on wearing much, unless you don’t mind if it’s wet, dirty, or both. The best gear for putting on tire chains is heavy, waterproof wear, such as rain gear. Waterproof pants are important because you will have to kneel down to install and take off the chains.
Another good thing to have is gloves, but they should not be bulky ski gloves, and mittens won’t do you any good under your car’s wheel well. Garden gloves work well because they provide some protection from the cold elements and chains, yet still afford dexterity and the use of your fingers.
Repeat the same procedures as described above in “Dry Run” to get your chains installed. Make sure you have enough space to work on all sides of the vehicle safely. Mountain passes typically have chain-up turnouts with signs to let you know when to put your chains on, and then take them off again. Follow the posted signs and requirements, and don’t get caught without chains, as there can be fines in addition to the difficult driving you might face.