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Published Jun. 22, 2018

If you frequently drive or are planning to visit, an area with heavy snowfall and icy road conditions then you should consider investing in a good set of snow chains. This simple tool can really help to increase your tire traction in the poorest of road conditions, making it much safer to drive during wintertime.

As with any other product, whilst there may be a lot of them on the market these days, not all snow chains are created equal. Some are better suited for different conditions, some are better for different vehicle types and some, quite frankly, are simply better than others.

So to help you drive safely this winter, we’ve weeded out the B team chains to bring you this guide to the very best tire chains for snow on the market today. We’ll start with a product guide taking you through 10 stellar options, before moving on to a buying guide and FAQ to help you understand snow chains, select the right one for your vehicle and then install and use them properly.

Best Tire Chains for Snow in 2020:

We like to keep you on your toes here at Car Bibles, so without very first product, we’re going to throw you a bit of a curveball. This snow chain you see is not actually a chain at all – it instead uses a kind of metal cable design.

That unique design and construction is not the end to the list of features of this product, however, oh no it is in fact merely the beginning! The first thing to note is that this is a phenomenally versatile chain. What you’ll see as you make your way down our list is that many chains are specific to a certain vehicle type.

That does not apply to this product, however. That cable-style design means it has very, very low clearance, making it suitable for more types of vehicles. It’s also designed to be incredibly easy to fit, with no need to actually move the vehicle during installation. It also has a better level of compatibility with Anti-Lock brake system sensors than many other types of chain. 

Don’t be worried that grip has been sacrificed either, as the cable element of the chain has been designed to give better all round traction than conventional chains. This is a phenomenally well-designed snow chain, with a very reasonable mid-range price tag too.

Key Features
  • Cable Construction for Low Clearance
  • Very Fast & Simple Installation
  • Built-in Rubber Tightening Device
  • Outstanding All Round Traction Performance
Specification
  • Brand Security Chain
  • Model SZ143
  • Weight 1 lb

Well-respected German accessories manufacturer Konig is behind the second item to make our list. These chains are specifically designed with SUV style vehicles in mind and are very much at the premium end of the market, with a price tag a little under 300 bucks making them easily the most expensive on the list.

For that price though you are getting a lot of top quality features. Perhaps the stand out is the patented, built-in self-tensioning system. This makes installation very easy, with the tire chain itself effectively regulating the pressure it requires between links for optimum performance. In practical terms, that means once you have the chain on, your work is done – no on the fly adjustments required as with some cheaper, less premium models.

Another cool feature is Nylon bumpers – you should be able to see them as small red balls on the image of the chains. They are designed to keep the abrasive metal surface of the chain out of contact with your alloy wheels, protecting them from damage.

Finally, in use, these chains boast a unique chain pattern plus welded double traction plates designed to give excellent grip and performance in snowy conditions. These car tire chains are not cheap – but they certainly have the features to live up to that lofty price tag.

Key Features
  • Designed for SUV’s
  • Quick Fitting Design
  • Low 12mm Clearance
  • Anti-Scratch Nylon Bumpers 
Specification
  • Brand Konig
  • Model 2004705255
  • Weight 14 lbs

Another different design, this one from Sanku is certainly eye-catching and not just because they are bright yellow. This is a pretty interesting design that is different from a traditional snow tire chain in just about every way possible.

What we essentially have here are 8 sets of pads that strap onto the tire, passing through the wheel itself. This makes them very easy to get on, with no need to move the vehicle – simply strap them on and away you go. That also makes them a universal sized product, in that it can be easily used on a variety of tire sizes.

Traction is not provided by a traditional chain either, but instead by anti-slip studs (called “nails”) which extend from each pad and help them to dig into the snow and ice.

These are kind of a strange design compared to most of the products on this list. The easy install, small size, low weight and the very (very!) low price though combine to make what could be a good chain to keep in the trunk for emergencies and occasional use.

Key Features
  • Universal Fit
  • Anti-Skid Nails
  • Anti-Wear technology
  • Easy Installation
Specification
  • Brand Sanku
  • Model Sanku Tire Chains 2002
  • Weight 5.45 lbs

These TerraGrips from TerraKing are Terrifying – at least in terms of their size. They are not really designed for use on typical passenger vehicles – instead, they are made for vehicles like lawn tractors.

So if you’re looking for chains to use on a passenger car on the road then skip on to the next entry. If you’re looking for something a little more… well, let’s say agricultural, however, this could be a product that interests you.

The first feature to notice is that this product is not your typical chain design. Whilst it does boast a chain to its edges, this is merely to hold the product together and in place. The tough, rubber slats that sit on the tire surface provide the actual traction. They provide sufficient traction to make them useful on a range of surfaces such as snow, gravel, mud, and mulch. At the same time, their rubber construction makes them soft enough to be deployed on a range of road surfaces without fear of damage.

These are not a product for everyone, but if you need a chain for a tractor or similar sized vehicle, you should take a closer look at this one.

Key Features
  • Improves Traction in a Variety of Conditions
  • Rubber Slats Protects Road Surfaces
  • Long Lasing & Durable
  • Rust Resistant Steel
Specification
  • Brand TerraKing
  • Model ST90001
  • Weight 10.25 lbs

Our second entry here from Security Chain and this entry is quite a bit different from the snow chain we looked at already from this manufacturer. The first thing to take note of here is the fact that this model is a far more traditional design. That means that this chain is not a universal fit, but instead is specifically designed for SUV and light truck sized vehicles.

Whilst the design is traditional though, we still have some excellent stand out features on this product. For example, this chain is very easy to install and remove, and furthermore, it does not require the vehicle to move during installation, a very welcome feature.

In addition to that, the product boasts built-in self-tightening ratchets. This is both part of the easy installation we mentioned above, as well as being a great design feature when on the move, ensuring that the appropriate pressure is held at all times.

The cross chain is scored with a diamond pattern for extra traction whilst in motion – this particular design also provides a smoother ride. All in all, then, this is a pretty well-designed tire chain with a lot of useful features. Add in the fact that it boasts a price tag of around 100 bucks and it should be very appealing to all SUV and truck owners. 

Key Features
  • Designed For Light Trucks & SUV’s
  • Automatic Self-Tightening Ratchets
  • Easy Installation
  • No Vehicle Movement Required for Installation
  • Diamond Pattern Chain
Specification
  • Brand Security Chain
  • Model 0231905
  • Weight 13.85 lbs

So far on this list then we’ve taken in some various designs of snow tire chains. We’ve had some designs like the first model from Security Chain that took the established design of a snow chain and added a bit of a tweak to the classic design. Then we’ve had products like the yellow pad style design from Sanku, which completely twists the notion of what snow chains for cars even look like.

This entry, our second from Konig, is different, however. This is your classic, standard snow chain here. At the same time, the fact it is made by a reputable company like Konig means that whilst this is a simple design, it has very good build quality.

There are no features here that are particularly outstanding. Instead, what you are getting is a simple and effective product designed to do exactly what you need time and time again. A price tag well below 200 bucks is pretty impressive too, meaning you are getting serious value for money for a very well made car tire chain.

Key Features
  • Traditional Design
  • Konig Build Quality
  • 16mm Clearance
  • Manual Tightening
Specification
  • Brand Konig
  • Model 2004825247
  • Weight 18.55 lbs

You may well recognize this item from way back at the top of our list, as this is essentially the big brother of the SZ143 model by Security Chain. That particular set of tire chains was designed for typical passenger cars and SUV vehicles. This is exactly the same product, except scaled up for light trucks and larger wheel SUV’s.

So that means you are going to get all of the stand out features that made the smaller version one of the best tire chains we’ve seen so far. In case you missed that, this list of features starts with a very easy installation, with built-in rubber tensioners that are self-tightening. That means that you once you’ve got the chains installed they will maintain their own tension as you drive.

The metal cable design we saw before has also been used here, replacing the typical chain design seen on traditional products. That cable has a very low clearance (perfect for SUV’s), whilst also being designed to generate phenomenal grip and traction. It also plays well with Anti-Lock Brake System sensors.

As a large version, it naturally has a slightly higher price tag, but it is still excellent value for a very well designed product.

Key Features
  • Designed for Light Trucks & SUV’s
  • Super Fast Installation
  • Built In Self-Tightening Rubber Tensioners 
  • Excellent All Round Traction
  • Good Compatibility with Anti-Lock Brake Systems
Specification
  • Brand Security Chain
  • Model ZT735
  • Weight 13.4 lbs

This is another simple but efficient design from Konig. It’s no coincidence by the way that this is the third appearance of Konig products on this list – they simply make some of the best tire chains on the market right now.

This is another simple but effective design in the same mold as the model we took a look at above. Again, no bells and whistles are present on this design, it is pretty much the most basic, traditional style of snow chain. However once again it is that simplicity that is one of the key selling points – the other of course is the high-quality build from Konig.

So again, nothing of earth-shattering innovation to report with this product. But also, once again, we have a very good value, very well made product that will simply do what it’s designed to do.

It’s worth pointing out too that with 12mm of clearance this product sits lower and closer to the tire than the previous Konig model, potentially making it a better option for vehicles with low clearance like SUV’s.

Key Features
  • Simple, Efficient Design
  • Manual Tightening
  • 12mm Clearance
  •  Good Quality Construction
Specification
  • Brand Konig
  • Model CB-12
  • Weight 5.51 lbs

Our final product is called the Cobra Cable, which may sound like the name of a male porn star but is actually a pretty innovative chain design. What we’re looking at here is a chain that incorporates the cable-style design that we saw on the two Security Chain products we looked at earlier. That is going to help to provide good traction in the snow, whilst keeping the overall clearance nice and low.

You’ll also see that this model lacks a securing chain, instead of being held in place by a pretty thin wire. On the one hand, that may not provide the strength of some of the more rugged models on this list. It will, however, protect your alloys from being scratched up by big chains, so it’s a bit off a trade-off really.

It’s worth noting too that the price is phenomenally low on this product – you’ll be getting a fistful of change from a 50 dollar bill, so this is one of the best tire chains on the list from a pure value for money point of view.

In summary, it’s a pretty basic product, probably lacking the strength for heavier vehicles or tougher winter conditions. But for occasional use on lighter passenger cars, it has a number of good design features and a very attractive price tag.

Key Features
  • Very Low Price
  • Rubber Adjusters (Sold Separately)
  • Simple Design
  • Carbon Steel Rollers
Specification
  • Brand Quality Chain
  • Model 1046
  • Weight 9.1 lbs

Best Tire Chains for Snow Buying Guide & FAQ

That completes our rundown of the best tire chains on the market today. Since there is quite a bit of variety in terms of designs and features though, we’ve put together this buying guide to take a look at some of the key ones.

After that, we have a cool as ice (get it?) FAQ section to answer any questions you may have about car tire chains.

snow tire chains

Tire Chains for Snow – Features to Consider

  • Self-Tightening Ratchets – These little devices will offer help in two ways. One, they make installation that bit easier, by tightening the chains via the motion of the wheel. This will also help to keep the pressure at the optimum level whilst the vehicle is in motion. This is important, as a chain that is too slack won’t provide the traction you need, and is also more likely to be damaged. Premium models should feature self-tightening ratchets and whilst you may be tempted to save money with a cheaper model that lacks them when you are crouching in the snow trying to tighten the locks on a cheaper snow chain with frozen hands you may regret that decision!
  • Tread – What we’re talking about here is the contact point between chain and snow/ice/road surface. We’ve had a number of methods on the list ranging from nails to cables to traditional chains. The latter, a traditional chain, is a tried and tested tread, with lots of surface area to create traction – look out for models with patterns cut into the chains, they can help give a little extra traction. Steel cables are much newer but seem to do a good job of creating lots of traction for safe driving conditions.
  • Clearance – This basically relates to how thick the chain is, with the thicker chains having the higher clearance. We’ll talk about this more below, but basically, the clearance is the gap between the vehicle tire and the vehicle bodywork. The chain needs a clearance where it won’t impede the movement of the tire.

Snow Chains & The Law

As with a lot of things, Laws differ from state to state. Click Here for a handy rundown of the law in each state, and contact your local Police Department or Town Hall if you’re in any doubt.

Appropriate Time to Use Tire Chains

The best time to use snow chains is after or during a snowstorm – but there must be snow on the ground already, at least an inch thick. Anything less and the chains will cut up the road surface and also wear out fast. Chains are especially good on compact, packed snow and ice.

They are also useful in muddy driving conditions.

Snow Chains and Speed

A snow chain adds grip when driving on snow, but it does not add enough that you can drive as if conditions were normal. It is recommended that you don’t exceed 30mph when using chains, and you should also try to avoid harsh braking or acceleration, both of which can damage the chain.

Snow Chain Maintenance

Snow chains are pretty hardy, since they are, well, chains. Saying that some simple maintenance will help to keep them going for many winters to come.

When you are done driving, always remove your chains and give them a good wash down to remove dirt and debris – a pressure washer would be perfect for the job. Hang them up and when they’ve dried give them a spray of something like WD40 to add a little extra protection. Job done!

Best Snow Chains FAQ:

Q:  How to install tire chains for snow?

We here at Car Bibles are a practical sort, and as such we recognize when we are out of our depth and should hand over to an expert. Frankly, it doesn’t snow much where we’re based, so we’re no experts on fitting snow chains. We can get it done sure, but there are people with greater expertise out there. Who knows more about snow than Canadians, eh? To learn the most efficient way to install your tire chains then, check out this video guide here. It’s from the Ministry of Transport in British Columbia, and there is no one better placed to teach you how to install tire chains. If you are planning on driving in snow, you must make sure you have a set of winter tires.

Q:  What do I do if the manufacturer of my car says not to use snow chains?

They probably have a good reason for doing so, and that reason is probably related to the clearance around your tire, though there are also a few other mechanical issues that could make it a bad idea to install snow tire chains. If the manufacturer states that snow chains are not to be used, the best idea is to contact them and find out why, and then take it from there.

Q:  Can I use snow socks instead of snow chains?

You can, though the jury is out as to if they are as effective as chains, especially on hard-packed snow. They are however an option for vehicles with low tire clearance. Following on from the question above then, if you have been advised by a manufacturer not to use chains, then snow socks could be a viable alternative.

Q:  How do I know what size my tires are?

Go and take a look at your tire, and on the side tire wall, just above the rim, you will be able to see three numbers. The first will be a triple-digit, the second and third will be double digit. The first number is the Tire Width, the second number is the Tire Height Ratio (which gives the sidewall height as a percentage of total width, don’t ask why) and the third number is the diameter. All these measurements are in inches by the way and are everything you need to know in terms of tire size. For help with tire measurements, you may wish to check out our tire size calculator.

Q:  What thicknesses of the chain can my car accommodate?

This all comes back to the tire clearance we mentioned above. Because the entirety of the chain sits on the outside of the wheel, you need to have sufficient clearance between the vehicle body and the tire. The best way to check this is put your hands on the wheel at top of the tire. Run your hand over and behind the tire, then reach back and perform a sweeping motion. If your hand goes all the way around without hitting something then you have plenty of clearance. Regular passenger vehicles like saloon cars usually have lots of clearance between wheel and car body. SUV, truck and Minivan style vehicles can often have a little less clearance, however, so pay particular attention if you have one of those styles of the vehicle. Sports cars or vehicles on lowered suspension will have the least clearance, and you’ll likely only be able to fit a snow sock type of device – but then you probably shouldn’t be driving a Ferrari up the Rockies.

Q:  How should I drive with chains on?

Very carefully! The best tire chains will give you a real boost to the overall traction of the car, but they don’t allow you to simply drive as if there was no snow – they are an aid to driving, not a cheat on a PlayStation game. It’s recommended that you don’t exceed 30mph whilst using tire chains, and you should also avoid harsh braking or accelerating. As well as risking control of the vehicle, they can also damage or even break the chains.

Q:  How many snow chains do I need?

This will generally come down to personal preference. Many people only put chains onto the traction wheels – i.e. the wheels connected to the engine that actually move the car. So on a 4×4 drive SUV or similar, you’ll need it on all 4 wheels, whilst a normal car you can get away with just the two powered wheels. Some people will put chains onto all the tires, however; even on non-4×4 drive vehicles. It can add to the overall traction and give better handling in some instances, but it’s not strictly necessary. Unless otherwise stated, all the snow chains on our list are sold as pairs.

Q:  If my car has an anti-lock brake system, do I still need chains?

Yes, you do. Anti-Lock brake systems are designed to stop skids during rapid deceleration – that’s a fancy way of saying when you slam on the brakes, the car will stop quickly and safely without skidding too much. They do nothing to actually help with traction or steering control, however. In fact, on an icy or snowy road anti-lock will be pretty useless without snow chains, as the vehicle simply won’t have the traction to stop properly. Just bear in mind that, as this article from the LA Times points out, snow chains can affect the sensors that Anti-Lock brake systems rely on, making them less effective. All the more reason then, as we pointed out above, to drive sensibly and keep your speed down.
tire chains under the snow

Our Top Pick

There are some truly excellent products on this list, but for our money, Top Pick has to go to the SZ143 by Security Chain Company. It just packs so many features for such a reasonable price tag that it’s hard not to frankly. It’s small, light and easy to install, making it perfect to throw into the trunk or store in the garage until needed.

Once on the vehicle, it’s superb level of traction combined with a very clever built-in rubber self-tightening ring helps to give you the control you need to drive safely on the worst road conditions.

We also like to give a lift to clever and unique designs too, and whilst this product is not re-inventing the wheel, the unusual cable-style design is certainly re-inventing what you put around it.

Sources:

  1. How to Fit Snow Chains – YouTube
  2. ABS and Snow Chains – LATimes
  3. Snow Chain Law – The Balance

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