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Driving in winter is a unique and beautiful experience, but it can be rather dangerous without the proper equipment. When roads get covered in snow and ice, regular winter tires can’t handle the situation that well. That’s where tire chains come in. They are designed to ensure more traction on the road and allow you to drive safely in the most severe conditions.

Tire chains are installed around your vehicle’s drive wheels. They wrap around the tires to provide a strong bite into the surface beneath. Therefore, tire chains dig into the snow and ice, allowing for more stability and less slippage during rides. With them, you’ll be able to drive in deep snow and on dangerous roads like a professional and keep yourself and other drivers safe.

However, you can’t just get the first tire chains you find. Not all of them are the same, and it’s crucial to pick those that will fit your tires. Luckily, there are a few things that can help you determine what tire chain type and size you need. To save you some time and effort, we listed them below.

Why Use Tire Chains?

Before we get to the part of picking the right tire chains, it’s good to cover the main benefits of using these devices during winter. As we mentioned above, the first and foremost reason why you want to use tire chains is the provided safety on the road. They give more stability than regular winter tires, allowing you to drive safely and with less sliding and slipping on snowy and icy roads.

The extra stability you get comes in incredibly handy when you’re making turns. Snowy and icy roads can be extremely slippery and dangerous when you’re driving into the curve. Because tire chains dig into the surface, you can easily get in and out of turns. With them on, you can even drive at higher speeds without any issues. Of course, driving fast on snow and ice is not recommended at all, but without tire chains, you have to drive extra slow to prevent sliding on the road.

Related Post: 10 Best Cars for Winter Driving 

Also, it’s good to remember that weather is known to change in the blink of an eye during the winter. One second, you’re driving on a sunny winter day and the next, you’re caught in a snowstorm. Therefore, keeping tire chains in your vehicle is a good way to be prepared during the winter. That will allow you to be safe every second you spend on the road.

Tire chains on a large vehicle wheels

Law Regulations

Tire chains are not to be used on a regular basis. They dig into the snow and ice to provide better traction, but on normal roadways, they cause sharp pressure to the road and your tires. This results in potholes on the road and damage to your tires. Therefore, tire chains are only recommended for severe conditions.

Law regulations vary a lot depending on the state. Each state has different laws, and that applies to tire chains too, especially because of different weather conditions. In most states, tire chains are required at certain times or under certain road conditions. This is mostly throughout the winter months, but you’ll need to check the laws in your particular state to be sure.

Keep in mind that failure to carry or use tire chains or other winter traction devices can result in penalties. Therefore, it’s necessary to be familiar with state law regulations and demands that might pop up each season.

What Type of Tire Chains to Get?

Before you pick a certain product, you should consider what you need for your vehicle. There are two winter traction devices you can use: tire chains and tire cables. Which one you’ll choose mostly depends on the road conditions and your driving habits.

  • Tire Chains

Tire or snow chains are the most commonly used type of winter traction devices. They feature metal chain links that are connected and create a mesh around a tire. Metal chains dig into the surface and provide more stability on snowy and icy roads. They are highly reliable and last longer than tire cables. Also, they are not likely to corrode.

Related Post: Best Tire Chains for Snow 

  • Tire Cables

Tire cables are more suitable for occasional use and not so extreme weather conditions because they provide less traction than snow chains. They feature pieces of steel cable and create a webbing to cover the tire. These cables have metal rings to ensure a better grip and are low-profile.

What Size of Tire Chains Do I Need?

Picking the right size of tire chains should be pretty easy. All you need to do is to know your tire size. You can figure it out by checking the letter and number combination on the tire’s sidewall.

The first three numbers in the combination often have a letter P in front. The P stands for Passenger Tire, and the numbers represent the width of the tire in millimeters. After the slash, you’ll find two numbers before the letter R, which stand for the ratio of the tire (width to height). After the letter R, you’ll find a two-digit number that represents the wheel diameter. The combination should look like this: P185/75R14.

Once you get this number, you can give it to your local auto supply store and get the proper tire chains. If you’re buying the traction device online, you can compare the size of the tire chains with your tires’ measurements. It’s just important to remember that you have to get chains that fit perfectly over the tires. If they are too loose or tight, they won’t be efficient and might even cause damage to the road and your vehicle.

Other Considerations

There are a couple of extra features you might want to consider before getting tire chains. Along with inspecting the size of your tires and trying on the chains for a perfect fit, you should probably consider the application, installation, patterns, and similar things. We listed some of the factors that might influence your decision below.

  • Construction

One of the most important things to consider when trying out tire chains is clearance. Chains should be thick enough to move with the tire without getting in contact with the body of the vehicle. You want to make sure that they won’t damage the vehicle in any way.

The next thing to consider is the material. Most chains are made of metal, but there are some rubber chains too. The former type is not as effective and durable as the metal one, but they are still useful in emergencies.

Weight is another important factor. Heavier chains are better for extreme weather conditions when you have to drive in deep snow or on thick ice. They are difficult to transport and store, though. Lighter ones are easier to carry around but are only suitable for mild weather.

  • Application

Don’t forget to consider your application before the purchase. Your driving habits and the road conditions also determine what tire chains you need. For example, if you’re navigating hard surface roads, you’ll need more efficient chains that can handle heavy abuse. It’s also necessary to look into tire types. Depending on whether you have all-season or snow tires, you’ll need longer or shorter chains.

Lastly, you should ask yourself how often you plan to mount the chains. For frequent application, you would probably use easy-to-install tire chains that you can put on and take off in a breeze. If you’re planning to use them only when necessary, it’s not that important if the tire chains are easy to install.

Installing New Tire Chains

It’s not that hard to mount tire chains. Even those who are not mechanically inclined can easily learn how to do it. Still, don’t wait for emergencies to put tire chains on for the first time. The best thing you can do is to attempt installation in your garage or any other dry ground. This way, you can test them for a perfect fit and also make sure you know how the process works before you get in trouble.

Don’t forget to read any instructions included in the package. That could help you a lot with the installation, especially because not all chains mount in the same way. It can also save you from the hassle of having to look for instructions online.

Start with parking your vehicle in your garage, parking lot, or anywhere else off-road. Make sure to untangle the chain and lay it on the ground. Look for signs of damage, as you don’t want to install the chain if it has cracks or dents of any kind. Once you make sure everything is in order, center the chain over the top of your tire. It should lay evenly over both sides of the tire. Drive forward a little bit, so you can cover all parts of the tire. Secure the chain on all parts of the tire and tighten the connections.

Depending on the chain type, you’ll be able to use clamp-on or regular connectors to tighten the two sides. Both options are pretty simple. The tire chain removal is even simpler than the installation. All you need to do is disconnect the links and let the chain fall to the ground.

Lastly, don’t forget to remove the chain once you don’t need it anymore. Leaving it on might damage the chain itself, as well as the tire. You might also forget you have the chain on and drive your vehicle on normal roadways.

Woman installing snow tire chains on her car

Driving With Chains

A lot of drivers think that driving with tire chains is difficult. That’s not quite true. Although you’ll need to be extra careful and pay attention to several things during the ride, it’s not that hard at all. For example, you’ll need to drive slower for ultimate safety. You’ll also want to avoid braking hard or accelerating fast when using tire chains. Other than that, you’ll only see improvement in your ride. That’s because tire chains ensure you have more stability than with regular winter tires, and you won’t experience dangerous and uncomfortable sliding on the road.

Additionally, keep in mind that tire chains need to be re-tightened often and driven on briefly. You can’t just let them sit around, forgotten, and unused in your garage. Proper maintenance of the tire chains is necessary if you want to ensure maximum safety and effectiveness. Furthermore, sometimes it’s even recommended to reduce your speed and follow special patterns in accelerating, steering, and braking. That depends on the tire chain type, which is why following the manufacturer’s manual is crucial.

Conclusion

Driving with chains on during the winter season is very important, and you’ll want to keep them close by in case a snowstorm knocks on your door. Therefore, it’s smart to make a purchase earlier during the year and be ready for the winter season.

You can always get tire chains according to the size of your tires, and they’ll probably match them perfectly. As long as you get the chains from a reliable manufacturer, you shouldn’t have any issues whatsoever. However, for ultimate efficiency and safety on the road, it’s also important to consider all of the other things we listed above. When you get chains that fit perfectly to your tires and are designed for your particular application, you’ll have peace of mind during the entire winter season.

We recommend that you install the chains once or twice before the actual application, just so you get familiar with the process. If you get the chance, drive on shorter distances before trying the chains on longer drives. This way, you’ll get used to them. Lastly, we recommend keeping two sets of tire chains in your vehicle just in case. This is especially useful if you live in an area with a lot of snow because your chains might break or get damaged due to heavy daily abuse.

Sources:

  1. How to Put Chains On Tires – HowStuffWorks
  2. Snow Chains – Wikipedia

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