When to Use Snow Chains? All You Need to Know

Snow chains greatly help those living in places that experience extreme snow, ice, or mud. They are also known as tire chains. These chains help your vehicle tires to gain maximum traction when going through slippery surfaces. However, snow chains are a temporary, inexpensive solution and a must-have for any driver in a mountainous area. This brings the question of when to use snow chains.

Tire chains are not the same; thus, you need to know the best snow chains to use for specific occasions. Snow chains are available for almost all vehicles, including SUVs, trucks, cars, and 4x4s. Snow and mud have remained a problem since the invention of vehicles. Now that snow chains were invented to increase traction let us look at their different types and when to use them.

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Snow Chains Types

Road conditions are quite unpredictable; sometimes, you find yourself stuck in mud and ice. If you have found yourself in this nightmare, you understand the need to carry snow chains to increase traction when caught in these circumstances. Here are the different types of snow chains with distinctive features:

1. Diamond Chains

Diamond snow chains are some of the most traditional chains you will get in the market. They feature metal link strings made in a shape of a diamond. These tire chains have maximum contact with the ground surface, thus offering better traction. This type of chain is best for heavy and frequent snowfalls. Diamond snow chains are accessible in various sizes to fit different tire sizes.  

2. Cables

Cables are lightweight and are easier to install. They are made with spaced-out steel, which is joined to a chain. The cables cover the wheel’s circumference, making it easier for you to apply brakes which can be a little challenging to control in icy conditions. Cables are best used casually on medium snow.

3. Snow Socks

These are textile liners you wrap over the tire or wheel to improve the vehicle’s grip on snow or ice. Snow socks enhance your wheel’s traction and offer a quieter ride compared to cables and chains. They are among the easiest tire chains to install. Some countries, however, do not consider snow socks as an approved alternative to cables and chains. 

4. Tough Mesh

Another alternative you can consider is a thin but tough mesh. The mesh also gives quite good traction. Just like snow socks, the mesh is easy to store, lightweight, economical, and easy to install. They are best used for SUVs or smaller cars in areas experiencing intermittent snow. It is, however, crucial to check whether chains on tires are legal or not in your area and use only what is permitted.

How to Put Snow Chains On Tires

If you lie in a snowing area, learning how to use chains when driving in snow is crucial. Some details may differ depending on the type of chains you are using. The tools you need are a chain tensioner and the chains. With the right tools, let us now get to the basic steps on how to put chains on all-wheel drive and other vehicles:

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Step 1: Park in a Flat and Firm Area and Get the Right Chains

The first thing to do immediately after you realize snow chains are needed is to look for a safe place to park away from traffic and clear the snow around. If you cannot get an area where you can clear the snow, try your best to clear the snow on the tire you will be working on.

Snow chains differ depending on the type of your vehicle’s wheels. Ensure you have suitable snow chains for your tires. If you have not carried the chains with you, search for tire chains near me on your phone and place an order. Give out the size measurements of your vehicle’s tires. These measurements are letters and numbers written on the outside edge of the tires.  

Step 2: Unpack the Chains and Untangle the Links

Undo any kinks or twists on the metal. The chains should hang loosely and straight in a web shape. Sometimes the metals tangle too much, and untangling them may take quite some time. Therefore, if you anticipate the need for chains, it is prudent to put them before the need arises. This answers the question of when to put chains on tires.

Step 3: Place the Chains on the Tire and Join the Cables

Before starting this process, ensure your vehicle is well parked and the parking brake is engaged. Lay your snow chain next to the tire you want to install. Straighten the chain over the vehicle’s tire, letting it hang along the sides.

The chain should cover around three-quarters of the wheel. Ensure the snow chains are straight, running side to side across the width of the tire. Tuck them between the wheel and the ground to keep them in place when you drive forward.

Step 4: Drive the Car Forward

By driving the car forward, you expose the unfitted part of the tire. Roll the vehicle forward slightly since only a small portion of the wheel is unfitted. When installing the chains on the right tires, turn the steering wheel to the left, pointing the tire inwards. While working on the left tires, turn the steering right so the tires point inwardly. This helps you access the connections and secure the chains easily and efficiently.

Step 5: Connect the Chains

After ensuring complete tire coverage, connect the ends of the chains and fasten them using a chain tensioner. Start with the inner part of your tire next to the axle and secure the two hooked edges. You can then move and connect the edges on the outer part of the wheel.

As you tighten the chain ends, leave a little slack to enable you to make the next connection. Ensure the outer and inner connections of the snow chains are well aligned. The chains should go straight across the tire’s width when well aligned.  

Step 6: Repeat the Process on Other Wheels

The next question we ask ourselves is, do I need snow chains on all tires? This will depend on your vehicle type. If your vehicle is an FWD, you should install the chains on the front tires. On the other hand, if it is rear-wheel drive, the chains should be on the rear wheels. If you are unsure if the car is a rear or front-wheel drive, check the spinning wheels when stuck in snow or mud. Four-wheel drive vehicles should have chains on all four wheels.

Step 7: Drive Slightly Forward

After securing the chain, drive your vehicle forward slightly for around 30 Meters. This helps the chains relax and settle on the wheels, which may shift a bit. After the short drive, retighten the chains for safe travel.

When driving with snow chains, always ensure they are tight enough on the tire. Listen for any metal-on-metal or slapping sound. This indicates that a chain is broken, and you must stop immediately. Broken or loose chains can wrap around the shock component or strut, thus damaging your vehicle.

When to Use Snow Chains

You do not use snow chains every time there is snow. Therefore, it is crucial to learn when to use snow chains on tires and when not. Here are instances of when you should use snow chains on your vehicle tires:

1. When There Is Snow or Ice Covering

The perfect situation in need of a tire chain is when there is a layer of ice or snow on the road. Driving with tire chains on bare pavement leads to extreme damage to both the road and the wheels. You must stop and remove the chains when you get to a well-plowed and salted area.

2. During Hazardous Weather

Before you put on snow chains during hazardous weather, it is advisable to first check chain laws by state 2022 to see whether it is allowed in your area. Most states, however, allow the use of tire chains when the weather is hazardous as long as they don’t damage highway surfaces. If you drive your car in winter, buying snow chains should be a priority since they will enhance your vehicle’s grip on the road.

3. In Cold Weather

Another instance when using snow chains is during cold weather. The tire chains improve the grip of your vehicle’s tires, ensuring you do not get stuck in muddy areas.

You need to be extremely careful when driving your vehicle with tire chains on. One thing you need to observe is not to drive the vehicle for over 30 miles per hour. Also, be careful with the edges when parking your vehicle.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: When Should You Put Snow Chains On?

Snow chains are not meant to be put at all times. The chains should only be put on when there is a layer of ice or snow on the road. Installing the chains may take a long time. It is, therefore, recommendable to put them before you start your journey and suspect a change of weather. However, confirm with the laws of your state to see if it is illegal to drive with snow chains on when it is not snowing yet.

Q: Do You Need to Put Snow Chains On All Four Tires?

The number of wheels you put your snow chains on will depend on your vehicle type. If it is a 4WD vehicle, you should put chains on all four wheels. For rear-wheel drive vehicles, you install chains on the tires at the back, while for front-wheel vehicles, you put them on the two front tires. If you are unsure of your vehicle’s type, check the wheels sliding as you drive or confirm with your car manufacturer.  

Q: Are You Required to Carry Chains in Washington State?

State rules concerning snow chains differ from each other. In Washington state, the law states that all four-wheel and all-wheel vehicles should have chains in extreme weather conditions. The state requires you to have at least two snow chains for all vehicles with over 10,000 pounds. The snow chains should be made of hardened metal, and plastic snow chains are not allowed.

Q: How Fast Can You Drive with Snow Chains On?

As much as you should be careful when driving in extreme weather conditions, snow chains require utmost care. The recommended driving speed given on the snow chains manual is 20mph to 30mph (30 to 50 km/h). This will prevent the snow chains from breaking and damaging your vehicle. Also, avoid driving with chains on dry roads since it will wear them down significantly.

Q: Do Tire Chains Help in Deep Snow?

Tire chains are also commonly known as snow chains. The chains are not only meant to enhance your vehicle’s grip in a layer of snow but also deep snow. Tire chains offer you a better grip in deep snow compared to winter or studded tires. You can also use the chains while driving in a muddy or icy area.

Q: Do I Need 2 Pairs of Snow Chains?

Having one or two pairs of snow chains will depend on your vehicle type. Rear and front-wheel vehicles will only require one pair of snow chains to hold a pair of tires. However, 4WD vehicles require two pairs of snow chains to hold all four tires.

Q: Do You Need Snow Chains for FWD?

You will need a pair of chains on your front tires if you are driving your FWD vehicle on mud, ice, or snow. FWD, also known as Front-Wheel Drive, means that the engine’s power is taken to the front wheels. Therefore, these wheels tend to slide when driving on snow, ice, or mud, making your vehicle unstable. Putting chains on the front tires will enhance the vehicle’s grip in extreme weather conditions.

Q: Do Snow Chains Damage Rims?

Snow chains will not damage your vehicle rims if you fit them correctly and use them as per the instructions given in the chains manual. One rule you must observe is to ensure that the chains are well-secured and not broken. Driving with snow chains on highways causes damage to both the car rims and the road.

Q: Do I Need 4 Snow Chains on a 4WD?

Most states require you to have snow chains on at least one pair of wheels when driving in extreme weather conditions. However, when driving a 4WD, it is recommendable to install snow chains on all four wheels to get enough traction. Using two sets of snow chains on 4WDs offers you significant benefits.

Final Words

Though snow chains are cumbersome, they offer you tremendous help during the winter season. Now that you have learned when to use snow chains, the other common question is, is it ok to leave snow chains on overnight? While it is advisable to remove the chains whenever not in use, you can leave them overnight if your parking area still has snow/ice.

Tire chains enhance your vehicle’s traction when driving on ice, mud, and snow. However, you must use the chain safely and effectively to get maximum benefits. Once you remove the snow chains, inspect them for any corrosion, breaks, or physical damage before you park them. You can spray the chains with WD-40 to keep them in good shape for the next season.

Purity Wachira

Hi, I am Purity a researcher and technical writer since 2015. I hold a Masters in Supply Chain Management working in an automotive company. I am a resourceful lady with vast knowledge and interest in vehicles. My enthusiasm for cars drove me to more research, and the more information I got, the more I felt the need to share the knowledge through writing. My biggest win is to leave a positive impact on the automotive field and solve people's problems through articles, product descriptions, and product reviews.

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