11 Life-Saving Tips For Driving With Tire Chains
As we move through the winter of 2023, we have been inundated with reports of major snowstorms and dramatic winter weather across the United States. If you live in an area affected by these conditions, tire chains may not just be advised but an essential driving accessory.
Here are ten tips to help you select, install and use chains for safer winter driving:
1. Choose the right style and size
Make sure you purchase the correct size chains for your vehicle tires.
Talk to your service advisor about your tire size and vehicle to find the proper fit and style.
One important note for all-wheel drive vehicles: Some models do not recommend the use of chains because it can interfere with the car’s all-wheel drive system. Check with your service advisor.
Never use the wrong size chains and never deflate your tires in order to make the chains fit. Look into what chains will perform best with your vehicle and your upcoming driving conditions.
There are several styles of tire chains including:
- Ladders and Rollers: This classic style has vertical traction across the tire tread in parallel rows and are also known as radial chains. Usually, this style is the most comfortable and smooth-riding with good grip and stopping ability.
- Diamond: These chains cross horizontally and vertically creating a diamond pattern. These chains are very effective in winter driving conditions.
- “Z” Chains: This style crisscrosses back and forth across the tire treads. This can be a very effective style because as the wheel turns, there is always some contact of the chain with the roadway.
Plastic chains are also available. However, while these are generally less expensive and often easier to install, they wear quickly and should only be used in lighter snow conditions.
2. Practice, practice, practice
Practice putting your chains on your vehicle before you actually need them. You don’t want to be stuck on the side of a mountain pass in extremely cold weather reading the instructions trying to figure out how to install your chains.
Lay them out in your garage or parking area and install them. If possible, take a test drive on a snowy road to feel how your vehicle responds with the added traction. Advance practice should lessen the anxiety of installation when chains are actually needed.
If you are using chains from prior seasons, inspect them closely for damage or deterioration.
3. Driving tips
Once you have the chains in place, keep to a safe and reasonable speed. Driving too fast leads to lack of vehicle control. It is suggested to stay under 30 mph while driving with chains.
High speeds can also cause the chains to break and may damage your vehicle.
Avoid accelerating too quickly and spinning your wheels or braking too suddenly, which can lead to skidding. While chains help with traction, it is still possible to skid or hydroplane if you don’t drive carefully.
Also be aware that chains may cause false readings of your onboard computer and limit performance of an anti-lock braking system. Plus, using chains will lower your fuel efficiency, so keep an eye on that fuel gauge.
4. Avoid pavement
Stay away from bare roads and asphalt while driving with chains. Bare pavement could cause lack of control as chains may slip, or the chains could break and cause damage to your vehicle and tires.
While tire chains are legal in all states during winter conditions, the timing of their use will often be regulated. Make sure you understand your local requirements and ordinances.
This is not only when you need chains, but also when you must remove them. Local jurisdictions can be very strict about these rules as the ordinances help limit damage to roadways.
5. Placement of chains on tires
Ideally, you want to have chains on all four tires, but in moderate conditions you can use one pair. However, make sure your chains are in the right place. Failure to do this can cause major issues with handling and controlling your car.
If your vehicle has front wheel drive, chains go in the front. With rear wheel drive, they are installed in the back. If your car is AWD and the conditions still require you to use chains, it’s recommended to chain up all 4 wheels. Always refer to your vehicle’s owner manual for proper chain placement.
6. Protect your life and limb
It might seem obvious, but when installing chains, make sure you are off the roadway and not impeding traffic. Turn on your hazards and consider putting out a marker or cone to warn oncoming cars.
Dress warmly and stay dry in order to get the job done quickly and correctly. If you have people or pets in the car, leave them in the vehicle. You don’t want any distractions. Safety is key.
7. Check, check and adjust
After you put the chains on, drive for a bit and then re-check and refit if needed. You don’t have to go too far; two to three minutes of test-driving is usually enough.
Speed up, slow down, and maybe go over a few bumps to assess the chains and their installation.
Even after testing, it’s important that you pay attention to the chains and be aware of any issues while driving. If a misinstalled chain slips or breaks, it can cause damage to your tire, wheel well, brake systems, and more.
High performance vehicles such as European sports cars can be especially susceptible to damage due to space restrictions between the wheels and suspension system. For such vehicles, it is vital that chains are put on correctly and monitored.
8. The long arm of the law
Become familiar with local ordinances and current requirements regarding chains. You don’t want to get caught without them.
For example, not having chains when mandatory can be up to a $5,000 fine in Yosemite National Park.
Conditions also change rapidly, so if you are traveling, make sure your chains are accessible. Stay tuned to weather reports but be aware you may be informed on the spot if conditions worsen requiring chains in areas such as mountain passes.
Your only warning may be a sign on the side of the road informing you that chains are required.
9. What about snow socks?
While their effectiveness is debated, tire or snow socks are woven fabric covers that take the place of chains. They are usually not regulated in the way tire chains are regulated and can be used when their metal counterparts are not allowed. However, when snow chains are required, socks are not seen as a legal equivalent.
Snow socks can offer several benefits over snow chains when permissible. Some are compatible with studded tires and won’t interfere with your vehicle’s ABS system. Tire chains are going to offer more traction in drastic snow conditions, but socks might be the correct choice for milder winter weather.
Although tire chains can be left on overnight, especially in ongoing winter conditions, it is not recommended to do so with some styles of snow socks. The fabric can fill with moisture that freezes overnight and affects the performance, causing damage to the socks, your tires and even a loss of control. Check with the manufacturer for the proper use instructions.
10. The surprise that shouldn’t happen
If you live in an area where snow chains are a way of life once the weather changes, put the chains on as soon as you can.
Don’t wait until you are required or the roadway is so treacherous you have no other option.
11. Proper storage
Also, don’t forget to remove the chains properly after use.
Clean and store them carefully to make sure they are ready the next time you need them. If you don’t do this, they can corrode or become damaged.