Choosing the Right Tire Chains for Winter Driving

Published on January 11, 2018 04:00 PM in Driver Tech, Maintenance
Choosing the Right Tire Chains for Winter Driving

Severe weather has made traveling especially hazardous this winter. From the Sierra Nevadas to the Rockies and the Catskills, highway crews routinely check motorists at "chain control stations."

How can you select the right snow chains to meet vehicle requirements and help your family arrive safely?

“The right chains on your vehicle will make for a safer winter trip with improved traction, steering and braking,” said Troy Baumgartner, marketing director at Peerless Chain Company.

Peerless Chain Co. snow chains originated from diamond-shaped steel links that were woven between the spokes of a tire’s rim. Peerless supplied the Army with chains for combat vehicles during both World Wars.

Harry D. Weed of Canastota, New York invented snow chains in 1904 after seeing drivers wrap rope or vines around their tires to increase traction on snowy and muddy roads.

”Steel snow chains have evolved over the years into a variety of different materials and styles focused on improving traction, installation, vibration, wear, vehicle compatibility and overall safety,” Baumgartner said. “Some of these ’traction devices’ meet these criteria better than others depending upon on what the customer needs and is willing to pay for.”

Traditionally, snow cables and chains consist of a “ladder” pattern, but more aggressive pattern choices, such as “Z” or “diamond”, are available as well and can provide improved performance.

Studs found on some traction devices further improve traction, but the use of these chains are restricted or even prohibited in some states.

The type of vehicle the traction device is destined for factors into the selection decision as well. The weight, size, make/model and tire/rim configuration of a vehicle will determine what type of traction device is best suited for use. Most traction device manufacturers provide convenient guides pointing to a few recommended choices eliminating the vast array of options.

Consider the following guidelines when selecting and using tire traction devices:

-Check with your state transportation department or highway patrol to learn the traction device requirements and restrictions for your area or the area in which you plan to travel in.

-Vehicle type, tire size, minimum clearances, etc. All cars, SUVs and trucks have varying tire sizes, minimum wheel-well clearances and special considerations pertaining to the vehicle’s traction control system and abs brakes. Always consult the vehicle owner manual for specifics before purchasing and using traction devices.

-Road conditions (i.e. icy, deep snow, steep grades or off-road).

-Frequency of use. All traction devices will wear with use, so determine the investment to make based on how often the device will be needed.

-Ride and comfort. All traction devices can cause noise and vibration but certain materials and patterns offer a more comfortable ride than others.

-Look for traction devices that install easily. Some have self-tightening features. Others require re-tightening by hand after driving a short distance.

-Install traction devices on all four wheels if possible; otherwise install them on the “drive” axle of your vehicle.

-Review manufacturer recommendations for speed limitations. All traction devices have limits and most are 35 mph or less.

-Inspect traction devices often and before use.

“Practice installing tire chains before you actually need them,” Baumgartner said. “It’s easier to learn how to put them on in good weather in your driveway than on the side of the road in a blizzard. Plus, please drive safely.”