Best Tire Chains

Winter brings a lot of joy to many people, especially when it snows. However, when it comes to driving, it can be challenging even for the best drivers. Snow is unpredictable – your car might have traction at one moment and completely lose it a second later. Ice is even worse – it can make your vehicle completely undrivable. That’s why most of the traffic accidents happen on snowy and icy roads.

Luckily, there are some things you can do to mitigate these issues. The most obvious one is replacing your summer or all-season tires with winter tires. By doing that, you’ll ensure that your vehicle will have the best possible traction, grip, and braking performance in freezing weather, especially when the roads are covered with snow and ice.

However, even the best winter tires aren’t enough sometimes. When the roads are covered with intense snow, or there is a lot of ice, the best option is tire chains. They are inexpensive and easy to use, yet they will improve the overall performance on any vehicle on snowy and icy roads. With snow chains on your tires, you will experience much better traction when accelerating on snow and ice. Car chains can also improve the handling in these conditions, and shorten the braking distances.

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How Snow Tire Chains Work

Winter tires have an aggressive tread pattern with a lot of siping to better cope with snow and ice. However, this helps only up to a point. Tire chains have a solid structure – most of them are made from steel, while some are made of stiff rubber.

Whatever the material, snow chains can simply bite into packed or unpacked snow, improving overall traction and drivability. That happens thanks to the structure of the chain, which can easily cut through snow and ice. The ability to dig into snow and ice make tire chains an excellent choice in these circumstances.

When & How Tire Chains Help the Drivers

With snow chains on your tires, you will probably never get stuck again in the winter. That’s very important during a snowstorm or any other snowfall scenario for that matter. When on the road, your car will also stop much better, and it will be more controllable, almost like you’re driving on wet pavement.

That said, tire chains aren’t really useful in other conditions, or when driving on dry and wet roads. They might even get damaged in the process. That’s why car chains are designed to be easy to install and remove from the tire. When not in use, you can easily store them in the trunk – they don’t take up a lot of space.

Why Do I Need Tire Chains?

The most obvious reason is safety. Tire chains will give you much better traction and grip in harsh wintry conditions, such as snow and ice. Then, tire chains are also required by law in most states, so be sure that you always bring a pair for your driving wheels.

Types of Tire Chains

There are many different types of tire chains. The main differentiation is the size. More precisely, automotive chains are divided into passenger car chains, SUV car chains, and Truck car chains.

What Size Tire Chains Do I Need?

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has a special system that will help you find the right chains for your tires:

  • SAE Class S Chains – for cars with a minimum tread-face clearance of 1.46 in and minimum side-wall clearance of 0.59 in.
  • SAE Class U Chains – for cars with a minimum tread-face clearance of 1.97 in and minimum side-wall clearance of 0.91 in.
  • SAE Class W Chains – for cars with a minimum tread-face clearance of 2.50 in and minimum side-wall clearance 1.50 in.

If it weren’t for these classifications, some larger snow chains could possibly damage your car, tires, or wheels. For example, if the ground clearance of your vehicle is too small, the chains could make contact with the body and damage it.

Calculating the Correct Tire Chain Size to Fit Your Wheels

Modern tire chains come in many different sizes. Choosing the right size is only a matter of finding the size of your tires. Every tire has the size imprinted on the sidewall, expressed in three numbers. For example, common tire size is 195/60R15.

The first number in the list is the width of the tire in millimeters. The second number is the height of the sidewall, expressed as a ratio of the first number in percentage. The final number is the wheel diameter, expressed in inches.

Please note that passenger tires have the letter “P” before the numbers, while light truck tires have the letters “LT” before the numbers.

Snow Chains or Cable Chains?

Then, snow chains are also divided into other categories. Most of the snow chains you’ll find on the market improve traction on snow with the use of interconnected chains. The chains are excellent at digging into snow and ice. They are also very easy to install and very durable. However, chains are also pretty large and might not work on some vehicles with very low ground clearances.

Cable chains are another option that uses a cable to improve traction and grip. Overall, the performance improvement of cable chains isn’t as good, especially in severe wintry conditions. On the other hand, tire cables are smaller and lighter, which makes them a better choice for vehicles with very small ground clearances.

Link Patterns and Other Features

Tire chains come in many different link patterns, all offering different qualities. Diamond-shaped chains are the most common because they work great with modern ABS systems. However, a square link pattern provides the driver with better traction for acceleration. Diagonal chains, on the other hand, don’t provide maximum traction but work well with both ABS and traction control. Finally, chains with a ladder pattern work great for all-terrain driving.

Automatic self-tensioning is a very sought-after feature in tire chains lately because it tightens the chains while you’re driving. We recommend making sure that the chains also have automatic releases – those models are much easier to remove.

How Do I Install Tire Chains?

The installation method is different depending on the tire chain. Most manufacturers today use easily on & of designed and provide a step-by-step guide on how to install the chains on your tire.


Are snow chains legal in every state?

Tire chains are legal in all states. However, some states restrict the use of chains when the weather conditions don’t require them.

Do I need snow chains if my vehicle has antilock brakes? 

The antilock braking system in your car shortens braking distances while it snows, but snow chains can still help immensely. Make sure that the chains you purchase are designed to work with ABS.

Are snow socks a good substitute for snow chains?  

Snow socks improve traction and grip on snow almost on the level of tire chains. That said, they are not a legal substitute for chains in most states.

How thick should my snow chains be? 

The thicker the chains, the better they dig into snow and ice. However, if the chains are too large, they might touch the body of the vehicle and damage it. Make sure that the snow chains you acquired fit your car perfectly.

How many snow chains do I need?

It depends on the vehicle. If you own a car with a front-wheel-drive configuration, then snow chains should be installed on the front wheels. For rear-wheel-drive vehicles, the snow chains should be installed on the rear wheels. For AWD or 4WD vehicles, the chains are usually installed on the front wheels. However, some vehicles send most of the power to the rear wheels and should be fitted with chains in the rear. It’s always best to check in the owner’s manual.

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