Snow chains are devices which are attached to tyres to provide better traction in snow or icy conditions. They look somewhat like thick metal wires with links within them that wrap around the sides and surface of your normal tyres.

Snow chains must be fitted in pairs and are usually only fitted to the drive wheels of the vehicle although fitting to all four tyres will help avoid slewing on corners or during manoeuvres.

You cannot buy standard off the shelf snow chains. They must be the correct size for your tyres – tyre diameters and tread width. Tyre size measurements are found on the sidewall of the tyres and should be in the format:
Snow Chains

195/70  R18

The first number is the tyre’s width in millimetres, the second number is the ratio of the height of the tyre to its width and the final number is the diameter of the wheel.  You will find that driving with chains will reduce fuel efficiency and you must limit the speed of your car to 30 mph.

In some countries, transport authorities may require snow chains or other traction aids to be fitted on vehicles in snowy conditions. This can apply to all vehicles or may exclude four wheel drive cars or those that have winter tyres fitted. In these countries, spot checks may be put in place by police and fines may apply. Make sure that you follow regulations for your safety and lawfulness.

Be aware that unless tyre chains are fitted properly you may face problems.

How To Fit Snow Chains

It is a good idea to have a practice run fitting snow chains so you are comfortable with how to get them on and off again, therefore it is probably best to try this at home before you make your intrepid journey!

Remove the chains from their packaging and make sure they are untangled, they should hang free in a vaguely web shape pattern. The chains go on the two front tyres of a front wheel drive vehicle and on the two rear tyres for a rear wheel drive vehicle. Put the two chains on the ground next to the tyres you are going to be fitting them to.

Make sure your car has the handbrake on and it is in gear, then put the chain onto the tyre. Start at the top, holding it in place and then make sure the rest of the wheel is covered. You won’t be able to cover the part of the tyre that is touching the ground, but just cover the rest of it to the best of your ability.

You may come across a type of chain that has rings on it that connect to the inside of the wheel. This design is to help guide the chain into the correct position.

Once the chain is secured onto the tyre, you can repeat the process on the other side. When they are both fitted, get into your vehicle and drive forward a couple of feet, this then exposes the part of the wheel that was touching the ground, so you can now make sure that section has been covered by the chains also. Now is a good time to tighten the chains a little as well.

Now you are ready for your practice run. After driving a short distance, you need to get out and tighten the chains again as after the short drive the chains will have spread out more evenly across the tyres, thus resulting in some slack. The ride will of course feel a bit strange and bumpy, but of course you have chains on your tyres so that is to be expected!

Removing the chains is quite simple, firstly you need to disconnect the inside chains (or rings where applicable). Of course you won’t be able to just pull the chains straight off after doing that as a section of them will be wedged underneath where the tyre meets the ground.  Therefore lay out on the ground the part of the chain you can remove and then drive forward a couple of feet so you move off the chain completely.  You can now gather up the chains, make sure they are not tangled, clean and dry and put them away in the appropriate packaging.

Snow Chain Alternatives

There are alternatives to snow chains including snow cables, snow socks that fit over the tyre and polyurethane or rubber tyre chains. It is probably best to check with your supplier as to which is most suitable for your requirements.

Snow Cables

These are used more often on a four wheel drive vehicle, whilst the chains tend to be used on a two wheel drive. Snow chains are only really available in the usual ladder pattern, whilst the cables can come in different forms – either the traditional ladder pattern or a “z” chain type.

Snow cables are lighter than the chains and are made from steel aircraft cable which is encased in alloy traction coils. Due to the lighter weight they are also easier to fit than the chains.  Although snow cables are effective, it would appear that snow chains provide more traction.

Snow Socks

These are very strong and durable textile socks that fit over the drive wheels of your vehicle, to assist with grip and traction in hazardous conditions.  They are easy to fit, reusable and don’t take up much storage space. These would be more suitable for short journeys in sporadic conditions.

Polyurethane / Rubber Tyre Chains

These are an alternative to the metal snow chains and have some benefits  including the fact they do not rust, are lightweight and are kinder to your tyres.

Simple Rules For Safe Driving With Snow Chains
  • Do not exceed 30 mph (50kmph).
  • Do not drive on snow free roads for extended periods of time.
  • Make sure the chains are fitted tightly; you should retighten them after driving a short distance. Chains that work loose can wrap around the axles and cause steering problems.
  • Check requirements before adding tensioners. Some snow chains can be damaged if they are used unnecessarily.

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