As a consequence of my trip to PRI, I’m working this week remotely from beautiful northern Indiana. This means I’m not wearing…shoes. And that my commute time was cut down to the 1.3 seconds it took to get from my bed to my desk. But it also means that the rest of my driving is hampered by about seven inches of gorgeous, seasonally-appropriate snow. Hate on it all you want, but there’s nothing like a white Christmas, as long as you know how to get around in it. That’s why we have long recommended snow chains for your car. But maybe we should get more specific, because cable chains are probably what you want.
The big idea behind chains is to give your car a set of work gloves. When your tires have no momentum and nothing to grab that isn’t slippery, they tend to spin in place. This is familiar territory to anyone who has driven in snow. The goal of tire chains is to dig into all that slick stuff and hold it until the tire moves forward. That’s simple enough.
But there are, of course, different types of tire chains. In the old days, there were only traditional link systems, made out of actual chains. The links are often fitted with barbs, which make link tire chains brilliant in deep snow and backwoods trails. They are, however, trouble on the road, damaging road surfaces and making you feel like you’re driving crushing all of Boise ‘neath the fury of your tires. They also require extra clearance within the wheel well.
Good news for all you stance bros: now there’s an alternative in the form of cable chains. (The name is a bit of an oxymoron, but stay with me). These use steel cables threaded through hundreds of metal “beads,” which grip the snow the same way the barbs on chain links would. But they take up much less space, and they also ride smoother over the road.
It should be noted here that no snow chains are designed for extended use on pavement. Nor should they be taken over about 30 mph, so don’t install cable chains, then take them drag racing and complain that Andy told you to when they shatter and scratch up your paint.
Cable chains also tend to be less expensive, easier to install, and lighter. That last one may seem inconsequential, but when you have to keep a set in your trunk all winter, light weight may be the weigh to go. Er…sorry about that pun. I’ll get better. I promise.
Anyway, if you’re just a casual winter driver, and you’re not taking your car out in terrifically deep snow, a set of cable chains is probably your answer. We love and recommend the models by Security Chain, or SCC. SCC tire chains are brilliantly designed and a great value for the money.
There’s one more distinct advantage cable tire chains have over traditional link chains. You know how all the TV channels are digital now, and if you look at your antenna funny you’ll lose the whole show into an 8-bit, Nintendo mess? If you lose a little signal, you lose it all. It wasn’t always like that. In the analog days, your picture might be a little fuzzy, but it was certainly watchable. Cable chains are like analog signals. The beads may wear off the cable over time, with the chains still remaining partially effective. But with link chains, if a single link fails, the whole chain fails.
Meanwhile, we recommend link chains to anyone doing serious off-roading and vehicles with a good deal of suspension clearance. When there’s no pavement to chew up, go big or go home. Or go big while going home.
Snow tire chains are just one of the many ways you can attack winter instead of letting it attack you. We’ve put together a whole arsenal of other winter driving know-how. Check it out below.
7 Tips for Winter Driving
Winter Prep: Do it Now
Tire Chains 101
Choosing the Right Tire Chains
How to Drive in the Snow
5 Reasons You Need Husky Liners Floor Mats
Why Seat Warmers are Better than Warming up Your Car
A Remote Starter is Not Just for Scaring Children
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.