Snow chains–or tire chains–are chains or cables which can be fitted to the tires of vehicles to provide additional traction when driving through snow and ice. They are available in a number of different sizes, configurations and styles. They vary by ease of attachment, style of attachment and complexity of tire coverage.
Typical styles include:
The diamond style is so named because of the diamond pattern it creates on the tire after installation. Diamond tire chains ensure a comfortable ride with a low amount of vibration and noise. They provide maximum traction with a minimal amount of braking distance and skidding. Diamond pattern chains are recommended for ABS and traction control systems. Typically the diamond style chains are very simple to install without the need to jack up, or move the vehicle.
The link style chain simply creates a straight across the tread pattern which, in effect, serves to paddle through the snow. They are the oldest of designs and quite effective. They weigh about half of what the diamond pattern chains weigh for the same size tire. While effective, they are the nosiest of the styles but are also the most common. They are made up of linked chain and install fairly easily, but raising the vehicle may be required for installation.
The cable styles are normally the most economical, give the quietest ride and are typically the easiest to install. They are similar in design to the link style chain in that they create a paddle effect pattern across the tire’s tread. They are very light weight and provide good traction characteristics.
Snow chains should be attached to the drive wheels of a vehicle. Chains are usually sold in pairs and must be purchased to match a particular tire size–tire diameter and tread width are the deciding factors. By adding additional grabbing power to the footprint of your vehicle they push through snow and ice much like a mud treaded tire pushes itself through mud and loose soil.
Certain cautions and limitations should be observed when driving with snow chains installed. For example, driving with chains will reduce fuel efficiency considerably and you should limit the speed of the automobile to 30 mph. Driving faster than 30 mph can create a safety hazard and damage your vehicle as well. At higher speeds the chain is thrown outward by the centrifugal force of the rotating tire and can detach. If this occurs the chain may strike the vehicle or be throw from the vehicle entirely.
Snow chains and cables can help make those snowy streets a little easier to travel and might just make the difference between being snow bound and getting down the road on those wintery days. Whether you keep a set for emergencies or as a “must have” for the area where you travel, choosing the right set for your style of driving will take a little planning, so do your homework. The laws governing tires chains vary from state to state so be sure to check with your local authorities before ordering. Do your research and drive safely.
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.