How to Use Snow Chains

Snow got you stuck? Snow chains may be right for you.

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Controlling your car's traction is tricky when there is snow or ice on the ground. All vehicles, even ones with snow tires and all-wheel drive, can slip and slide in heavy snow. When the white stuff is piling up, especially in mountainous areas, often the best solution aside from staying home and sitting by a fire with a glass of whiskey, is to hook up a set of snow chains.

If you follow proper procedures, and some basic safety tips, snow chains are relatively easy to install, even while out on the open road by yourself. Some states regulate the use of snow chains, so check your local guidelines. 

When you're all up to date on the rules and regulations, and a big snow's a-coming, here's how to use snow chains.

Basics

Estimated Time Needed: 30 minutes.

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Your car's tires.

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Safety

To keep yourself and others safe, here are a few simple ways to help mitigate some of the risks while you're installing snow chains:

  • Make sure you have the proper chains for your car. 
  • Make sure you know which wheels propel your car (front, rear, all-wheel)
  • Practice installing the snow chains before you need them.
  • Find an area away from traffic to work.
  • Double-check that the emergency brake is set.
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Everything You'll Need

The great thing about typical tire chains is you don't need any special tools to get the chains on the tires, though you'll still need two fairly obvious things. They are...

Tool List

  • Your car.

Parts List

  • The snow chains.

See what we mean?

Ideally, you'll want a flat, traffic-less and hopefully, snow-less, surface to ensure your own safety, your car's safety, and your pants from getting soaked while kneeling on the ground.

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Arranging Your Workspace

Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)

  • Identify your drive wheels—front-wheel, rear-wheel, all-wheel drive. 
  • Place the snow chains in front of the drive wheels.
  • Prepare to drive onto them. 

How to Use Snow Chains

Snow chains can seem challenging to install, especially if it's your first time, so you should expect some trial and error that may or may not test your ability to use PG-friendly words while under duress. With some persistence and the occasional mumbled curse, you'll get a handle on them. 

All right, let's get this party started! 

Prepare the Chains

  1. Get the chains out of the vehicle. 
  2. Place the chains on the ground near the front of the tires of the driving wheels. 
  3. If your chains have V-bar links, make sure the V-bars are pointing up to contact the road surface; cable chains should be able to go in either direction.
  4. Straighten out the chains next to the tire. 
  5. If your chains have some kind of tensioning system, make sure the mechanisms are on the outside of the wheel for easy access.

Mount the Snow Chains 

  1. Gently roll the car forward onto the chains, stopping in the middle. 
  2. Hook the fasteners together. 
  3. Tighten the chains; some snow chains have self-tightening systems or tightening ratchets you can use, while others have separate rubber tighteners.
  4. Start driving.

Removing the Snow Chains

  1. Roll forward so the fasteners are on top of the wheel.
  2. Unfold the chain and lay it on the ground.
  3. Repeat these steps for each chain.
  4. Roll the car forward.
  5. Pick up the chains and pack them away.

You did it, congrats!

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Tips from a Pro

 Here are our top tips for putting chains on, taking them off, and making sure you're safe on the road.

  • When you remove the snow chains from your tires, be sure to wash them well to remove any dirt, snow, mud, and debris. Hang them up for storage, and spray them with WD40 to keep them in good shape.
  • To check the clearance of your tire with the chains, make a sweeping motion with your hand back and forth over the tire from the front to the back. If your hand goes around without striking anything, the tire has good clearance.
  • Try to avoid hitting potholes when you have snow chains on your tires as this can damage or break the chains and possibly harm your vehicle.
  • As we've mentioned in How To Drive In Snow, slow and steady wins here. There's no need to drive at breakneck speeds, nor is it safe to do so with the chains attached.

Does each tire need a snow chain?

Only if your vehicle has all-wheel drive. Otherwise, you should only need chains on the drive wheels.

Do I need to jack up my vehicle to put on snow chains?

Not necessarily. If there is enough space above the tire and wheel arch, you don't need to use a jack. But you may need one to raise the body of the vehicle if there isn't adequate space.

Do I need to re-tighten the chains during use?

Even the best snow cables can rotate and move around when you drive. It’s advised that you check the snow chains every time before you drive. If they move, they may loosen and become less effective.

Life Hacks

We all have them, we all love them. And since you may not have access to the right tools, or have a friend you can bum a wrench off of, we also compiled a list of our best hacks to make your life easier and drain your pocket less. Here are our best life hacks for using snow chains.

  • If you find yourself in need of snow chains, but don't have them, zip ties and rope positioned and strapped to your tires can work in a pinch. They're not as effective but will do the job until you can safely get where you're going.

Featured Products

Security Chain Company ZT741 Super Z LT Traction Chain

Quality Chain Cobra Cable Passenger Snow Traction Tire Chains

Michelin X-Ice

Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: guidesandgear@thedrive.com