It's a Blizzard Out There, Let's Put on Snow Chains!

Slip and slide is fun when you’re a kid, not while driving in winter. 

Woman with winter car tire chains snow
J.M. Guyon - Copyright 2012—CandyBox Images 2012

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If you’re lucky enough to live in an area that gets legitimate winter weather, you’re probably well aware of the annoyance and dangers that a snowstorm can prevent to motorists. Many people opt for winter tires to improve their vehicles’ traction in bad weather, but they’re expensive. Of course, people could stay off the roads altogether in winter weather, but in some places, that’s just not a practical option nor does it solve the issue of getting to and from work, the grocers, or taking your kids to school.

Tire chains, to a degree, help get around those issues with an affordable way to greatly improve traction. They can be installed and uninstalled in minutes, and can truly be the difference between a normal commute and a day spent being pulled out of a ditch.

Even if you do live where the air hurts your face, you might not know much about chains if you’ve relied on winter tires for the majority of your driving life. The Drive’s editors have experience installing chains and have made almost every mistake in the book so you don’t have to. Let’s dive in.

Tire chains come in many sizes and types.
Depositphotos

Tire chains come in many sizes and types.

Tire Chain Basics 

Estimated Time Needed: 10-30 minutes

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Exterior/Tires and Wheels

What Are Tire Chains

Tire chains are a physical part that’s wrapped around your tires to greatly improve traction in snowy, icy, and slippery conditions. They can be added to standard or winter or all-season tires. They are sold separately from the vehicle and its tires, and can be carried for use when necessary.

Tire Chain Installation Safety

When installing tire chains, it’s not really the chains themselves that present the danger. It’s the road conditions and other drivers that you’ll really need to worry about.

  • Test your tire chains before setting off to ensure there are no loose or dangling parts that could fly off and cause damage.
  • Ideally, you’d install the chains in a quiet parking lot before setting off, but in some cases, you’ll be doing the work on the side of the road. If this is the case, pull as far off to the side as you can and use emergency indicators to help increase your chances of being seen.
  • Make sure your car is in the park with the parking brake engaged to prevent roll-aways and dangerous unintended movement.

Everything You’ll Need To Install Tire Chains

There’s good news! The only thing you’ll truly need to install tire chains is the chains themselves. It’s a good idea to carry a roadside safety kit with emergency markers/reflectors for your own protection, but those things won’t actually help you install the chains.

Organizing your 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, too. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)

You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking to install your tire chains. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting your ride out of the clink.

Find a safe spot to work.
Depositphotos

Find a safe spot to work.

Here’s How To Install Tire Chains 

If you expect that you’ll need tire chains, find a flat space, and try to get out of the way of other drivers. 

Let’s do this! 

Installing Tire Chains

  1. Make sure you know which are the driven wheels on your car. If your vehicle is front-wheel drive, you’ll need to install chains on the front wheels, while rear-wheel drives get them—you guessed it—on the rear. All- and four-wheel drive vehicles can use four chains.
  2. Put your vehicle in park and make sure that the parking brake is engaged before you start this process.
  3. Pull out the chains one at a time and ensure that there are no tangles or damage.
  4. Lay the chains out next to your car’s wheels on the ground. 
  5. Carefully drape the chains over the desired wheel. Be sure to unravel the chains down around the circumference of the tire. It should wrap approximately three-quarters of the way around.
  6. Since you’ll be moving the vehicle, tuck the ends of the chains under the tire to hold them in place.
  7. Drive forward a few feet to get access to the portion of the tire that was previously on the bottom. You shouldn’t need to move more than three or four feet.
  8. Turn the wheel slightly before turning it back off again. This will allow easier access to the tire. Make sure to place the vehicle in park and reset the parking brake.
  9. Connect the two ends of each tire chain together using the included anchor system. 
  10. Before setting off, make sure that the chains are evenly installed and that they run straight around the sides of the tire. If they are loose or misaligned, fix the issue to avoid having the chains fly off when the vehicle is in motion.
  11. Drive forward for 100 feet or so. This will let you get a look at how well the chains are installed and will tell you where tightening or adjustments are needed.

Sometimes You Need a Certified Mechanic

As much as The Drive loves to put the "you" in do-it-yourself, we know that not everyone has the proper tools, a safe workspace, the spare time, or the confidence to tackle major automotive repairs. Sometimes, you just need quality repair work performed by professionals you can trust like our partners, the certified mechanics at Goodyear Tire & Service.

Pro Tips to Install Tire Chains

  • Don’t let a big snowstorm be the first time you try to put your chains on. First, numb fingers don’t do such a great job at, well, anything, really. Next, consider where you’re like to be installing those chains. The side of the road is a terrible place to be fumbling with chains.
  • Don’t drive with chains on unless you need them. They can damage your tires and reduce traction on dry pavement.
  • Make sure your chains actually fit your tires before you need them. Chains come in different sizes, so it’s important to shop for the right ones.
Chains are cheaper than winter tires and work better in many cases.
Depositphotos

Chains are cheaper than winter tires and work better in many cases.

FAQs About Installing Tire Chains 

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q. Are Chains Better Than Winter Tires?

A. Chains do provide better traction on snow and ice than winter tires. They’re also far cheaper than a good set of winter rubber. The issue is having to carry and install them every time there’s bad weather, and then uninstall them on the other side of the storm.

Q. Are AutoSocks Better Than Chains?

A. In testing performed by Consumer Reports, products like AutoSocks are about as effective as a mid-range winter tire. The publication also notes that, for people living in areas with serious winter weather, nothing is better than a solid set of dedicated winter tires.

Q. How Much Do Chains Cost?

A. Remember, you get what you pay for. Winter chains can be had for as little as $40 online, but it’s best to research the most reliable and well-reviewed brands. On average, prices range from around the $40 mark to upwards of $150. 

Let’s Talk, Comment Below To Talk With The Drive’s Editors!

We’re here to be expert guides in everything How-To related. Use us, compliment us, yell at us. Comment below and let’s talk! You can also shout at us on Twitter or Instagram, here are our profiles.

Jonathon Klein: Twitter (@jonathon.klein), Instagram (@jonathon_klein)

Tony Markovich: Twitter (@T_Marko), Instagram (@t_marko)

Chris Teague: Twitter (@TeagueDrives), Instagram (@TeagueDrives)

Video 

Featured Products

When it comes to tire chains, The Drive’s editors realize you could spend days just sifting through half of the products available. That’s why we’ve selected a few of our favorites to help get you started on the right track. These products are affordable, useful, and well-reviewed.

Security Chain Company Extreme Traction Chain

Anti-Slip Snow Chains for SUVs, Cars, Trucks

Blikzone Auto Roadside Assistance Kit

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