Best Tire Chains: Get a Grip in Snow and Ice

Maneuver a little easier in the snow and ice with these top tire chains.

byJonathon Klein| UPDATED Oct 20, 2022 12:39 PM
Best Tire Chains: Get a Grip in Snow and Ice

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Best Overall

Glacier 1042 Passenger Cable Tire Chain Set

Summary

Made out of galvanized steel, these chains work on both the front and rear of the vehicle. These chains are compatible with any warranty and improve your traction during winter.

Pros
  • Designed for Type S clearance
  • Meets all relevant legal requirements of tire chains
  • Compatible with 14-inch to 20-inch tires
Cons
  • Some users report tensile strength issues
  • Can be difficult to install
  • Must double-check sizing chart before picking the chains
Best Value

Peerless Chain AutoTrac Passenger Chains

Summary

Taking the classic tire chain design to the next level these tire chains use well-structured links to limit the risk of snapping. By using high-end materials, the chains are ideal for winter conditions. 

Pros
  • Easy to install in a home garage
  • Built to tighten while you drive
  • Made out of a high-grade alloy
  • Cost-effective price point
  • Long-lasting performance 
Cons
  • Consumer feedback mentions tire damage from chains
  • Only comes as a single chain per package
Honorable Mention

Autosock 697 Tire Chain Alternative

Summary

A unique yet effective alternative to standard chains, these traction aids are ideal for areas with short winters. Compatible with all types of rims, these chain-like options fit with any wheel well clearance.

Pros
  • Useful when chains are disallowed by warranty
  • Machine washable design
  • Has a stamp of approval from multiple vehicle manufacturers
Cons
  • Not technically a tire chain
  • Only works on a temporary basis
  • Better for short distances

Summary List

Our Methodology

We can’t put our own hands on every item available. In these instances, we put our collective experience in journalism, research, and prior product testing to use to make our product picks. Items that are used by our own staff may get earnest endorsements as well, but we’ll never accept fees or bonuses to sell you stuff we’re not actually excited about. Affiliate revenue is always disclosed.

The Drive aggregates reviews and research from all over the internet to figure out which products are worth buying. We also put out shopping guides to help you understand how to assess the value of these things on your own. Knowledge is horsepower!

Best Tire Chains Reviews & Recommendations

The Glacier 10 1042 Passenger Tire Chain Set is designed to fit with any tire between 14 and 20 inches. They fit seamlessly onto the tire, installing quickly and holding steadily in position. Adhering to all legislation relating to road safety and traction requirements, these chains are safe for normal use. 


Plus, because of their non-invasive design, they won't void your car's warranty. The material consists of hardened steel, but the design is where it really stands out. The chains consist of small, cylindrical pieces that connect loosely to prevent the chains from snapping. Because of this feature, the chains grip powerfully to slippery surfaces, whether that’s snow or ice. 


It’s worth noting that the trade-off for the cable-cross design is there being more metal held close together. As a result, extreme cold can make the chains brittle and result in breakage if you encounter extreme cold. Give them a bit of time to acclimate to a temperature change before hitting the road. 

If you’re looking for a set of chains that you can use year after year, the Peerless Chain AutoTrac Passenger Chains are a worthy candidate. Manufactured using polycarbonate material, these chains include large, well-structured links that are built to resist impact. At 3.8 millimeters for the cross chains and a 1.2-centimeter profile, these passenger-vehicle chains fit multiple tire sizes. In fact, the wide compatibility rating and self-tightening abilities are where the real value shines through. Users report that even with no experience setting up tire chains, these are easy to get into place. There’s no need to re-tighten them; and, because of the diamond pattern, they center on the wheel automatically. At over 11 pounds, these chains are heavier than most other selections, helping promote durability. 


One thing to keep in mind is that the value of these chains shows up over the long term. It might be a bit more of an upfront investment, but these chains can last for years. Instead of replacing your chains frequently, you can hang onto these over the long term.

If your area is not prone to lengthy winters, the Autosock 697 TireChain Alternative is definitely worth looking into. They are made to serve as a temporary way to improve your tires’ traction. Unlike standard chains, these wraps go over the whole tire with a mesh-like material that stretches to fit. Because they consist of textile instead of metal, there is no risk of scratching your tires, rims, or wheel bed. 


Slip them into place on front or rear tires. Once in position, a rough textile covers the part of the tire that contacts the ground. The remainder of the fabric is a breathable weave that protects your rims and uses crossing straps to hold steadily in position. Both lightweight and machine-washable, you can use these chain replacements whenever snow is in the forecast and remove them when the ground is dry once again. 


Bear in mind that these are meant as a temporary solution to slippery ground. If you are facing weeks (or months) of cold weather, it’s better to opt for actual chains. These are only suitable for casual use, as an extra precaution on the road. 

When you’re contending with both challenging roads and slippery surfaces, the tension on Konig CB-12 090 Snow Chains is ideal. The manual adjustments let you precisely install this set of two chains on a wide range of tires. With a clearance of 12 millimeters, these chains don’t risk any damage to your wheel wells. Requiring little work to install them, these chains slip on easily and tighten with limited effort. Made out of high-quality alloy, these chains grip easily into ice and snow. However, the small acute angles on the diamond pattern make them suitable for asphalt surfaces as well. Receiving certification from TUV (translating to tested for safety), these chains are a low-effort, high-reward option. Earning an honorable mention for their wide compatibility and clever structure, if you drive a car or a truck, these are a terrific option. 


Keep in mind that, because of the nature of the metal, these chains may get brittle in the extreme cold or loosen in heat. To avoid any issues, try to park your vehicle indoors and check the chains before you start driving.

Looking to save time while remaining safe on the road? Consider the Tracgrabber Tire Traction Device. Unlike other snow and ice-gripping solutions, this option installs in mere minutes. Instead of covering the entire tire with a layer of chains, it features a single strap that wraps around the tire laterally. The set comes with four straps (one for each wheel) and fits tires up to 40 inches. You can find these devices for trucks and SUVs as well as larger vehicles. The strap attaches via a D-clip closure which you tighten after running it through the tire. After it’s in place, you can get unstuck quickly. Plus, unlike standard chains, it won’t create issues if you hit a dry patch of road. An enhancement to your winter tires, the TracGrabber makes your vehicle more winter-ready. 


Bear in mind that these chains are not a preventative measure. If you know that the truck is likely to get stuck and that you won’t be handling dry roads, it’s better to go with metal chains. These ice-gripping devices are better to keep in your truck as a part of your emergency kit for roadside repairs.

Our Verdict

You won't be disappointed with the Glacier 10 1042 Passenger Tire Chain Set. It's simple, easy to install and works wonders in snow and ice.

Types of Tire Chains

Diamond Tire Chains

The traditional type of tire chain, these feature strings of metal chain links, organized in a diamond structure. If you’re facing more snow, the angle of the diamond vertices should be smaller. The diamond pattern works together to make a mesh pattern that covers the whole tire. Since this type of chain has a higher contact surface with the ground, it offers the best traction. As a result, diamond tire chains are better for places that get frequent, heavy snow. 

Cable Tire Chains 

A streamlined version of the original tire chains invented in 1904, the cable design uses the same steel material. This sort of tire chain features spaced-out, lateral metal cables which link to a chain that runs over the circumference of the tire. By separating the cables, it is easier to brake the vehicle. Typically, these chains have small links, helping them stay lightweight while still optimizing traction. Because they are usually smaller and with a lower profile, you can find these for the smallest wheel wells. This type of chain is ideal for casual use in areas that get medium amounts of snow. 

Alternative Chains 

While they might not technically be a type of snow chain, they serve the same purpose: improving tire grip on winter roads. Chains can be heavy and awkward to install. To save space and make it easier to get set up, you can opt for an alternative. Popular options include a textile cover that uses thick fabric to keep traction with the ground. Others focus on a smaller surface area, with a thin yet rugged material working to grip the ground. These are ideal if your area is not prone to much snow and you simply want to be prepared. Compact, lightweight, and easy to store, this is a suitable option for a large part of America. 

Key Features 

Chain Tension Setup

In order to keep a hold on your tire while also gripping the road, the chain requires substantial tension. Back in the day, tension needed to be applied manually. However, modern developments include self-tightening technology. Basically, there are ratchets positioned across the circumference of the chain. These spaced-out tools tighten the chain while you move the vehicle. By eliminating the slack, you get improved traction and avoid the hassle of tightening them after you’ve driven for a bit. Keep in mind that because ratchets are a moving part, they are the most vulnerable to breaking and can be difficult to replace. 

Release Structure 

Since you can’t drive on dry ground with chains, nor the highway, you need to be able to remove them quickly. If you turn onto a road that’s been cleared, you’ll need to take the chains off. Tire chains that include an automatic release let you remove them more efficiently. Be sure that the quick-release feature doesn’t engage without your command. Usually, there is either a lever or a pull mechanism that controls the release. Check that it is hidden and not likely to get triggered by accident. Provided it’s of good quality, this feature makes it far easier to deal with tire chains. 

Chain and Link Design 

This feature refers to both the chain pattern and the design of the links themselves. Depending on the layout of the chain, be it diamond, ladder, or rectangular, the traction differs. Diamond layouts and diagonal patterns are suited for vehicles with ABS systems. Rectangular layouts are suitable for icy and snowy roads, while the ladder pattern is common for off-roading vehicles. In terms of the links themselves, lighter snows in low-humidity areas benefit from smaller individual chain parts. Heavier snow (like the kind you make snowballs out of) calls for larger individual links. Assessing this feature is about both your vehicle type and the climate in your area. 

Snow Chain Pricing

Most tire chains will cost you around $100. Don't spend too much more than that.

FAQs

You've got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q. Do chains ruin your tires? 

On snow or ice, chains are fine for your tires. If you’re driving on pavement and dry ground, you can harm both the road and your tires. Take the chains off if you encounter a road that’s been thoroughly plowed to prevent damage. In cold weather, both the metal chains and your tires are more vulnerable to damage. Exercise extra caution. 

Q. How fast can you drive with chains on? 

Because you’re using snow chains in already challenging road conditions, don’t go too fast. Stick to 30 miles per hour (maximum) to prevent any problems. Chains make it more difficult to brake, especially if the surface is dry. Slower speeds help avoid issues. 

Q. Is it okay to leave snow chains on overnight? 

There should be no issue leaving tire chains on overnight. They won’t damage your tires and it won’t compromise the fit of the chains themselves. If the temperature drops significantly overnight, give metal chains a chance to acclimate to the cold before driving extensively on them. 

Q. Are tire chains legal in every state?

The law varies from state to state. Many allow them during certain periods of the year on certain roads. 

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