Winter is here in earnest in some parts of the country bringing heavy snow and ice, making travel hazardous for the unprepared. In preparation for winter travel we install studded snow tires on our primary vehicle. But occasionally studded tires and four-wheel-drive aren’t enough. When conditions are really bad we also chain up the tires for the additional traction and safety tire chains provide.
If you’re thinking of purchasing tire chains for your vehicle there are some things you might want to consider. Chains come in different sizes and ratings. By size I don’t mean the specific size to fit your tires. I’m talking about the size and duty ratings of the chains themselves. In the photo below (photo 1) you’ll see three sets of tire chains. Those on the left are for light duty use on cars and light pickups that will probably never leave the pavement. The tire chains in the center are chains designed for medium duty use on pickups and SUV’s. The chains on the right are for heavy duty use on pickups and SUV’s. The primary difference is the thickness of the chain used (and how much they cost!)
Before you purchase tire chains take them out of the box and look them over carefully. What I’ve found is that the cheaper the chain the lighter duty it is. I recommend buying the heaviest chain you can afford. Mainly because if conditions are bad enough to need tire chains you want chains you can count on.
There are some options you can choose from on tire chains also. In photo 2 (below) you’ll see two kinds of cross chains. Those at the top are regular chains and those on the bottom are called “V” bar cross links. The V-bar is best because the ends of the “V” dig into ice better and they last longer because it takes longer to wear through the link.
When you buy your chains pick up a couple of repair links. I’ve broken tire chains on several occasions. In photo 3 (below) you can see where I used a repair link to re-attach the end connector to the chain. I’ve also broken cross chains. The links are cheap and take up little room in the tool box so pick up a couple to have with you just in case. It’s also a good idea to buy a replacement cross link and keep it with you. If you break a chain stop immediately. They can and do wrap themselves around an axle, usually tearing off the brake line while they’re at it.
I haven’t mentioned cable chains because I don’t have any experience with them. They don’t hold together on our road but they may be fine if you drive mostly on paved roads in a light-duty vehicle. They are lighter and store more compactly than chains and might be a good option in the city. Cable chains also give you a little more clearance around the fenders which may be needed if your vehicle is front wheel drive. If you’re considering cable chains get references from people who use them. (Notice I said people who use them … not just people who have them but haven’t tried them!)
Tire chains are one of those things it’s better to have and not need than to need and not have. They decrease stopping distances tremendously on ice. We use ours when the ice is hard or the snow is deep enough we can’t get through in four-wheel-drive alone. We also use them when pulling a trailer or towing another vehicle on ice or in deep snow. There is no set rule on when to use them. My rule is if I think I need them I put them on. I’d rather spend the fifteen minutes putting the chains on than spend $100.00 on a tow truck to get me out of the ditch or, worse yet, a mountain of hospital bills due to a wreck that could have been avoided had I just taken the time…