Tire maintenance & safety

Snow chains: What are they & how do they work?

Last updated 10/17/2022 - Originally published 9/22/2020
Written by SimpleTire

When harsh winter weather and driving conditions approach, it may be time to invest in a quality set of snow chains. Snow chains are not necessary everywhere. In fact, they're outlawed in some places. However, just as they're not legal in some states and on some roads, other geographic regions encourage them or even require them. Check with your local law enforcement, highway patrol, or Department of Motor Vehicles about the legality of putting snow chains on your tires.

When considering snow chains, there are several options to choose from, as well as several benefits to using them. In addition to getting the right chains, there are also certain tires that are recommended for use with chains, allowing the snow chains to work more efficiently and more effectively.

What are Snow Chains?

Just as the name suggests, snow chains are any system of chain that's designed to cover a tire or wheel set-up in order to offer better traction in the snow. Specifically, snow chains are used on snow, but they are also effective automotive accessories for travel on ice or any frozen surface.

Several snow chain designs are available. Everything from simple wrap-around tire chains, which are held tight in place by tensioners, to chains that only cover the tread pattern of a tire while being mounted to the outside of a wheel. Such options make snow chains possibilities for some of the finest performance automobiles which possess little inner wheel clearance.

Most snow chains are sold in pairs and may or may not come with the tensioners necessary to mount the chains on your wheels. For anyone looking to set aside funds for a quality set of chains, they should expect to spend anywhere between $20 to $200, based on need or desire. Oh, one more thing. When shopping for snow chains, they're also known as tire chains.

How do Snow Chains Work?

Snow chains are able to dig into frozen surfaces more so than even a quality snow tire. Even studded tires lack the ability to maintain steering and braking like tires with snow chains. They cannot be driven on at high speeds. In weather bad enough to require snow chains, high-speed travel is not recommended. One tip that's often given in regards to snow chains is to be sure to mount them before they're needed. In other words, when the roadways just start to become covered in snow, it's a good time to put them on. All too often, people will wait until the snow is already piled high before fitting their tires with chains, and that can be too late.

Tires to Use with Snow Chains

Can any tire be used with snow chains? Not necessarily. Consulting with your automotive dealer as well as the vehicle owner's manual is always best in order to determine whether snow chains are recommended. Snow chains may actually cause significant damage to some performance tires that are constructed of soft rubber compounds.

Quality snow tires as well as mud and snow (M+S) tires are excellent when combined with snow chains. The soft, yet durable compound and siped tread blocks (treads with small grooves in them) allow for the tires and the chains to work well together, helping to achieve the best traction in inclement weather and on frozen roadways. Nearly all the major tire brands carry quality winter options, including Goodyear, Pirelli, Kumho, Hankook, Continental, Bridgestone, and many others.

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