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2 Types of Vehicle Tire Chains

A close up photo of a diamond tire chain in a snowy terrain.

Diamond, cable, and alternative are the different types of tire chains available to car owners in snow and some off-road conditions. Tire chains have varying advantages and prices; ride comfort, grip, durability, installation ease, as well as approved driving speed.

Ladder chains, diagonal chains, and other forms of chain patterns are all possible. When neatly put on the ground, a set of ladder chains, so named because of the way their links cross perpendicular to the roadway, resembles a ladder. Diagonal chains have their cross-links oriented perpendicular to the carriageway.

Diamond and multiple-diamond patterns, for example, create a sort of “net” across the tire. Ring chains are a subset of chain necklaces; they are so named because they often feature a metal ring with protruding prongs that serve as a clasp.

Types of Tire Chains

Before listing the types of tires, please note that the correct Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) class of snow chains must be installed, based on the wheel clearance of the vehicle. 

1. Diamond Tire Chains

A tire chain diamond installed by the vehicles owner.

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.

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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 snowfall.

2. Cable Tire Chains 

The cable design is a more compact adaptation of the tire chains that were first patented in 1904. Rather of a traditional tire bead, this design uses a series of metal cables that run around the tire’s periphery. To facilitate stopping, the cables are disengaged.

These chains are typically made with short links to minimize weight without sacrificing performance in terms of traction. These can be found for even the tiniest of tire wells due to their diminutive size and low profile. If you live in a location that gets around average quantities of snow, this style of chain is perfect for you.

Snow Chain Alternatives

Zoom in photo of a snow chain alternative.

Even though they aren’t technically snow chains, they accomplish the same goal (increased tire traction on snow and ice) as snow chains. Chains are often cumbersome and time-consuming to set up. A substitute might be chosen to reduce clutter and facilitate installation. One common choice is a textile cover made from thick cloth to maintain grip. 

Some are designed to grasp the ground in a more concentrated region, using a thin but sturdy substance. These are perfect if your region is not prone to heavy snow and you merely want to be equipped. Compact, lightweight, and stackable, this is a perfect alternative for a big section of America.

Studded Tires

Alternatives include studded tires, which are snow tires with metal studs separately mounted into holes in the treads;

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Emergency Traction Devices

A three emergency traction device pads isolated in a white background.

Emergency Traction Devices devices that can be used in an emergency that is comparable to tire chains but installed around the tire via the rim;

Snow Socks

Snow socks are textiles instead of chains or cables. Higher operating speeds are possible with these because the operator is not responsible for installing them (studs). However, chains still provide superior traction in extremely slippery conditions.

The use of a thin, sturdy mesh that provides a good grip is another option. Both approaches are lighter, smaller, and cheaper than conventionally used heavy chains, and their installation is much simpler.

Best for smaller cars and SUVs in places with sporadic snow. 

Tire Chain styles 

Automatic Tire Chains

Zoom in photo of an automatic tire chains in a snow.

Instead of wrapping around the tire, automatic chains deploy from devices bolted to the undercarriage and triggered by an electrical solenoid inside the vehicle’s cabin. Not all tire chains can be attached to the tires from both sides. When compared to others, the ratcheting method facilitates a quicker and simpler setup.

Ideal for all types of snow conditions and off-road situations.

Mud Chains

Heavy off-road equipment, such as log skidders, that must operate over very rough, muddy terrain commonly features mud chains, which are similar to snow chains but designed for off-road, four-wheel drive applications and are often larger than snow chains. 

Ideal for rugged terrain and big vehicles.

Wheel Tracks

A photo of a heavy equipment truck with tire tracks chains.

Wheel tracks are robust assemblies used frequently on logging equipment, and are reminiscent of chains but with stiff cross-links.

Ideal for Super Heavy Trucks.

Tire Chain Classification and Use

Description of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) categories:

  • SAE class S: Passenger cars with low ground clearances can use regular, non-reinforced tire cables and chains.
  • SAE class U: Passenger tire chains with ordinary, lug-reinforced, and non-reinforced as designs for cars with the standard, unrestricted wheel well clearances.
  • SAE class W: Chains designed for passenger vehicles that are constructed from the same materials as those used in light trucks. 
  • Four Wheel Drive & Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS): However, ABS systems are not a replacement for traction aids. When compared to a regular braking system, ABS helps you keep your foot on the brake and better manage your vehicle’s traction. Installation of tire chains improves stopping traction while using an anti-lock braking system.
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Although 4WD and AWD vehicles have greater traction ability than two-wheel drive systems, they do not have any advantages in stopping under winter driving conditions. It is recommended that all tires be equipped with tire chains on these vehicles.

Which Tires to Chain Up

A close up photo of a tire being locked up by chains in the snow.

The drive tires need tire chains. The two front tires on FWD cars and the two back tires on RWD vehicles should be connected. Chaining up only two tires on a four- or all-wheel-drive vehicle? Check the manual to see which axle should be chained. Having traction devices on all four tires helps a 4WD or AWD vehicle maintain its optimal performance and handling.

When braking, accelerating, or cornering, a car feels “normally” in control when there is roughly equal traction at each wheel. This equilibrium is disturbed by snow and ice. Tire chains alone on the front tires allow the back end to sway when braking and driving. To maintain steering control, snow chains should be put on all four tires, not just the rear. 

Tire chains are an essential part of restoring this equilibrium to your vehicle. You can buy tire chains in sets of two, so keep that in mind. So, if you want to put chains on every tire, you’ll need to buy two sets.

Tire Chain Materials

Polyurethane, rubber, fabric, and fabric-covered steel links or cables are all viable options. There is a wide selection of steel alloy and carbon steel as well as link forms for the traditional steel-link chains. There is the regular link, the twisted link, the square link, and the reinforced link. The chain’s adaptability, hold, and strength can all be altered by adjusting the link shape.

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Links with studs or V-bars added can provide an even more forceful grip. The combination of alloy steel and toughened steel enhances durability. Attached like chains, but made of cable instead of a chain, traction cables go by a few different names.

Typically, rim chains (which can be made of chain or cable, and can be elastic or adjustable) are used to secure tire chains once they have been wrapped around the tires’ circumference.

Benefits of Tire Chains

A man wearing jacket is installing a tire chain in his vehicle.

  • Assist you in maintaining safe driving practices and avoiding collisions on slippery or snowy roads.
  • Installation and uninstallation of modern versions are simplified.
  • Better grip means you have greater control and less chance of slipping.

This works well for any car, even in the snow.

How to Use Tire Chains

The best time to learn how to use snow chains is before a blizzard hits. As soon as you know snow is on the way, put the chains on your tires. Heavier than usual snowfall will make an already challenging task even more so for the inexperienced.

Prepare

  • You need to know if your car has front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive.
  • Put the chains where the drive wheels will touch them on the ground. (You’ll want to put chains on all four tires if you’re driving an AWD car.)
  • Easily accessible chain tensioning mechanisms should be placed on the outer rim.
  • The chains should be straightened so that they are in direct line with the wheel.

Attach

  • Move your car onto the chains gradually and park in the middle.
  • Join all the chains together at their clasps.
  • If your chains don’t tighten themselves, tighten them. Ratchet mechanisms or rubber tighteners will be included.
  • Run your palm back and forth across the top of the chains to ensure the tires have room to turn.
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Drive

  • When using chains, most manufacturers advise not exceeding 30 miles per hour. After all, you’ll be going at a slower pace already if you need chains due to the road conditions.
  • Driving too fast can cause the chains to snap, which can damage your car’s tires and/or exterior paint. It’s important to steer clear of potholes because doing so can ruin your tires and chains.
  • Avoid quick acceleration at all costs; doing so puts unnecessary strain on the chains and can cause the tires to spin.

Remove

If you want to keep your chains intact, you must always take them off before driving back on the asphalt. The chain fasteners need to be atop the wheel, so drive forward till they do.

  • Take the chains off their hooks and lay them flat on the ground. Carefully release the automobile from the chains. 
  • Clean the chains of any mud, snow, or filth before putting them away for the winter.

Tire Chain Setup Instructions

A man set-up a tire chain to his vehicle in the snow.

What you should do when it’s time to put on tire chains is as follows:

  • Set the parking brake and stop the car. To prevent the chains from becoming twisted, lay them flat.
  • Holding the cap, drape the chain over the tire and check for symmetry on both sides.
  • Pull the slack toward the outside of the car, then reach behind each wheel and attach the speed hooks (“J hook”) to the third link from the opposite end of the chain.
  • Move the car ahead a short distance and secure the remaining links in the chain.
  • You should tighten the chains after driving 50-100 feet.
  • Zip-tie any superfluous links together or use bolt cutters to get rid of them.
  • To unfasten the chains, you need only perform the inverse of the setup procedure.
  • It’s smart to test out the tire chains and the installation process before committing to them. This way, when the time comes for the actual thing, you’ll be ready. Also, you might ensure the tire chains are a good fit. In case you need more advice about tire chains, consider the following:
  • Tire chains of the correct size must be purchased.
  • Tire chains should not be used with snow tires.
  • Never go faster than the manufacturer recommends, which is often around 30mph.
  • Don’t risk driving on any roads that aren’t slick with ice or snow.
  • Tire chain installation can be filthy, so be prepared with extra clothing.
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If you stick to this guide, you’ll soon be an expert at using snow chains. You can do tasks, go to work or school, or head to the mountains without worrying about the cold or snow.

Problems That Often Occur With Tire Chains

Zoom in photo of a tires being chained up in the snow.

An excessive rate of speed while using chains. Maximum speeds recommended in chain owner’s manuals are typically between 20 and 50 kilometers per hour (30 and 30 miles per hour).

  • Long amounts of time are spent driving with chains on when the roads are dry. Driving with chains on dry roads can lead to skidding when braking. Chains will wear down quickly if driven on dry pavement.
  • The chains were not fastened securely enough. The chains should be tightened twice, first right after starting the vehicle and again after a short distance of driving, as recommended by the owner’s handbook. The drive axle of the car can become entangled in a loose chain if it is not either refastened or removed.
  • In some cases, tensioners or adjusters will be needed. (The usage of tensioners could potentially damage chains that utilize automatic tensioners.)
  • Putting chains on wheels that don’t turn on the vehicle’s transmission. Tire spin and chain tension from quick acceleration.
  • When a chain snaps, it can fly around the wheel well, perhaps wrapping itself around the axle and cutting brake lines.

Guidelines for All Tire Chains

A close up photo of a tire with chains in the snowy terrain.

  • To find out if tire chains are compatible with your car, check the handbook.
  • Get chains that are the right size for your tires. Accurate sizing is crucial.
  • For optimal performance and durability, always use a manual installation.
  • To safely install, service, or remove tire chains, you should pull entirely off the road and out of traffic’s way
  • Tires should not be deflated during tire chain installation. (The tire pressure should be set to normal.)
  • Involve a quarter of a mile of driving. We need to halt and re-secure the chains. Depending on the type of chain, the extra links can be removed or secured with a zip tie.
  • Do not go faster than 30 mph. Slow down when accelerating or stopping. Don’t let your wheels spin or lock up.
  • If any chains break, you must immediately pull over and fix or remove them. If your tire chain is broken, you should not drive.
  • Tire chains make it more difficult to avoid curbs.
  • Towing is not recommended while using tire chains.
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Tire sizes can vary depending on who makes them and how the tread is shaped. Pre-sizing your chains is a must before putting them to work. These tire chains might be manufactured to accommodate the widest possible range of tire profiles within a given tire size. If you pre-fit the chains to the tire, you won’t have to worry about them not fitting when you need to use them.