Advanced Driving Techniques
Using Snow Chains

Using Snow Chains: Laws and Rules, Fitting Instructions, Usage in Mud & Sand

Updated Dec. 14, 2020

In extremely cold, snowy or mountainous regions, using snow chains may be the only way to keep your vehicle moving. Snow chains work by increasing traction, or the “grip” your tires have on the surface of the road. Winter tires have a similar function, though they may not provide enough traction to get your vehicle out of extremely slippery situations or very deep snow.

It is best to have a set of snow chains in your trunk during the colder months, for emergency situations. You may never need them, though it is always better to be prepared.

Installing snow chains

As with all tasks, installing snow chains is easy if you know what you are doing. It can seem a little fiddly at first, so it would be best to practice putting your chains on before you need to use them.

Follow these steps to fit your snow chains to your tires:

  1. 1

    Leave your car in gear, with the parking brake on.
    Place the chain over the tire by holding it at the top, allowing it to fall over the front part of the wheel.

  2. 2

    If using chains with ring connections through the inside of the wheel to hold them in place, make sure the open connection is at the bottom of the wheel.

  3. 3

    Evenly distribute and secure the chain to the portion of the wheel not in contact with the road’s surface.
    Repeat these steps with the other tire and chain.

  4. 4

    With both chains on, you will need to drive forward one to two feet, to expose the bottom of the wheel which has not yet been chained.
    Apply the parking brake and finish securing both chains to the tires.

  5. 5

    Drive for about 100 feet to let the chains settle.
    Stop your vehicle to tighten the chains to a snug fit before proceeding.

Using snow chains

Aggressive braking and acceleration can put too much pressure on snow chains and cause them to snap. Drive as gently and cautiously as possible when snow chains are fitted to your vehicle. The ride may feel a little bumpy at first - if you are not used to using chains. This is normal and will improve slightly once the chains have been adjusted.

When using snow chains, drivers must:

  • Always accelerate slowly and consistently.
  • Never drive faster than 30mph.
  • Not allow the tires to spin.
  • Brake gently and gradually to avoid locking wheels.
  • Avoid driving on surfaces that are not covered with ice or snow.

Rules, regulations, laws

Practically every state in America has laws dictating the use of snow chains, details of which you can find in your state’s driving manual. Make sure you check this out before driving with snow chains on your vehicle. Snow chain laws will stipulate when you can, should and must use snow chains, in addition to any situations in which it is not permitted.

Date restrictions for use of snow chains are common. States that have such laws generally permit snow chain-use from October or November, through to April or May. Other state handbooks say that drivers must carry snow chains between certain dates, and that using them is a legal requirement on some sign-posted roads and when a snow emergency has been declared.

Buying the right snow chains

Buying an appropriate set of snow chains can be difficult, so it is best to seek expert advice from a reputable distributor where possible. The chains you need will depend on:

  • The size of your tires
  • The weight and power of your vehicle
  • The clearance at the back of the wheel.
  • The clearance between the top surface of the wheel and wheel arch.

These specifications can usually be found in your vehicle owner’s manual.

Taking snow chains off

When your snow chains are no longer needed you should remove them from your tires immediately. Water and salt from the road will need to be cleaned off the chains, as it will rapidly erode and weaken them. Wash your chains in warm soapy water or using a jet-wash, removing any stubborn residue with a hard brush. Hang your chains to dry and spray them with WD-40 or a similar lubricant.

Typical problems

Aside from problems caused by irresponsible driving, most issues experienced while using snow chains are caused by incorrect fitting. Namely, when drivers fail to fit the chain so that the correct components are in contact with the road as the wheel rolls.

The chain must be centered so that the thicker and more robust bands go under the wheel, rather than the thinner outer bands which are more susceptible to damage and will not provide the same level of traction. If one of your chains becomes damaged or does not grip the road as well as you expect, check to make sure it is positioned correctly.

Usage in mud & sand

Chains are designed to improve traction on densely packed snow and ice, though they can be useful in other situations too. Snow chains are a great help in deep mud, making them a must-have for motor-home owners. Chains will also improve traction and mobility in sandy, desert-like conditions.

However you intend to benefit from snow chains, make sure that you are not using them on bare pavement or in a way that violates state law.

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