Most drivers will only need one set of tire chains to get through winter driving conditions. However, there are a few situations where having a second set can be beneficial:
- You drive vehicles with different sized tires – Each set of chains is designed to fit a specific tire size, so you’d need multiple sets for multiple vehicles.
- You drive long distances in remote areas – A backup set gives you peace of mind in case your primary chains break or are lost.
- You need to equip multiple axles – Some large vehicles require chains on multiple axles for maximum traction.
For most passenger vehicle drivers, one quality set of chains used and cared for properly should be sufficient. But if you find yourself in one of the above situations, a second set can provide valuable redundancy.
Do I need tire chains at all?
First, do you even need tire chains in the first place? Here are some considerations to help you decide:
- Where you live – Chains are most necessary in regions with frequent winter storms or mountain passes. If you rarely drive in icy conditions, they may not be worth the cost.
- Type of vehicle – Chains have the biggest impact on rear-wheel drive vehicles, giving them traction to all wheels. Front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive vehicles benefit less.
- Winter tires – Quality winter tires may provide enough extra traction that you can avoid chains altogether.
- Driving habits – Consider how often you drive in winter storms. If you only commute in clear weather, occasional chains may suffice.
- Regional laws – Some areas legally require chains on certain routes. Make sure you comply with any chain requirements where you’ll drive.
Evaluating these factors helps determine if chains are a smart investment for your particular situation. They provide immense value for frequent winter drivers in snowy areas. But for milder climates, all-season tires or limited use chains could be sufficient.
When are tire chains most necessary?
Chains become most important when driving in the following conditions:
- Heavy snow – Chains maintain traction by gripping uneven snowy roads.
- Steep inclines – They provide extended traction to climb slippery hills and avoid slides.
- Icy conditions – Chains break through ice buildup better than tires alone.
- Blizzards – They offer stability when navigating through blinding snowstorms.
- Mountain passes – Chains provide control on winding, elevated mountain roads.
- Unplowed backroads – They can power you through unplowed residential and rural streets.
In these challenging circumstances, chains supply added traction, braking, handling, and acceleration. They grip when tires alone would slip and spin. As such, having them on hand provides major security when you need to drive in seriously inclement winter weather.
Disadvantages of tire chains
While chains can be a valuable tool, it’s also important to consider their downsides:
- Cost – Chains represent an added cost, especially if purchasing multiple sets.
- Storage – They take up space when not in use.
- Installation – Putting on and taking off chains can be difficult and dirty.
- Slows speed – Most chains have maximum recommended speeds between 30-50 mph.
- Potential vehicle damage – Improper use can damage vehicles.
- Shortened chain life – Excessive use on dry pavement increases wear.
- Not a fix-all – They don’t guarantee traction and shouldn’t replace safe driving.
These factors don’t necessarily outweigh the benefits of chains, but it’s wise to go in with realistic expectations. With smart use, the advantages typically make chains a useful winter driving tool.
Types of tire chains
If you decide chains are right for your situation, there are two main types to evaluate:
- Made of metal links that wrap around the tire
- Require manual installation around each tire
- Come in different sizes to fit tire dimensions
- Offer the most durable traction solution
- Require carrying tools and gloves for installation
- Can scratch or chip wheels if not installed correctly
- Made of metal cables often in a crisscross pattern
- Easier to install but can be less durable
- Provide sufficient traction for passenger vehicles
- Come in a one-size-fits-all adjustable form
- Installation only requires tightening with a rubber tensioner
- The tight fit limits risk of wheel damage
When deciding between traditional vs. cable chains, consider your vehicle type, wheel dimensions, necessary traction, and ease of use. Both provide ample winter traction if used correctly.
Important considerations when selecting tire chains
To select effective chains, keep these key factors in mind:
1. Proper tire fit
– Chains must be matched to your exact tire size
– This ensures a tight fit critical for proper function
– Measure tire tread width and sidewall height
– Consult chain sizing charts to match dimensions
2. Vehicle type
– Larger, heavier vehicles typically require heavier duty chains
– Frequent mountain drivers need maximum durability
– Standard passenger cars can use lighter cable-style chains
3. Wheel clearance
– Chains add clearance needed between the tire and vehicle body
– This is especially important with oversized tires
– Measure clearance and consult chain packaging for added clearance
4. Regional laws
– Some areas mandate specific chain types to carry
– Make sure your chains meet any legally required specifications
– Improper chains can lead to citations
5. Severity of winter weather
– Mild climates may only need simple cable chains
– Extreme winter conditions call for heavy-duty traditional chains
– Match chain strength to the severity of your driving conditions
Considering these factors helps ensure you get chains that provide maximum traction while properly fitting your wheels.
Tips for driving with tire chains
Once equipped with chains, follow these tips for safe winter driving:
- Keep speeds low, between 30-50 mph depending on conditions.
- Allow extra following distance for braking.
- Avoid spinning tires which can damage chains.
- Shift to lower gears for added control.
- Limit chain use on dry pavement to avoid rapid wear.
- Re-tighten occasionally as chains can loosen while driving.
- Remove chains as soon as you reach clear pavement.
- Ensure they meet use specifications for your particular vehicle.
Exercising caution and following the manufacturer instructions will keep you safe while extending the life of your chains.
Maintaining your tire chains
With proper care, chains can provide many seasons of winter traction. To maximize their lifespan:
- Thoroughly clean and dry chains after each use. Dirt and moisture cause rust.
- Coat with chain lubricant to prevent rusting. Wipe off exces lubricant.
- Check for damaged cross links and repair or replace as needed.
- Examine end fasteners for wear and replace if loose.
- Store chains loosely coiled and hung up or laid flat.
- Never store chains tangled or touching as they will rust together.
Well-maintained chains stay supple, avoid rusting, and provide optimal traction for many winters. Neglecting maintenance makes them more likely to fail when you need them most.
Signs it’s time to replace your chains
Eventually, all chains wear out. Watch for these signs it’s time to retire your set:
- Less than 1/4 inch of chain or cable showing
- Stiff, frozen, or deformed chain links
- Broken cross links or end connectors
- Sections rusted together in a clump
- Unrepairable kinks, knots, or obstructions in the chain
- Loose fit around the tire
Degraded chains lose traction power and risk breakage when under load. Swapping out a worn set each season provides reliable winter performance.
Tire chains provide immense winter driving safety when used properly. For most passenger vehicle drivers, one quality set of chains well maintained should suffice. But a backup set proves worthwhile if you drive multiple vehicles, long distances, or large trucks requiring multiple axles chained. When not needed, store chains properly to maximize their lifespan. With smart precautions and use, chains grant peace of mind to navigate dangerous winter conditions.