Learn When to Use Chains on Your Car Tires

It’s no one’s notion of a good moment to lose traction in the snow.


Even in locations not prone to blizzards, winter can bring icy and dangerous road conditions that drivers must be prepared to deal with. Tire chains for automobiles can be a viable alternative for getting you where you need to go when the roads are not on your side — but they can also be inconvenient.

Knowing when to use chains can help you get out of a sticky position, but you must first know what you’re doing.


Distinct regulations in each state govern chain usage. Before you go out and buy a new pair of chains, make sure you know whether they are prohibited, acceptable, or even required in some circumstances. A chain “requirement” generally indicates that you must have them in your car if you want to pass specific checkpoints that appear in bad weather. Chains are normally prohibited in places where they are authorized, so make sure you understand the law and observe it.

Another key element to consider is whether your car is chain-ready. Chains are available for most tire sizes, but there must be enough clearance for them to fit without damaging the body, undercarriage, or brakes. Again, for specs and allowances, consult your owner’s handbook.



Because chains will most likely need to be put on and taken off at least once per trip, and because the conditions surrounding their use are usually cold, wet, and snowy, it’s recommended to practice installation first, ideally while the weather is still beautiful. Put them on and take them off a few times without driving the car to get the feel of it so that when you do need them, you aren’t caught fumbling and trying to figure out how to get them on with frozen fingers. If you’re hauling chains, you should also bring a safety vest. There’s a big chance you’ll have to pull over to the side of the road at some point to adjust or remove them, and visibility will be poor if it’s snowing.


Car tire chains should be used only if there is a covering of snow or ice on the road. Using chains on bare pavement can cause significant damage to your tires as well as the road itself. Pull over and remove the chains if you turn onto a road that has been plowed and salted.

It’s usually a good idea to be cautious when driving in frigid temperatures, but chains necessitate a whole new level of attention and care. When turned on, the automobile should not be driven faster than 30 miles per hour, and you must be cautious of curbs when parking. Chains must be fastened to wheels on the driving axle on two-wheel-drive vehicles, but ideally, they should be attached to all four. If they are just fitted in the front, they will oversteer, and if they are only installed in the back, they will understeer. Chains should be placed on all tires of four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Snow chains, however bulky, can make a significant difference in winter weather when you need to travel somewhere without Mother Nature’s permission, but only if utilized carefully and successfully. Otherwise, you’ll be circling the drain.