Tire Chains Buying Guide 101

Tire Chains Buying Guide 101

Drivers who live in areas with difficult winters need confident traction and solid power in their tires. In some situations, winter tires may not be sufficient for severe weather conditions. This is where studded tires and tire chains come into play. Studded or studdable tires are those that offer improved traction thanks to small metal or rubber elements integrated into the tread of the tire. They increase the stability of the tire on snowy roads and make it easier to pass over snowblocks.

However, sometimes even the studs are not enough if we are talking about the Northern areas of the country where the winters are very difficult. The drivers of these areas know a solution that never fails: tire chains. They do what no other winter tire can do on snow and ice. Chains are available for any type of vehicle, large or small. Finding the right chains is not that simple a process. It seems that it is not a big deal to choose a metal chain that you just mount around the tire. But in fact, you have to choose the chains correctly, and that is what we will talk about in today's article.

Things To Consider About Tire Chains

First of all, you will notice that their price varies between $50 and $200. The price difference has an explanation that I will talk about a little later. Secondly, chains are not only about coping with difficult snowy conditions. They serve just as well for muddy conditions when the traction of the tire alone is not sufficient. In this context, the question arises: Which of the available chains is suitable for snow, mud, and ice? What is the difference between them?

As you can see, you have to take several aspects into account if you plan to get the right chains. Let us help in this matter as we know a thing or two about the tires and chains you need for them.

Steps To Choose The Right Tire Chains 

Step 1
Find out if there are any tire chain restrictions for your car
Step 2
Get to know your tire size
Step 3
Decide which tire chains best suit your application
Step 4
Determine how often you will use chains on your tires
Step 5
Buy the chains from a reputable dealer 1

Now we will move on to the details of each step. Each step includes useful and necessary information to make the right choice. So, try not to miss any of them.

Step 1: Are There Any Chain Restrictions For Your Car?

Before deciding to buy chains, you must familiarize yourself with the specifications of the manufacturer of your vehicle. The manufacturer indicates all restrictions in the driver's manual. As such, you have to read it to know if he imposes any chain restrictions.
Some tires have a more specific construction that does not allow chains to be mounted on them. For example, there might be insufficient clearance between the wheel and tire, which would make it impossible to attach the chains. Technically, you could mount them. But driving will be compromised by possible damage to your tire.

On the other hand, some tires are only compatible with certain types of chains. A good example in this sense is the SAE Class S chains. Their concept is to keep an optimal distance between the wheel wells and the tire, which ensures the protection of its integrity.

You can find all these details in the driver's manual and it is critical to know them. There you will also find specifications if your vehicle specifically needs SAE Class S chains. Learn more about chain rules and ratings. 2

Step 2: Get To Know Your Tire Size

The size of the tires matters a lot when you choose both tires and chains for them. An inappropriate tire size puts the driver's safety at critical risk. Before purchasing the right chains, carefully inspect the sidewall of your tire. You will find a sequence of markings on it. If we are talking about a tire with the markings "P185/60-15" for example, then "P" is the type of tire (Passenger), "185/60" is the ratio between height and width, and "15" is the diameter. The chains you choose must be compatible with the proportions of the tire for optimal fitting. No matter where you buy the chains, online or in a physical store, make sure they are compatible with the size markings on the tire sidewall. image 3

Step 3: Which Chains Best Suit Your Application?

Chains are of different types. You cannot buy any type as it might not suit your needs and driving conditions. After you clarify the size of the tire, it's time to analyze which chain type suits you better. For this, you must consider the road conditions and the time in which you mainly drive. if we are talking about ice, mud, or snow - each condition will need a certain type of chain. So, take your time to analyze the matter so you know what to look for.

Many drivers need chains only for the rear wheels for trunk stability. Keep this aspect in mind if you are one of them.

Tire Chains For Ice

If you mainly drive in areas with slippery roads due to the thick ice layer, then you need to look for the right chains for these conditions. Their specificity consists in their ability to "bite" from the ice layer for confident traction. In this sense, it would be good to turn your attention to Ice Spike chains, which are the most suitable for this purpose. Many call these chains "Icebreakers" and they have built-in studs that increase grip. These are the most ruthless with the ice layers of all existing.

On the other hand, keep in mind that they severely affect the structure of the pavement in the absence of the ice layer. That is why it is critical to take them only if the winter conditions justify their use. Icy surfaces are their primary purpose, so you shouldn't use them when it's just a thin layer of snow. You could opt for spike-less chains if it is mostly about snowy roads.
The downside of ice-braking chains is that they turn the ride into a relatively rough experience. So, I recommend taking them only if their advantages justify their disadvantages. 4

Tire Chains For Snow

If you mainly drive in snowy conditions, you must choose specific chains. Ideally, you should opt for chains with large links that ensure the necessary confident traction. Of all the options, I recommend the chains with square links. I find these the most suitable for superb snow traction in deep snow. In addition, they cope quite decently with thin layers of ice in case you occasionally roll over them.

If comfort is one of your priorities, you could pay attention to twist link chains as well. They offer slightly milder riding, but they are not the most suitable for ice surfaces. So, these would comfort you whenever the ice is not specific to the areas you drive. 5

Tire Chains For Off-Road And Mud Conditions

Many drivers believe that the purpose of tire chains is only more confident traction in snow and ice. But it turns out that they are equally optimal for muddy and off-road conditions. Manufacturers of tire accessories usually produce chains keeping in mind both off- and on-road use. However, I recommend opting for mud service chains if mud is a typical condition in which you mostly drive.

I recommend you avoid chains with cams in the context where you frequently drive off-road. They will pop open when they are stuck in the mud, which will make your riding too difficult.

Chains for muddy conditions are usually distinguished by double-spaced cross details or large twist links. Their specific construction ensures superior traction in such conditions. Unlike the snow chains, the mud service ones are tougher to deal with the jaggy terrain. 6

Tire Chains For Short Rides In Light Snow Conditions

In fact, all types of chains are capable of handling light snow conditions. So, any will do, except Ice breakers. I mean, they will also cope with light snow conditions, but in the absence of thick ice, they will be highly uncomfortable and will destroy the pavement.
Either way, you might need less aggressive chains when it comes to short trips in mild winter conditions. In that case, you could opt for cable chains that are very friendly for mild winter conditions. Unlike standard chains, the cable ones have a less hard and aggressive structure. These are very affordable and give you peace of mind when you need increased safety in light winter conditions. Riding is quite comfortable with this type of chain as they are less clunky. 7

Step 4: How Often Do You Plan To Use Tire Chains?

You have probably never thought about the importance of this aspect. But it matters as much as the other criteria. The point is that chains are easier or harder to mount, depending on their type. If you plan to remove and install them often, you'll probably want the process to be as easy as possible. Some drivers call on technicians to install the chains. But if you prefer to do it yourself when you need it, the installation must be intuitive and easy. In addition, consider that it is not very comfortable to install tires when it is -10 Celsius outside and you're frozen stiff. So, keep this aspect in mind and opt for chains that are installed as hustle-free as possible.

On the other hand, you could skip this criterion when you plan just to carry the chains in your trunk, without using them. You know, some states require by law that every driver have chains in his trunk.

Typically, tire chains are divided into 3 major categories when it comes to the mounting aspect: manual tensioning, automatic tensioning, and assisted tensioning. Depending on these types, the chain is "dressed" on the tire more or less easily. They differ in the type of material in them as well as in their pattern. See below what are the general specifications of each type. 8

If the simplicity of the installation process is important to you, opt for automatic-self tensioning chains. In addition, look for chains that do not require backside connections. These are the easiest to install.

Specs Of The 3 Types Of Tire Chain Tensioning

Automatic Tensioning

This type of chain is the most suitable for easy installation and adjustment. The specificity of automatic tensioning chains is that they align and tighten individually as you roll on the road. As soon as you install them, they can adapt to the tire as you drive, which offers a hassle-free experience. You just have to carefully read the installation instructions and make sure you center them properly on the tire. The rest is solved by itself.

Assisted Tensioning

This category includes a wide variety of chains starting with "better than nothing" and ending with premium ones. Assisted tensioning chains have a cam rule and require some tools to tighten them well on the tire. If we talk about the more affordable options, they are somewhat more difficult to adjust and often need readjustment. On the other hand, the most expensive ones have integrated tensioners. These details allow an easier tightening and do not need readjustment in most cases.

Manual Tensioning

These chains are the most affordable of all, but also the most uncomfortable to install. They do not have any features that would facilitate the mounting process and you will need a chain adjuster to tighten them properly. I recommend these chains for when you don't plan to use them, but you just need them in the trunk because that's what the law of the state in which you live requires.

Step 5: Buy Your Chains From A Reputable Dealer

If you have completed all the steps above, it means that you are ready to choose the right chains for you. Various online sources allow you to choose chains according to your vehicle or your tire size. Whichever method you choose, make sure you match the chains with the specifics of your application. Choose a trustworthy online dealer that will deliver your chains quickly and safely. Neotires can help you both with choosing the right chains and with efficient and hassle-free shipping. 

FAQs: Tire Chains

Do You Put Snow Chains On All 4 Tires?

For ultimate winter performance and safety reasons, putting chains on all 4 tires is the best way to go. With 4 chained tires, the vehicle is highly responsive and easily controllable in the harshest winter conditions. Worst case scenario, drivers can only put 2 chains on the driving axle tires. That means 2 chains on the rear tires on rear-drive cars, or 2 chains on the front on front-drive ones. In the case of FWD and AWD vehicles, chains should be installed on all 4 without exception, for maximum safety.

Do Tire Chains Damage Tires?

If the driver uses tire chains as recommended and under the right conditions, they should not damage the integrity of the tires. We recommend using tire chains in the right circumstances and in the areas where they are allowed by law.

When Do You Put Chains On Tires?

Tire chains must be used with caution and only when the heavy winter conditions severely hamper the traction of the vehicle. You can think about tire chains if the driving circumstances meet these conditions:

  • The roads are covered by a generous layer of snow packed with ice
  • The state in which you drive allows chain use
  • You know how to assemble and disassemble the tire chains
  • You are sure that your chains are suitable for your wheel size

Also, keep in mind that you have to take them off as soon as the roads are clear of snow and ice. Otherwise, they damage both the road and your tires.

Do Tire Chains Work on Ice?

Sure thing. Chains deal perfectly well with both snow AND ice as they cut through them to ensure grip and traction. Different chains are available though. Some of them are mainly oriented towards snow grip, others - towards cutting through thick ice layers. Another category combines both ice and snow-cutting capabilities. Make sure to find the type of chain that best suits your needs and driving conditions.

Are Snow Chains Worth It?

Tire chains are the ultimate way to improve traction and grip in winter conditions where even tire studs would not help. If we are talking about roads with deep snow and thick ice, tire chains are totally worth it. In addition, they are a great idea in driving conditions at the top of the mountains or in other hard-to-reach places. If we are talking about normal winter conditions with moderate snowfall and thin ice that does not put the driver's safety at risk, winter tires, studded, or studdable ones might be more than enough.

Are Cables or Chains Better?

The answer lies in how difficult the winter conditions are. If we talk about severe winters with extreme snowy and icy conditions, snow chains are a better option. These are much more durable. Cable chains are easier to install but provide somewhat lower efficiency than snow ones. On the other hand, cable chains are optimal for moderate road conditions and do not affect the integrity of the tire. As for the snow chains, they might affect the tire if the drivers use them in inappropriate conditions (that is when the winter conditions are not severe).

What Speed Can You Do With Snow Chains?

Once you mount chains on your tires, you must reduce your speed below 50 km/h. Tire chains are created to improve traction in extreme conditions, not for high-speed performance.

Are Tire Socks Better Than Chains?

Both tire accessories can improve driving traction in icy and snowy circumstances. However, they differ in the intensity of their effect. Tire socks perform decently in relatively mild winter conditions. If we are talking about extreme conditions, they will give way in front of tire chains. The decision between chains and socks depends on how severe and aggressive the winter is in the area where you live. If the snow is heavy, constant, and thick, chains might be a better solution.

What Are the Disadvantages of Tire Chains?

While these accessories significantly improve the traction of the vehicle, tire chains have some shortcomings, especially if they are used in inappropriate conditions.

  • Chains can damage car suspension
  • Chains can damage the road surface
  • Drivers can't drive faster than 30 mph

However, the benefits of tire chains in severe and dangerous winter driving conditions overshadow these shortcomings.

Why Trust Us?

Neotires is dedicated to thorough testing and in-depth review of various tire models as well as their performance in various conditions. For this, we have attracted specialists with vast experience in the automotive and tire manufacturing field to our team. We do our best to provide truthful information about driving tips, tire maintenance, tire reviews, and comparisons so that drivers can be as safe as possible whenever they are behind the wheel.

The tire industry is the number 1 passion of every member of the Neotires team. We always keep an eye on new technologies in the industry, innovations, and studies to become better in this field. Our trained team collaborates closely with specialists from the tire manufacturing industry. This helps us learn a lot about trends and upgrades that we subsequently apply in our Neotires activity.

Further on, we spend a lot of time with our mechanics to evaluate the performance of various tires in various conditions. Then, we share them with our readers so they know what to expect from the tires they choose. In short, we study a lot in this field to be able to offer high-class assistance and high-class products to our customers. According to them, by the way, it seems that we are doing quite well so far. Join them to test us! We will do our best to meet your expectations! Drive safe and choose your tires wisely!


Brian Darr is a passion-driven enthusiast who has become an expert in the tire industry. His passion for rubber started with his first driving experience. He firmly believes that the performance and safety of any vehicle are due, first of all, to the quality of the tires mounted on it.
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