Safety Tips

How to Install Tire Chains

Scot Barney
10 minutes

How to Install Tire Chains

After nearly 20 years in trucking, I never did chain up a truck. I was close to having to chain up one time close to Donner Pass and another time, outside of Salt Lake. I bought a set in 2011 that has not been used to this day. I do think to myself, “you should at least learn how to chain up.” We should all, at least, know how to chain up,even if we never intend to.

I encourage you to watch the video below for a detailed explanation on how to properly chain up a truck.

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Different Types of Traction Devices

Though there are many different options for traction devices, such as single chains, double chains, cable chains, v-bar chains, square link chains, twist link chains, and even tire socks all in various configurations for highway and off-road use. For the purpose of this article, we will narrow our selection to:

  • Singles – also referred to as 2-rail.
  • Super single – also 2-rail chains but for the wider super single tire.
  • Doubles – 3-rail chains for doubles on the drive or trailer.
  • Auto-chains – mechanisms on the drive axle, deployed with a switch that spin chains under the tire.
  • Tire socks – a modern addition to your arsenal against snow and ice. These are textile alternatives to steel chains that are much lighter and quicker to put on. The downside is that they may not be very effective for heavy hauls.

Tools and Preparation

  • Location – If possible, park the truck in the clearest and highest visibility area available to you.
  • Safety Gear – Wearing a high visibility, long rain coat or slicker suit can help to keep your clothes dry since you will, most likely, have to lie in the snow and be in contact with the underside of the fenders or trailer. A waterproof tarp is also useful to keep on the truck for when you have to get under the truck on wet or snowy ground. A good pair of insulated, waterproof gloves should be used to protect your hands from the cold and sharp edges of the chains.
  • Tools – For chains with cams, wrenches or a hammer to lock the cams will be necessary to ensure that your chains don’t come off in transit.
  • Bungees – Have enough bungees of various lengths to hold the chains tight and to manage loose ends that might cause damage while driving. If you’re one of those folks with more money than time, you could spring them sweet spider bungees.
  • Pin Puller – A fifth wheel puller can be very helpful in pulling the chain ends on the back side of the tire toward you when you hook the first link.


Layout and Inspection

Lay out the chains and inspect them to make sure that:

  • There isn’t excessive corrosion or rust.
  • There aren’t any segments twisted in the wrong direction.
  • All of the cams are in the open/unlocked position.
  • The chains are in the correct orientation that, when they are laid on the tire, the hook side is facing away from the tire and won’t cause damage.
Drape and Tuck the Chains
  • Hook your arms under the chains and pick them up in the orientation that you intend to hang them over the tires. Lift with your legs and not your back. Safety First!  
  • Walk toward the truck with your arms out in front of you, like a zombie. It’s okay to say something like, “Brains…Brains,” or “I am not a monster,” or whatever makes you feel better about having to chain up.
  • Drape the chains evenly over the tires, making sure that they are centered and symmetrically aligned.
  • Tuck the loose ends of the chains behind the tires, making sure they remain centered, balanced, and calm. Chains can be skittish.
Choose a Method
  • Method 1 is to lay on the ground and hook the links at the ground level.
  • Method 2 is to reposition one end of the chain at the top center of the tires by moving the tractor forward.  
Hook the Inner Chain/Chains  

Regardless of the method you use, the next step is to hook the number 2 chain. This will be the strand between the drives if you’re using a set of doubles or the only inner strand if you’re using a single. Pull the ends of the number 2 chain together, removing as much slack as you can, hooking and locking the farthest corresponding link possible.  If you’re using a double, hook the number 3 chain, or the inner most chain.

Hook the Outer Chain

Hook the number 1 strand, again ensuring that as much slack as possible is removed, before locking the cams.

Lock the Cams

Use your cam tool to lock your cams and completely tighten the chain. If the fit is tight enough, it may not be possible to get all the cams locked.  

Hook the Bungees

Attach your bungees in whatever pattern you think looks coolest or seems most likely to pull the chains away from your axles, brakes, and such if the whole setup comes apart while you’re driving.

Bob’s Your Uncle

In no time at all you’ll get to the spot on the other side where you’ll do it all in reverse order and put everything away. Be sure not to tie your chains up in knots when you stow them.  

Legal Requirements

Verify the laws and regulations involving tire chains during the planning of winter trips. According to this article on, carrying adequate chains on your truck is legally required and inspected for in several regions.

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