What are snow chains?
Snow chains, or tire chains are metal chains that are secured around your vehicle tires to help you drive through highly compacted and dense snow. They are designed "to take advantage of the weight of your car to dig into the snow and ice as you drive".
Typically, regular vehicles don't require the use of snow chains during the colder months, many newer vehicles don't recommend snow chains. However, in certain areas and conditions they can be used (check local laws for chain regulations). The people who will mostly be reliant on snow chains are semi-truck drivers passing through colder states.
Why are snow chains used?
Snow chains are used for trekking through mountainous regions or flat regions that are densely covered in snow year round or during the winter months. When there is a good amount of snowfall, the snow can be packed down the more people travel on it, resulting in slippery and dangerous roads.
Two key things that define how snow chains work are traction and wheel spin. Adding chains to your vehicle's tires increases the grip of your tire on snow and ice-covered roads. Having more traction on your tires allows for more control when driving. As a result of the increased traction, your vehicle's tires decrease wheel spin, which occurs when "the force delivered to the tire tread via the engine is greater than the tread-to-surface friction available, which makes the tires lose traction".
Types of Snow Chains
Diamond Tire Chains
These are the original types of snow chains. They include strings of metal chain links forming a diamond structure. The diamond pattern size varies depending on the amount of snow or ice you are facing. According to TheDrive.com, this type of snow chain "works together to make a mesh pattern that covers the whole tire. Since this type of chain has a higher contact surface with the ground, it offers the best traction", meaning these are the best choice for heavy snowfall areas.
Cable Tire Chains
These are a more modernized version of the traditional Diamond tire chain and are best for a moderate amount of snowfall. The chains on this version are spaced-out, lateral metal cables that connect to a chain spanning the whole circumference of the tire. The spacing and side chain make it easier to brake. A benefit of this type of snow chain is that they are lighter while still maintaining traction. They are also smaller links, meaning they can be used on some of the smallest wheel wells.
Both of these types of tire chains require chain adjusters. Two options are growing in popularity, spring adjusters and spider bungees. Spring adjusters are pentagonal in shape made of metal that connect to the outside of the tire to tighten the lateral chains. While they beat out their rubber predecessors, they do rust which can cause springs to break.
The next option are the spider bungees, the newest form of chain adjusters. They have a center circular chain to act as the anchor point for each of the arms, which are connected to the links on the lateral chains. This keeps tension on the chain even, and according to customers for Midwest Traction, they are becoming the new favorite version of chain adjuster. If tire chains become loose, don't continue on. Stop and adjust them as they can loosen more causing more issues.
Other Types of Chains
The majority of the time, you won't be required to use snow chains unless specified by local authorities. Although regular tire chains are useful, they do have some downsides, the main downside being they are heavy and difficult to install. Don't worry though because there are alternatives to the typical steel chains. AutoSock states, Snow socks are a "fibrous textile used to create traction by penetrating the thin film of water on snow or ice, connecting the vehicle directly to the road surface. The advantage to snow socks is that the surface area is significantly larger than what winter or M&S tires rely on. Unfortunately, snow socks are only compatible with commercial vehicles, not medium or heavy duty vehicles.
Snow chain laws are all different depending on the state or region. Currently in the United States, snow socks are not considered a tire chain equivalent when snow chain laws are put into effect. Although this may be the case, some individual snow sock brands like AutoSock are approved according to the related governing body of the area.
Useful Tips for Tire Chains
1. Get the right size chain for your tires and vehicle
The size of your tire chain depends on the size of your vehicle's tires and also the wheel well. To find out what size you need, just look at your car's tires. The first number indicates the tire width, followed by the tire height ratio. Lastly is the diameter of the wheel itself in inches. Being a heavy duty trucking business, LGT Transport's trucks require 11R-22.5 chains and 295/75R22.5 chains for our cryogenic trailers.
2. Check state regulations and chain laws before travelling
Like we mentioned above, every state has their own chain laws, and within that certain regions may have more specific rules. It is vital to check the laws of the states you plan on passing through. Truck drivers and regular motor vehicles will receive a hefty fine if caught not following the chain laws. For a comprehensive list for heavy duty vehicles, visit atbs.com.
3. Practice installation beforehand
If you're needing to put on tire chains, most likely the weather won't be too favorable. To avoid any troubling situations out in the snow, practice installing and taking off your chains before your trip. Not only will this save you time, but it will also let you know the condition of your chains.
4. Don't use chains unless you have to
Tire chains should only be used when there is a solid layer of snow or ice on the road and it hasn't been cleared by a snow plow or other methods. Using chains on a mostly cleared road will cause damage to your vehicle and also the road itself.
5. Don't exceed 30 mph
In bad driving conditions, you don't want to be speeding anyways, but if you have tire chains attached, going over 30 mph will be more unsafe. The speed limit is set as such to maintain the chains' grip on the snow or ice, allowing the driving to have control over the vehicle. Exceeding this speed limit means there could be heightened dangerous conditions and a loss of driver control.