Tire Chainsupdated 10 Sept 1998
When you've just gotta get through...
This advice is for regular "ladder" style chains, sorry to say
I have no experience with diamond, cable or other styles of chains.

A set of chains can make a 2 wheel drive go as far in deep snow or mud as a 4 wheel drive, no kidding!
Chains are worth the small expense.
Chains are also of real benefit with worn or non-aggressive tread tires.

I usually carry chains whenever I do any off-road or long distance driving in snow.
I carry a set for both the car and the 4x4 van.

Before rushing out and buying a set of chains, consult your owner’s manual to see if chains can be used on your vehicle. Most vehicles can use chains on the rear if there is about an inch of clearance all around the tire.
Oversize tires might limit this so watch for it.

   Front wheel drives are a bit more fussy about what chains to use. I believe cable types are recommended but I really have no experience with chains of any type on front wheel drive.
See the warning about using tire chains only on the front and the strong oversteer it can cause.

Buy the right sized chains for your tires, links can be added or cut off but it is better not to have to.

   Studded or ice pick chains have a bit more of advantage on ice but are "rather" rough on smooth hard surfaces such as icy or hardpack roads. The "vee" picks seem to be made of a hard material and take a long time to wear out. Regular link chains are still very good on ice and are only "somewhat" rough on smooth hard surfaces.

   "Double filled" chains are just "ladder" style chains with twice the number of crosslinks.
Of course they are almost twice the price! They tend to be a bit smoother and have more traction. Since there is always a couple crosschains under the tires, double filled chains do offer superior braking even if the brakes are locked up.

Where to store your chains?
Off season the best plan is to clean and oil your chains and hang them where they will be untangled, dry and available for the next winter. If your shop and basement is as organized as mine you know they tend to get lost if stuck in a bag or box in the corner!

  But where to put them in your vehicle? Tire chains are always heavy and dirty. You don't want them getting all tangled up and you don't want them sitting in a puddle of salty water to rust, they always get put away wet. Some folks use antifreeze like containers with the tops cut off and drain holes poked in the bottom, I like wooden or cardboard boxes big enough (if you have the room) to fold the chains in untangled. The sealed ammo can that I used in my car is not really satisfactory. Even when sprayed with Rust-Stop the chains still rust inside it.

Kenneth Mankoff <mankoff@nagina.cs.colorado.edu> makes these comments from rec.autos.4x4:

 "Up here at 9,500 feet, the frost has started, the snow tires are going on next week, and i'm expecting snows by the end of the month, which re-raises last years question: Where to put the chains?  Any comments on below ideas, or new ones are appreciated.

in back of vehicle
  cons: gets truck dirty in back. Pain in ass to untangle and install,  even if painted*(see below)
  pros: chains protected from elements (and therefore rust)

mounted on boards (and presumably stored on top)
  cons: chains get exposed to weather. Boards in roofrack don't leave room  for skiis and snowboards
  pros: simplest installation ever. Boards can be used to bridge gaps when  offroading

installed on spare (if spare located on back, not under or inside)
  cons: exposed to weather (but if you go to  your local dump, and get a  tire-cover that will fit your
     tire+two chains wrapped around it, then  you get protection, it just looks bumpy and ugly).
    4 chains will be  hard to fit around one full-size spare tire (but i only own two).
  pros: easy to install from there.

hanging on BrushGard
  cons: catches bugs, exposed to weather, and no way to protect  from elements there

Hanging under (like 18wheel truck): None of us have that clearance.

so.... it seems to me like the spare tire mounted is the best idea, with a tire cover that fits over.

Paul Hovnanian  < paulh@seanet.com> Makes an excellent suggestion for those pressed for space:

"Get 2 (or 4) pieces of heavy canvas, each a little larger than one chain laid out flat. Lay the chain on the canvas (after the appropriate rust -inhibiting treatment) and roll them up. Tie each roll with a strap or piece of rope. It keeps them clean, untangled and prevents rattling chain noise if they're stored inside the vehicle. The rolls can be tied down easily to prevent headaches in the event of a sudden stop."
  The point about tieing the chains down in case of a sudden stop is very astute. Anything laying loose in the back of your vehicle can become a dangerous projectile in even a minor accident. Neck, back, and brain injuries are likely.

* Painting the chains (I painted the tire side red) it makes the much easier to get the chains untwisted.
I really like the idea about mounting the chains on a rear mounted spare tire if you have one.
I store mine in a cardboard box in a closed compartment in my van but am contemplating mounting them on heavy planks (Ihave no rear mounted spare) to make them easier to keep untangled and I could use the planks for traversing ditches or gullies. The only problem is where to store the planks.

Front or Rear? Which is best?
   I have seen it recommended that if you only have one set of tire chains to put them on the front axle since then you have better steering, braking, and traction. If you plan to do this you should trial fit the chains in good weather and check that the chains don't contact vehicle components such as brake lines, springs, swaybars and fenders as they turn from side to side and articulate up and down. If limited to one set of tire chains I prefer to put them on the rear for highway use and on the front only in extreme snow or mud conditions.  I must warn that at higher speeds or downhill or off camber or icy conditions drastic oversteer can occur with tire chains only on the front. For highway use with a single pair of tire chains I would recommend always putting the them on the rear to avoid this oversteer characteristic.
See my personal experiences and warning that follow...

Front or Rear? Which is best?
A little test drive with my tire chains
Last winter I did some "research" on which axle to put the tire chains in snow.

In open exposed areas we had about the worst offroad snow conditions yet still possible to traverse. Six inches (much deeper in the woods or in gullies) of granular sand-like snow with about two inches of ice crust, strong enough to hold the weight of a man but not a truck. Tall wide floatation tires might be a better choice in this stuff but it is slippery and almost no forward progress can be made without tire chains. I do not have a set of chains for my tall wide tires and don't think chains would clear the body on them so I use my standard sized tires for this. Airing down the tires seemed to help a bit but all forward movement stopped when the differential dug into the ice so that I could not go very far with this option.

I tried the chains on the rear of the van as I have always used them in the past. I could make good progress on flat stretches but was slowed to a stop on hills and had to back up to try again for another few feet. This maneuver tended to dig the ruts deeper and get the differentials dragging on the crust. I could see this was going to lead to problems. My son drove as I watched what was happening. All four tires would spin but the fronts were pushing hard into the ice crust. The ice crust was too slippery to climb and too hard to easily crush. The "sandy" snow underneath afforded poor traction.

Back out on the road I switched the chains over to the front and immediately noticed that the larger front wheel wells and open front approach angle of the van made this task much easier here. My son drove the van slowly up and down the road, cutting the wheels back and forth while I checked the chain clearances out. It really didn't look too bad. I cursed my stubbornness for not trying this years earlier but I had been told that chains on the front might tear the brake lines off and tear the fenders apart and like a fool I accepted this bit of pessimism with blind faith.

Tire chains clearly belong on the front of a 4 wheel drive in rough conditions, no doubt about it! Once back on the trail the difference was immediately apparent. The van did much less spinning. The chains gripped the edge of the ice crust and lifted the van up and broke through the crust, pulling the van along as it did. The rear tires in the chewed up ruts had no trouble trailing along behind. Steep hills still took several attempts but considerably more progress was made each attempt. Moreover, there was a lot less spinning going on so I was keeping 4-5 inches of the "sandy" snow over the trail ground surface. This was keeping my differentials off of the ice crust.

Turning was much better with the chains on the front. The chains could chew up over ruts that the tires alone would have just followed no matter what angle they were turned at. This was still very hard going but control had improved measurably.

I had driven around on the lightly sanded ice roads earlier with both bare tires (Michelin LTX M+S) and with chains mounted on the rear. To be honest even with the front hubs unlocked you could easily drive around on this road if you used care. With 4 wheel drive I could easily stop on the hills and start away again but heavy application of the gas pedal would easily spin all 4 tires even on this underpowered beast. The braking was not too bad even in 2 wheel drive but was much more controllable and about 3/4 the distance locked in 4 wheel drive. Chains on the rear cut the braking distance to about 1/2 the distance of 2wd on this lightly sanded ice surface, but required some care to prevent locking, which gave erratic performance.

With the chains mounted on the front, performance on the icy road was not much different than on the rear if you drove slow and careful. Even braking was very similar with no noticeable improvement. Steering around sharp icy corners at slow speeds did improve. The chains on the rear sometimes tended to just push the van straight ahead, but now it would haul itself around sharp corners often swinging the rear around if I was moving too fast or used too much "go pedal". This is called oversteer. At higher speeds it became dangerously pronounced.

A word of warning here, chains on the front tires gave strong oversteer at higher (50-80kph) speeds on icy roads and sudden braking could cause the van to swing right around out of control if it was the slightest bit sideways to begin with. Chains on the rear give straight enough braking under most all conditions but the van can plough straight ahead at any speed if the iciness and road camber are working against you. I recommend the chains on the front only in heavy deep snow or mud at slow speeds for the directionability they give but must warn sternly about the oversteer tendencies on icy or hard packed roads at higher (50kph+) speeds. You could easily find yourself spinning out of control on a corner or while braking.
Here is a page that describes the dangers of chains only on the front while going downhill.

This from Scott in Australia about where to put your chains:
"We usually use ladder chains on the back, two of my friends were out playing one day and found the 4wd with rear LSD went up hills in the mud better with chains on the back, they had been using them on the front previously that day. Same friend's father always told him chains on front but that was all snow driving.
My mates conclusion - chains on front for snow or flat mud work, on the rear for hill work in the mud."

Dual wheel installations:
Winter Driving Tips From Caltrans recommends chains on the inside tires of the rear of a dual wheel axle.
They give no resons why.

Pre-fit your chains on a warm, sunny, dry day prior to actually needing them to make sure your chains are properly sized for your tire and that you know how to put them on. Nothing like wasting an hour stuck in a blizzard to find they don't fit.

Some of the old timers used to recommend deflating tires to install tire chains and then pumping them up again. I don't recommend this, it puts a tremendous load on the chains. Your tires should be normal pressure.

Read over and follow the directions for installing your tire chains.

Make sure the chains are untwisted before you install them. Stretch them out on the ground behind the vehicle to check them. It is usually just the end couple sections that get twisted. It is real hard to fathom out which way you have to spin the ends to get the twist out. Practice this before it is -30 out!

This from Tanya, "A helpful hint:
   to make it easier to distinguish which side of the chains go against the tire and which side faces away from the tire, lay the chain on a flat surface and spray paint one side only."
This should really help when trying to get non-icepick chains untwisted.

   Lay the chains out on the ground ahead or behind the tires with the locking catches to the outside. Drive the vehicle over the first couple crosslinks. Hoop the chains over the tire and hook the plain hooks in the backside of the tire. It is nice if you know just which link the back hooks normally use and can get it hooked on this link now. Latch the front catches if you can, hook them if that is all you can do or just connect then with your short rubber tensioner strap if that is all you can do. In any event put a tensioner strap on to draw more slack for the catch. Drive about 20 feet forward, rehook the backs on another link if you have to and fasten the front locking catches tighter if you can. install your tension straps. (short black rubber staps available in any hardware or automotive store for holding down cargo etc.)

Drive approximately 1/4 mile. Stop and retighten any slack out of the chains. Extra links may be wired back out of the way if you have a long trip. Keep chains tight to prevent tire wear and noise and to get maximum chain life..

Installing the chains after you are stuck
  Oh boys! Are you in for some fun now! Best plan is to install the chains before getting stuck but I often seem to get into this predicament. If you can still rock the vehicle back and forth you might be able to put one end of the chain in the hole and rock over it enough to get it fastened up. If not, dig as much snow or mud out of the way as you can and carefully try to get the chain to feed under the spinning tire. This can be quite a task. Once it is through, fasten up the back side and attach your rubber tension straps on the front The front link probably won't fasten because the chain is ravveled up under the tire. With the tensioners pulling on the front catch you might be able to get enough slack to link up if you gently rock back and forth. No spinning at this point.

  Once you have the spinning side linked up, the other side will start spinning. Do the whole procedure on the other side. This is a lot of work and you would think that the next time I would learn to have the chains on before getting into this situation? Some guys never learn I guess! <GRIN>

  Be careful working near the exhaust when getting unstuck. Carbon monoxide and a little bit of exertion can greatly increase your chances of a heart attack. Shut the engine off if you have to dig or crawl under the rear of the vehicle.

Be sure to pull well off the highway to a safe level place before installing, adjusting, or removing your tire chains.

Assure your vehicle cannot drive over you! Make sure it is in park, the park brake is on or the wheels are blocked. Engine off is the safest bet, it also keeps you from having to inhale carbon monoxide as you mount tire chains on the rear.

  If you are working with a partner make sure you are very clear on when to move the vehicle. A spinning tire can pull an arm or leg under it in a flash. Keep clear of tires and vehicle when it is about to move.

Avoid spinning the tires excessively, as the chains may catch on something unseen under the snow and you could break a cross link free or do driveline damage. Accelerate and decelerate slowly.

Check the trail ahead in deep snow for hidden obstacles.

Inspect chains before and after each outing. Look for worn links and stretched side connectors.

Be careful when steering with chains on the front. CHAINS ON FRONT CAUSE DANGEROUS OVERSTEER.

Make sure the chains won't contact any vehicle components BEFORE THE BAD WEATHER COMES.

Chains will dig through dirt, snow, mud and ice very quickly if spun. Be careful not to bury your tires or high-center by spinning your tires.

Bare hands will stick to frosty chains and get filthy to boot. Use good leather work gloves to put chains on.

If a cross-chain should fail, stop and repair or remove it immediately. The flailing cross- chain will make a mess of your fenders in seconds. Carry "monkey" or "quick" links in your chainbox or a bundle of mechanics iron wire.

Top speed is about 30 miles per hour or 50kph in most conditions although 50mph (80kph) may be possible in some circumstances. DO NOT let the forward traction fool you into thinking you can drive like a summer's day! You could find yourself spinning out or ploughing into a ditch when you least expect it. Braking is much better but still takes a lot of attention and can be erratic. DO NOT OVERDRIVE YOUR CAPABILITIES!

Drive very slowly and deliberately with chains on to gain proper traction and control on the icy roads.
In deeper snow a bit more speed for momentum may be helpful but still keep a deliberate pace.


How's your winter going?

Comments? Contact me at sbest@glinx.com
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