The following table is designed to help you choose tire chains based on the features that are the most important to you. To learn more about each feature, click on the heading in the table.
Clearance refers to the overall width or diameter of a tire chain. This measurement is important because certain vehicles have restrictions regarding the amount of available space between each wheel well and tire. There may be a limited amount of room between your wheel and various braking or suspension components on your vehicle, thus prohibiting large chains from being used on your particular vehicle.
SAE Class S tire chains are designed for use on vehicles with restricted wheel well clearance. Certain newer cars, vans and small trucks, especially those with large, aftermarket tires, may require the use of Class S chains.
These chains will fit your tires provided there is both:
Not all tire chains are tested to this standard. It is possible, therefore, that a chain with a 15-millimeter clearance or smaller will fit your limited-clearance vehicle even if the chain does not have a Class S designation.
Certain premium tire chains will automatically tighten and align as you drive. All that you have to do is set them up on your tires per the instructions and drive forward. You should always stop and check to make sure that the chains centered properly and tightened sufficiently, but most of the work is done for you. If you live in an environment where you will be using tire chains fairly often, it might be wise to invest in automatically adjusting chains so that you don't spend the entire winter on your hands and knees installing them.
The method of assisted adjustment may vary from snow chain to snow chain, but the reason for these types of chains is the same. Built-in devices - whether cams or integrated pulls - make fitting and securing your tire chains quick and simple. They will not automatically tighten and align like self-tensioning chains, but they are much faster and easier to install than manually adjusted models.
Manually adjusted tire chains typically require a few steps to install. First, you can either lay the chains out and drive onto them or you can drape them over your tires and drive forward. Both methods should get the chains into position. Then you need to hook them into place and drive forward again to line them up and tighten them into place. These chains are generally more affordable because they don't have all the bells and whistles, so they are perfect if you only occasionally hit the mountains and simply want a set of chains just in case.
Some automatically adjusting snow chains come equipped with a release mechanism so that you can quickly and easily remove them once you've reached your destination. This mechanism can be a simple-to-use lever or, as seen in the image to the right, a quick-pull release. These devices help to limit the amount of time that you spend out in the cold, and they make using tire chains less of a hassle.
Some snow chains have a special coating over the portions that are most often handled to make them a bit less cold to the touch. This way, even if you are not wearing gloves while installing or removing your chains, your fingers won't freeze.
Many tire chains include some sort of device or feature that is designed to keep the chains from scratching your vehicle's wheels. Some snow chains, for example, include rubber buttons that install on the chains to keep the metal from making contact with your rims. Other chains are designed so that they avoid touching your wheels altogether.
Icebreakers, or ice spikes, are studs or cleats built into tire chains that help to provide grip on the ice. If your primary concern is driving in the snow, icebreakers may not be of much benefit. But if you encounter icy roads as well as heavy snows, these reinforcements will give you that extra bite and traction for a safer ride.
The shape and design of the individual chain links can greatly influence the amount of grip and traction that your tire chains will have on the snow and ice. Some link shapes are better suited to light-duty applications wherein there may only be a small amount of snow. Others are created to handle heavy snow and ice.
The way that snow chains lay over your tire's tread can also affect how much traction they produce.
Diagonal "V" pattern
Most tire chains are made of some type of steel for extreme durability. Individual steel links are created to be strong and sturdy enough to move snow and break through ice.
Occasionally, snow chains are made of other materials in addition to steel. Cable tire chains, for example, consist of rubber cords that are covered in steel rollers. These may not deliver the same traction or durability as larger, high-quality-steel chains, but they tend to deliver a much better ride with less jarring and rattling because of their low-profile design.
A relatively new concept in traction technology is using fabric instead of metal to create an alternative to standard, steel tire chains.
The Michelin Easy Grip composite chains are made of tightly woven poly-coated aramid fibers. This durable mesh material has galvanized steel cleats built in to provide grip on snow and ice.
Heininger Snow Socks use poly fabric to create friction between your tires and the snowy or icy road. This is done by covering every inch of your tire's tread in the specially woven fabric. Normally, when you drive on snowy roads your tires produce just enough frictional heat to melt a layer of snow. This melted layer creates a lubricant, which then causes your tires to lose traction. Snow socks prevent this by:
Some great features of these "chains" include:
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