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Snow Tire Chain Comparison and Overview

Choosing Snow Tire Chains

Tire chains are a great solution for improving your vehicle's traction on snow and ice. They're available for almost every car, truck, SUV, and 4x4. Even small cars with limited wheel well clearance can be fitted with chains.


So if you want to be prepared for driving on snow and ice, consider adding a set of tire chains to your vehicle. This applies whether you just drive around town or you're planning a trip to an area where roads could be slick (and having tire chains may be required). Whatever your situation, the following article can help you choose the right tire chains for your application and vehicle.


How to choose tire chains:

Step 1. Find your tire size

  • Vehicle year, make, and model
  • Manufacturer's restrictions - check owner's manual
  • Tire size - found on sidewall of tire

Step 2. Determine which features are important to you

Step 3. Choose the best tire chains for your application

Step 4. Search for chains in etrailer.com's fitguide





Step 1. Find Your Tire Size

Tire chains come in a range of sizes, and each size will usually fit a range of different tire sizes. But you can easily find the correct chain size for your vehicle - just refer to our fitguide. It can take you directly to chains that fit your vehicle's tires.


Thule self-tensioning XG12 Pro snow tire chain Shop for custom-fit snow tire chains



Tire Size Location

Highlighted tire size on trailer tire

You can search in our fitguide for tire chains by year, make, and model or tire size. You can find the size of a tire molded into the sidewall of the tire. The picture, above, shows the location of the size information on a typical tire.


Check your owner's manual to determine whether tire chains can be used on your vehicle and whether there are restrictions on which kinds of chains you can use. Frequently, a car has limited clearance in the wheel well for tire chains. If this is the case for your car, you may need to use Class S chains. These chains are designed for vehicles with limited clearance.


Thule self-tensioning XG12 Pro snow tire chain Shop for custom-fit snow tire chains by tire size



SAE Class Designations

The Society of Automotive Engineers has established the following 3 class designations for tire chains. Each class identifies chains that fall within certain minimum clearances.


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.

SAE Class S Clearance Diagram

Class S clearances:

  • A - a minimum of 1.46" (37 mm) between the top of the tire tread and the wheel well
  • B - at least 0.59" (15 mm) between the tire's sidewall and the vehicle itself

Class U clearances:

  • A - a minimum of 1.97" (50 mm) between the top of the tire tread and the wheel well
  • B - at least 0.91" (23 mm) between the tire's sidewall and the vehicle itself

Class W clearances:

  • A - a minimum of 2.50" (63.5 mm) between the top of the tire tread and the wheel well
  • B - at least 1.50" (38 mm) between the tire's sidewall and the vehicle itself

Not all tire chains are tested to these standards. 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.


Thule self-tensioning XG12 Pro snow tire chain Shop for custom-fit snow tire chains





Step 2. Learn More About Tire Chain Features

Learn more about features of tire chains in the sections below.


Automatic Adjustment

Thule K-Summit Ratchet

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.


To find chains that automatically adjust, look at Konig (previously Thule) K-Summit, LowPro, XG12Pro, Easy Fit CU9, Easy Fit SUV, and CG9

...or check out Pewag's SnoxPro, ServoRS, and Sportmatik.


Watch a review of a Konig (Thule) CU9 snow tire chain

Thule self-tensioning XG12 Pro snow tire chain Shop for custom-fit snow tire chains





Assisted Adjustment

Thule Rubber Tensioning Device

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.


Konig (previously Thule) offers these assisted adjustment models - CB12, CD10, CS10, XB16, and XD16.

And these chains by Pewag have assisted adjustment - Brenta-C 4x4, Square Link with cams, CL, Tite N Lite, and ASV.

For a more economical choice of assisted adjustment chains, consider Glacier and Titan models that have cams.


Watch a review of a Konig (Thule) CB12 snow tire chain
Watch a review of a Titan snow tire chain with cams

Thule self-tensioning XG12 Pro snow tire chain Shop for custom-fit snow tire chains





Manual Adjustment

Glacier Ladder-Style Cable Chains

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.


Both Glacier and Titan offer several models of basic tire chains that adjust manually.


Watch a review of a Glacier manual adjust snow tire chain

Thule self-tensioning XG12 Pro snow tire chain Shop for custom-fit snow tire chains





Quick-Release Mechanism

Thule CS 10 Release Lever

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.


Most tire chain models that have automatic and assisted mount features also have quick release mechanisms. Look at Konig (previously Thule) and Pewag tire chains to find those with this feature.


Watch a review of a Konig (Thule) CU9 snow tire chain with quick release

Thule self-tensioning XG12 Pro snow tire chain Shop for custom-fit snow tire chains





Plastic Coating

Thule Plastic-Coated Tensioning Parts

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 Konig (previously Thule) tire chain models offer this feature.


Thule self-tensioning XG12 Pro snow tire chain Shop for custom-fit snow tire chains





Rim Protection

Thule Rim Protection Buttons

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.


Most models of Konig (previously Thule) tire chains have features that protect vehicle rims. Several Pewag brand tire chains, Snox Pro and Servo RS, also have these features.


Watch a review of a Pewag Snox Pro snow tire chain with rim protection

Thule self-tensioning XG12 Pro snow tire chain Shop for custom-fit snow tire chains





Off Road

Pewag full coverage off road snow tire chains

These heavy-duty chains are made to handle off road use. Some of these chains are designated for mud service. These chains may have heavy-duty side links to provide better traction in mud.


Many Konig (previously Thule) chains are designed for off road use. Pewag makes several models of chains that can hold up to the severe stress of off road driving, including the ASV, which is their ultimate off-road performance model. For less expensive off road chain options, consider mud service chains offered by Glacier and Titan.


Watch a review of a Pewag All Square snow tire chain for on and off road use

Thule self-tensioning XG12 Pro snow tire chain Shop for custom-fit snow tire chains





Icebreakers

Thule CS 10 Icebreaker Reinforcements

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.


Several Konig (previously Thule) models are designed with built-in icebreakers to improve the chain's performance when driving on ice. The less expensive Titan and Glacier V-bar chains have icebreaker spikes to provide better driving results on ice. If you don't necssarily want chains with ice spikes, consider chains made with square links. The sharp angles of the square links offer a good bite on ice for better traction. Many Pewag tire chains are made with this kind of square link.


Watch a review of a Glacier V-Bar snow tire chain with ice spikes

Thule self-tensioning XG12 Pro snow tire chain Shop for custom-fit snow tire chains





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.


Pewag Square Links

Square links

  • Great traction in snow
  • Superior grip on ice - squared edges offer increased bite
  • Rougher ride than more rounded links

Watch a review of a Titan snow tire chain with square links


Thule D-Shape Links

D-shaped links

  • Great traction in snow
  • Excellent grip on ice
  • Relatively smooth ride - rounded edges limit jarring

Watch a review of a Konig (Thule) CU9 snow tire chain with D-shaped links

Pewag Twist Links

Twist links

  • Excellent traction in deep snow and mud
  • Adequate grip on ice
  • Relatively smooth ride - rounded edges limit jarring

Watch a review of a Glacier snow tire chain with twist links


Glacier Steel Rollers

Rollers

  • "Links" consist of steel pieces wrapped around cables
  • Good traction in lighter snow
  • Low profile for smooth ride

Watch a review of a Glacier cable snow tire chain

Thule self-tensioning XG12 Pro snow tire chain Shop for custom-fit snow tire chains





Chain Pattern

The way that snow chains lay over your tire's tread can also affect how much traction they produce.


Glacier Ladder Pattern on Tire

Ladder pattern

  • Chains cross over tire tread horizontally only
  • Excellent grip and stopping power as you drive forward

Watch a review of a Titan ladder pattern snow tire chain



Glacier Diagonal V Pattern

Diagonal "V" pattern

  • Chains crisscross tire tread diagonally
  • Off-center positioning offers better traction and stopping power during turns than standard ladder pattern

Watch a review of a Titan diagonal "V" pattern snow tire chain



Thule Diamond Pattern

Diamond pattern

  • Chains cross over tire tread both vertically and diagonally
  • Extra coverage provides increased traction and stopping power when driving forward and during turns

Watch a review of a Titan diamond pattern snow tire chain

Pewag ASV Asymmetrical Pattern

Full-coverage chain

  • Chains cross over tire tread in multiple ways to provide maximum coverage
  • Superior forward, lateral and stopping traction
  • Great for heavy-duty applications and off-road use


Thule self-tensioning XG12 Pro snow tire chain Shop for custom-fit snow tire chains





Construction

Steel Links

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.


  • Low-carbon steel is strong, durable and more economically priced.
  • Manganese nickel alloy steel is strong, durable and corrosion resistant.
  • Titanium alloy steel also resists corrosion and is extremely strong and long-lasting.

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.


Thule self-tensioning XG12 Pro snow tire chain Shop for custom-fit snow tire chains





Step 3. Choose The Best Tire Chains For Your Application

Tire chains vary from premium chains that are the most durable and easiest to install to more economical models that are designed for occasional use and will meet DOT requirements for areas where chains are sometimes required. The information, below, can help you narrow your choices of tire chains based on your driving requirements and your vehicle.


Before you consider any special tire chain features that you may be interested in, you should decide whether you want premium, best quality, good quality, or the most economical chains available. Compare these different kinds of chains, below.


Premium: These chains are the highest quality. They fit well. They are made of metal alloys that wear well. And they are the easiest chains to install, remove, and adjust. Some premium chains eliminate the need to reach around the tire to attach them.

Pewag Servo RS self-tensioning snow tire chain for vehicles with high powered engines Thule XG12 Pro self-tensioning snow tire chain Thule K-Summit self-tensioning snow tire chain
  • Self-centering, self-adjusting, and practically install themselves
  • An easy-to-use lever allows them to be quickly released for removal
  • Manganese, titanium, and nickel steel alloys give the utmost in corrosion and wear resistance
  • Soft bumpers prevent scratching of rims
  • Square links or icebreaker reinforcements provide traction on ice as well as snow
  • Diamond-shaped pattern provides a smooth ride

To find premium chains, look for those that have an automatic mount feature


Thule self-tensioning XG12 Pro snow tire chain Shop for custom-fit snow tire chains



Best quality: These chains match the quality of premium chains but lack features that make installation easier, such as self-centering and self-adjusting. They are designed to hold up to rigorous, long-term use. They are typically made of metal alloys to provide maximum resistance to wear. Better quality chains are available in a variety of styles.

Thule standard snow tire chain XB16 Pewag all square mud service snow chain Pewag Brenta-c 4x4 snow tire chain

Wide range of styles is available:

  • Class S and non Class S
  • Ladder and diamond patterns and full coverage
  • Twisted, square, D-shaped, V-bar, and ice spike style links
  • Some models offer rim protection
  • Automatic, assisted, and manual adjustment options

To find better quality chains, look at those made of manganese, nickel, or titanium alloys


Thule self-tensioning XG12 Pro snow tire chain Shop for custom-fit snow tire chains



Good quality: These chains are more economical than the best chains, and they will get the job done. However, they may not last as long as the best chains, which are made of alloys. Good quality chains are typically made of hardened steel.

Titan twist link ladder pattern snow tire chain Glacier V-bar snow tire chain Titan square link diamond pattern snow chain

Wide range of styles is available:

  • Class S and non Class S
  • Ladder and diamond patterns
  • Twisted, square, V-bar, and ice spike style links
  • Assisted and manual adjustment options are available

To find good quality chains, consider Titan and Glacier brands - they are typically made of hardened steel


Thule self-tensioning XG12 Pro snow tire chain Shop for custom-fit snow tire chains



Most economical: These chains are the most economical of all; however, they are not really chains. They're cables of wire or rubber that are strung with steel rollers. They meet DOT requirements so that they are legal in places where tire chains are sometimes required.

Glacier ladder pattern cable snow tire chain Glacier V-Trac cable snow tire chain Glacier V-Trac cable snow tire chains laid out flat
  • Class S designation
  • Ladder and V-trac patterns
  • Steel or rubber cables available

To find cables, look for chains defined as cables


Thule self-tensioning XG12 Pro snow tire chain Shop for custom-fit snow tire chains


Updated by: Raymond P.

Last updated: 7/5/18







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