Snow Chain Recommendations?
January 2, 2009 2:32 PM   Subscribe

Snow chain recommendations?

I'm looking for a good pair of snow chains* for an upcoming trip. Both thick chains or thin cables will work on my car. Please describe why you like them and how long they take to install.

I don't have a price range, and would prefer a quality product. What are some brands that have worked well for you?

* An online purchasing option is preferred but not required.
posted by |n$eCur3 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have a recommendation, but I do recommend that you determine whether or not snow chains are permitted in the areas you intend to drive on this trip. Many, many states in the US prohibit their use (regardless of the weather), because they utterly destroy the road.

Also, if you're unfamiliar with them, you should do a bit of research on their actual properties (that is, not only how to install them, but also how they affect driving). In my experience, they all take about ten to fifteen of the most annoying and frozen minutes to put on (and you've usually got to get in and out, as you drive the car onto them).

You should never use them on the freeway, unless all traffic is really going about fifteen or twenty miles an hour. You should not exceed twenty miles an hour with them on. Likewise, you should be aware that while chains will help you from spinning your wheels at a stop (allowing you to get going), it's never seemed to me that they improve moving handling in the slightest--you will slide around just as much as ever. Likewise, they don't really help much in overcoming being well-and-truly stuck in snow banks--they just dig a hollow faster.

And, you should be aware that when they break, they can catastrophically fuck up your wheel, joints, fender, brakes, and everything else down there. And given the number of them that I found alongside the roads here after the last snow, they must break pretty often.

Can you tell how much I like snow chains?

Unless your car is notoriously bad on snow (like Corvette bad), or you're simply planning for a freak emergency but otherwise intend to take no precautions, you're going to have radically better overall results with a set of all-season or winter tires plus some weight in the trunk (if your car's rear wheel drive). If you need more than that, I'd recommend just not driving--because the other people on the road are going to be sliding too, I promise.
posted by Netzapper at 3:37 PM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I like snowchains better than Netzapper does, but they are pretty imperfect and definitely no fun to put on. However, they work far better than most "all season" tires, and they (or four wheel drive plus traction tires) are required if you want to go over western mountain passes in poor weather.

If you are living in an area where they have locations, I have had good luck with the tire chains sold by Les Schwab. They sell some varieties that are really easy to put on, with color-coded connectors, not so much back and forthing needed, etc. The ones I've used look a lot like the ones sold here as "diamond chains" and the price looks about the same.
posted by Forktine at 4:03 PM on January 2, 2009

are required if you want to go over western mountain passes in poor weather.

Actually, I'll second this. It is undoubtedly true that on a steep grade they offer significant help in the then-difficult task of simply moving forward.

I'm just so down on them because most people I know who use them think they're some sort of silver bullet. That they can throw on the snow chains and then drive like it's a dry August day. In reality, the only thing that snow chains improve is your ability to accelerate in a straight line.

I do actually have a kind of specific recommendation, now that I think about it: avoid any snow chains that have spikes. When they come off (or even just slip), they become a severe tire puncture hazard. The design I'd recommend is the sort made of springs: a web of tightly coiled wire that goes over the tire surface. On top of working just fine, and not presenting a great hazard, they frequently have a bit of stretch to them which makes them easier to install than the sort where the only give is in the shock cords.
posted by Netzapper at 4:26 PM on January 2, 2009

After the unprecedented shitstorms we've had this winter in Portland and a cordial dislike of tire chains I've got my eyes on Snobootz, which seem to be legal in just about every state. I don't have any personal experience, but the testimonials and independent test results here speak well for them.
posted by melissa may at 4:36 PM on January 2, 2009

@melissa may

I was absolutely loving that design, until I read that dreaded phrase "hook and loop". They're held on with Velcro, which I fear would become fouled with snow and ice.

But, I might buy a pair anyway if they're cheap enough. Lemme check that... Holy SHIT!, they apparently want $200 for a pair. Versus $50 for a pair of tire chains.
posted by Netzapper at 5:13 PM on January 2, 2009

A set of single rails can be installed in about ten minutes each if you have practice without really straining yourself. You need a small piece of 2X6 for each side and your chains.
  1. Lay the chains out in front of your drive axle.
  2. Place the block one cross link forward of the centre of your chains.
  3. drive the car forward slowly until the car rises up on the blocks.
  4. Pull the rearward facing loose end up and over the tire. If you put your blocks in the right place the free ends will be far enough forward to hold the chain on your tire.
  5. Pull up and fasten the forward end of the chain (exactly how depends on the design of the chains, instructions should be included) starting with the inside and then doing the outside. repeat in the other side of the car.
  6. Tension the chain if your chains include tensioners, s-class chains often don't.
  7. drive a few hundred metres and then readjust the chain again if they loosen.
Never exceed a very moderate speed with chains, 30 km/h is about as fast as I like to go.

IMO the more aggressive the chain the better with the exception that studded chains are going to be over kill for highway applications. Because chains are mostly suited to compact snow and thicker ice you want something that has some bite to it. Cable chains are barely adequate. Actual chain cross links are wildly better and V-bars are much better again. I'd buy V-bars if I can and settle for plain hardened chain cross links if not. Cheap chains often have cross links too far apart; a good quality chain will have them close enough together that there is always a piece of chain between your tire and road.

If ou actually use your chains wash them and hang them to dry when you get home, they'll last a lot longer (especially any chain with cable construction) and they'll be nicer to put on next time if they aren't all crufted up. A 6X8 tarp laid on the ground will keep your clothes from getting slushy when you are putting your chains on.

Because sizing of chains and tires is kinda hand wavy you'll need to try them immediately after buying, most places that sell chains have return policies of 24-48 hours or even less. If you buy them online you might end up shipping them back and forth a few times. Chains are not a substitute for good snow tires. Instead they are a traction aid for accending and, to a lesser degree, descending grades. When you are driving on the highway pay attention to chain up/off areas for trucks. That's about how much use they get on paved roads.

Netzapper writes "And given the number of them that I found alongside the roads here after the last snow, they must break pretty often."

I've never broken a chain despite having wore several sets out. Like brakes they need maintenance and worn cross links need to be replaced. However I'd bet that most of the chains you've seen along the side of the road were improperly installed or tensioned and just flew off.
posted by Mitheral at 6:22 PM on January 2, 2009

INSeCur- I also recommend going down to the local parts store and trying the chains on when you buy then because they often don't fit how they're supposed to. Any major brand is fine, I've bought a couple and suspect they all come out of the same factory. If you can't buy them locally, maybe you can call ahead and have them waiting for you somewhere along the way?

The chains are better but for occasional use on maintained roads (like just putting them on to go over a pass) the cables are fine and have less of a learning curve. Do NOT drive more than 30-35mph tops with either kind though or keep driving with them once you reach dry pavement, even if everyone else is. Those people are idiots.

Melissa May- I was in Portland during the storm and I have to say that all the problems I saw people having with chains were entirely operator error: put on wrong, put on the wrong wheels (really), rallying cars around corners, and most of all excessive speed. People were driving 40 and 50 with them and the highway was littered with broken and lost chains. Literally- there were hundreds and hundreds of them all over the road surface. If you put them on right and drive SLOWLY they do the job fine and don't destroy your wheels (or anyone elses). fwiw, I didn't even have chains in Portland and I was perfectly fine- if you feel comfortable going 45 you don't need chains, as noted above they are not a magic bullet.
posted by fshgrl at 6:49 PM on January 2, 2009

I'd recommend you get the type that don't require you to move the car to get the chains completely on. I had an old pair made by SCC that were a snap to put on, but they don't fit my current cars. I just ordered a pair of their Z6 model ($70) for my cars.
posted by ShooBoo at 7:31 PM on January 2, 2009

You're absolutely correct, fshgirl, about the operator error concerns. And Netzapper, about the cost concerns. To clarify, I am not usually one to spend 4x normal cost for a seldom used consumer item, but my experience included seeing people take hilly areas using chains and cautious speeds and fishtailing all over the place -- buses, too. It was this video in particular that made me like the Snobootz. But what I like even better is simply not leaving my house and avoiding the insanity altogether.
posted by melissa may at 7:43 PM on January 2, 2009

On preview, seconding SCC...

I just bought a pair of chains (SC1026) that didn't actually fit my tires (185/65/15) notwithstanding that they're supposed to fit my tire size. I replaced them at the store for the SC1030s. This I did because I had to get chains right away. I then ordered SZ323s online because they look to be easier to install. All are from SCC, which site has a lot of info about chains, as well as links to where you can buy this brand from, including online.

Both the Z chain and the ShurGripZ allow for installation without having to move the car, although the former should be adjusted after a few feet, which is why I ordered the ShurGrip. Hub shape may preclude certain models. I installed the SCs (radial chain) inside on a dry surface (just to ensure that the 1030s fit), and installation is not too bad, though it requires manipulation on the inside tire surface. Both the Z and SZ have a simple hook on the inside, with a bead/hole system on the outside surface. The SZs are non adjustable, but come with chain tighteners, so don't need further adjustment after installation.

I haven't (thankfully) had to use the chains yet, but I feel much better about being able to get in/out of a slippery situation now that I have them (in addition to the snow shovel that I bought at the same time, which I HAVE had to use .....)
posted by birdsquared at 7:50 PM on January 2, 2009

I ordered chains from, have no regrets. Have used them four times--icestorm followed by snow, traction was excellent, above and beyond.

Initial installation for all four wheels took about 45 minutes, was able to knock that down to about 30 after time. No special set-up required, other than a stationary car.

The trick, in my estimation, is the readjust/retightnening after driving on them a bit--say after half a block or so, re-check as needed, which I tend to do a lot of.

Re-echoing the above comments concerning need--I bought chains because my work requires my presence early in the morning, prior to clearing. If that's not an issue, skip it.
posted by halcyon_daze at 8:13 PM on January 2, 2009

It was this video in particular that made me like the Snobootz.

Wow, I really don't think anything, even studded tires + AWD, would let you drive a regular passenger car or truck in those conditions. Much less in traffic! (And I used to live in an area that got so icy you regularly couldn't park even in what looked like a flat spot because the car kept sliding away). You have to wonder what people were thinking.
posted by fshgrl at 10:14 PM on January 2, 2009

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