Advice for snow chains?
January 13, 2010 4:25 PM   Subscribe

Advice on buying tire chains, and on whether to install them myself or have someone do it?

We'll probably need chains this weekend (and should probably have had them all along). Any advice on what kind to buy for durability and ease of use? They'll probably only be used once or twice a year, so we don't want to spend more than we absolutely have to.

Also, is it worth paying the guys to install them? I'm reasonably mechanically inclined, though not all that excited about getting cold and wet and/or screwing up the GF's car. Also, I'm cheap. So, encouragement/discouragement/anecdotes are appreciated. Any tips for installation, should I decide to do it myself? (I was thinking that after we bought them, I'd try to install them in an empty parking lot or something, just for practice.)

Oh -- the car is a 2000 Toyota Corolla. It's got standard tires, but the car's in a different area code right now, so I can't tell you which tires they are.
posted by mudpuppie to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: They're easy to put on. You stretch them out just behind the tires, back the car onto them, wrap them around, and you're done.

You can also use your car jack to lift each wheel, but that's a pain.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:27 PM on January 13, 2010

Best answer: They make ones that you don't even have to lay out and back up onto, but I guess they might be a little less robust than the old style ones. In any case, not hard to put on. You should definitely practice before you have to do it for reals. Preferably in a warm garage, or at least not a cold, wet, dark garage. Nothing sucks like trying to put on chains for the very first time when you're out on the road, in a snowstorm, at night, with all the other idiots sliding around and barely missing you, and you don't know how to put them on quickly.
posted by spacewrench at 4:34 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, they're designed for simple owner-installation.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 4:39 PM on January 13, 2010

You don't want to put them on until you need them, so you can't really pay someone to put them on. If you are going to pay someone to put them on and then drive around a lot with them on, you'd be better off buying snow tires and having those installed (though you might still need chains for very bad conditions). Trying them out before you have to put them on enroute would be a good idea.

Cheap chains are probably fine. Durability really isn't going to be an issue (in my experience cheap chains used occasionally last much longer than the car they go on). Dry them out after you use them so they don't turn into a stiff, rusty mess.
posted by ssg at 4:40 PM on January 13, 2010

Best answer: I recommend trying to put them on in a dry parking lot during the day. Most modern ones aren't super hard to put on, but you want to make sure they're the right size and you know how before you try at night in white out conditions. You're not supposed to drive on dry roads with them, nor at high speeds-- you don't put them until you need to.

Most useful tip I can offer is to buy a box of disposable vinyl gloves and keep them with the tires. They'll protect your fingers from the cold metal, oil and dirt.
posted by justkevin at 4:40 PM on January 13, 2010

I borrow chains from my mechanic whenever I need them.

If there are two of you, you don't need someone else to put them one- it's a snap. If there is just one of your, or the weather is really abysmal I'd rather pay someone just for the convenience.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:40 PM on January 13, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. Another question -- do you have advice on the best (i.e., cheapest) place to buy them? Will have to be brick-and-mortar since it's fairly short notice. No Amazon, unfortunately.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:40 PM on January 13, 2010

Best answer: Cheap chains ime are harder to put on, but for some reason CalTrans last year insisted on chains even though there wasn't snow on most of the road, and the asphalt was hard on them (they eventually snapped and we had to jury rig a connection with a lift ticket wire). I'm not sure I'd want to put expensive chains through asphalt driving but maybe they'd've held up better? I don't know.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:42 PM on January 13, 2010

Best answer: My mom says Wal-mart is the cheapest place she found. She went through three sets of cable-type chains this winter and then finally broke down and bought the more expensive actual chain type.
posted by elsietheeel at 4:58 PM on January 13, 2010

Best answer: Depending on where you're located, if you buy your chains at Les Schwab (and keep the receipt) they'll buy them back at the end of the season if you haven't used them.
posted by ErikaB at 5:21 PM on January 13, 2010

I read somewhere that setting up the chains and half-bricks in front of the tires -- then driving up onto the half-bricks -- makes putting chains on much easier. Never had to myself.
posted by user92371 at 6:29 PM on January 13, 2010

Best answer: You'll need to put them on at least once to make sure they fit. Don't trust the sizing chart on the box.

You can buy s-class (low clearance) chains with actual chain cross links. These are vastly superior to those half ass cable style chains. Good chain cross links should be hardened and should last a long time even if driving on bare pavement; for occasional once or twice a year use they'll easily outlast your car. The chain is a lot harder on pavement than vice versa. A file will skitter across a good cross link.

When it comes to putting them on I have a small tarp (4x6) to kneel on and a couple chunks of 2X6 stored with my chain sets. When installing I lay the chains out behind the tire and then place the block in between the first and second cross link. I then drive my car up on top of the block. This allows you to move the chains around without having to deal with one cross link being under the tire. It's very important to retension the chains after a short period of driving.

For my lighter duty chain sets with cable rails I keep some zip ties with the chains to tie down the loose end of the rail.

After using them chains should be stored hanging so they can dry. A wash down with fresh water is a good idea if you've been driving on salt.
posted by Mitheral at 6:48 PM on January 13, 2010

Best answer: Chains are pretty easy to put on, but much harder when your fingers are freezing to them. I keep a pair of thin, waterproof gloves in with the chains. Here's a guide from the DMV about putting them on (the chains, not the gloves). You want to drive about 75 feet after first install and then check to readjust, so always stop where you've got some room to do so. I bought mine at a Napa Auto Store. I don't remember if they were particularly cheap, but it was convenient.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:53 PM on January 13, 2010

Best answer: Walmart would indeed be the cheapest. I would also look around places in Sac (if shopping at walmart is not kosher with you) since it's on the way to Tahoe. But don't get chains anywhere past Sac (they only get more expensive).

ErikaB makes a valid comment. If you time your Tahoe trips correctly, you can get away with never using your chains. It's not worth paying anyone to install/remove chains (quite expensive!), so if you'd rather not try it out for the first time when it's wet out, just do a dry run in your driveway. Also, a pair of work gloves in the trunk will come in handy.

also, hi!
posted by special-k at 6:53 PM on January 13, 2010

Best answer: The cable chains are utterly worthless imho. Buy the real ones. They are pretty easy to put on.
posted by fshgrl at 11:22 PM on January 13, 2010

I used to work as a parking valet in Lake Tahoe, and we'd see a lot of cars come in with chains on that had obviously been installed by an owner in a hurry who didn't read the instructions first. Pro tip: if there's a loose bit of chain hanging off the end when you're done, you did it wrong, and that extra bit of chain will whip around and bash into your fender every time the wheel rotates.

Seriously, I have no idea how these guys didn't notice the WHAP WHAP WHAP WHAP sound of the chain gouging holes in their fender, but I saw it happen all the time.

(If you are indeed going to Tahoe, you should know that you really only want to be using chains for the trip over Echo Summit, and that only when the weather is bad; they're not for driving around town. When I lived there you weren't even allowed to use chains in town, since they tear up the pavement; not sure if that's still the case.)
posted by ook at 9:31 AM on January 14, 2010

[derail] Weather is supposed to be particularly intense this week starting Sunday, BTW. If you might be car bound at some point, make sure you have blankets and water in case you're stuck for any time. Even if you are only waiting just a half hour or so for a road to be plowed, blankets are nice to have.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:49 PM on January 15, 2010

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