Emergency tire chains
December 16, 2019 1:42 PM   Subscribe

I will have a couple of driving trips this winter over passes high enough that circumstances might require chains.

On the other hand, I live in Los Angeles so these are chains that might never get used, so I am looking for the intersection of
- easy to use on a roadside or unfamiliar driveway/parking lot without frequent practice
- reasonable price
- sufficient quality to handle highway/surface street ice or snow a few times in their lifetime
- appropriate for a light front-wheel-drive sedan

Car in question is a 2006 Prius (gen 2) with whatever tires you might typically find there (I realize that tire size may be information I need to purchase, I'll do that before buying anything; this is just to say we do not have special wheels or tires).
posted by Lyn Never to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I just bought some oneline for $60 from etrailer I think -similar situation but different car. You just put in your tire size (read the side of your tire they will go on -- it'll say something like 225R30) and they will give you options. In the southern CA mountains, they often have services that will put them on for your for $15 or practice a few times in a parking lot.

You will probably need 'low clearance' chains or cables (cables are slightly more expensive) which makes them also more expensive.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:55 PM on December 16, 2019

I'm in exactly the same situation this winter. I even asked about it here.

I used etrailer's make/model filter to figure out an exact model of chains compatible with my car. (If there are several tire sizes listed for your car, the size is printed on your tire. that's going to be something like "P225/60R17". ignore the "P" and that's your size.)

In my case it's quite likely I won't need to use chains this winter (or ever). So, rather than buy them from etrailer.com, I took the chain model number and bought those same chains from Amazon, so I can return them easily if I don't use them. I figure Jeff Bezos can afford this.

You'll need only one pair for a front-wheel drive Prius.
posted by caek at 1:56 PM on December 16, 2019

+1 put the chains on when you buy them for practice. It's not complicated, but you won't be at your best on a snowy roadside. Also: don't drive with them when you don't need them and don't drive faster than 30 mph with them on. Let them dry after use before putting them back in the bag or they may rust.

These are overkill, but for completeness of options spider spikes are super easy to put on (and $400+).
posted by momus_window at 2:24 PM on December 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also, highly recommend checking out the installation videos most chain manufacturers provide so that you can get an idea of how easy they are to put on or take off. I'd recommend finding a set that can be installed without moving the vehicle.
posted by Aleyn at 3:32 PM on December 16, 2019

You're likely going to need specific classes of chains - your owners manual will specify what's needed from a clearance perspective (or you can look at the size of the tire on the side) - most falling in to a class S clearance requirements. The clearance matters because many cars have parts of the suspension and braking system near the wheel when it's rotating.

I am a fan of the Peerless Super Z-6 chains and the Peerless Autotrac chains. Both are easy to install, self tensioning systems. In general you're looking at chains designed to be driven at speeds less than 25mph. Neither are expensive - I think I paid 75 bucks or so for a set of either from Amazon or Walmart.
posted by iamabot at 4:00 PM on December 16, 2019

Take a photo of your tire size (written on the side of your tires, ex. 265/75R16), then plug that into Amazon or show to your local auto supply shop. “Cable chains” are easy to put on and generally will be all you need on pavement. As said upthread, definitely practice putting them on in your sunny driveway before you have to do it on the side of a snowy highway. It’s empowering and you’ll feel more confident driving into snowy conditions! My last tip is to pack a pair of thin gloves wherever you put your chains to protect your fingers from icy metal.
posted by scrubjay at 4:17 PM on December 16, 2019

I lived for a few years in a town that got enough snow that each winter there was a low (but non zero) probability of needing chains. To my surprise, a local tire dealer ( Les Schwab?) encouraged me to buy the chains in the Fall and then return them for a full refund in the Spring if they were unused and I still had the receipt. I think I did this 3 years in a row and never paid for (or used ) chains but always had them available in the winter.

This may not be an option that many places offer but it can't hurt to ask.

I think they had some kind of practice station that you could use to get the hang of putting the chains on and taking them off
posted by metadave at 6:24 PM on December 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Random data point: I bought some chains for my Honda Fit at the thrift store for $8. The tails were a little long for my tires so I cut them down a little. I never needed them in the Midwest, but they worked great for me for commuting in the years my PacNW city chose to let a foot of snow "melt" (ie., turn into horrible 6" ice ruts of doom) for a week or two. They were the kind that you have to set in front of your tires and drive over to install, which seem simpler and more bulletproof to me than the other options.
posted by cnidaria at 7:37 PM on December 16, 2019

You’ll want a Z-style cable chain with a built-in tensioner, which fortunately are easier to put on and safely use. Don’t buy the type that is made of actual chain, it’s not best for your application.
posted by a halcyon day at 4:11 PM on December 18, 2019

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