How to: Put on Snow Chains and Drive Safely

First the bad news: if you travel to the mountains or snowy areas regularly, sooner or later you’re going to have to use tire chains.

Now the good news: these are not your grandpa’s chains. Quick-fit chains are MUCH simpler to put on and take off.

Do These Two Things Before You Need to Use Your Snow Chains.

The driving conditions when you need chains are likely to be nasty. Snow is coming down, passing traffic is spraying slush, dirty water is dripping off your wheel wells, the road is slick and it may be dark. Don’t make this the first time you put on your chains. Practice once BEFORE you travel. Make sure new chains are the right size by pre-fitting them on your tires somewhere dry, like your driveway or garage.

Second, put together a simple winter road trip safety kit with spare waterproof layers and items that will make your winter driving more safe and comfortable. In winter, always carry it in your car with your chains.

Want a quick how-to on putting on quick-fit snow chains? Here are a video, step-by-step instructions and driving safety tips.

When and How to Install Your Tire Chains

Snow chains are made for use on packed snow and slush. They shouldn’t be used for just driving on wet pavement, which makes them likely to break. Using them a lot on ice will also make them wear quickly, though sometimes it’s necessary to chain up to get past an icy patch of road.

Here’s how to put snow chains on.

  1. Pull off the road as far as possible on a safe shoulder. Flip on your hazard lights. Put on your slicker, gloves, hat, headlamp and waterproof pants from your winter road trip kit and grab your chains bag.

  2. Ideally, chains are installed on all four tires. Some people use them on only two. Look in your owner’s manual under snow chains or tire chains for what your vehicle manufacturer recommends and follow that advice. If you’re using only two, the chains should go on the drive wheels. Typically, chains go on the two front tires for four-wheel drive and front-wheel drive vehicles, and on the back for rear-wheel drives.

  3. Kneel or sit by the first tire on the tarp or cardboard from your kit. Unroll the chain, making sure the hook ends are facing the ground.

  4. Push the yellow end of the chains behind and around the tire. Pull the two ends over the top of the tire and fasten them.

  5. Step 4 - Push the yellow end of the chain behind the tire

  6. Grab the chains on both sides of the tire and pull them together toward the center of the tire.

  7. Step 5 - Pull chains toward center of tire

  8. Then hook the red fastener into one of the links, as snug as you can make it. Don’t worry if there are some extra links.

  9. Step 6 - Hook red fastener into link
    Be sure that the smooth side of the hooks point out, not in, to prevent damage to the tire.

  10. Push the cable toward the back of the tire, positioning the chains loosely over the tread.

  11. Step 7 - Man installing snow chain

  12. At the bottom of the tire is another red fastener and draw chain. Pull them toward you so there’s no slack. Feed the red draw chain around the opening on the fastener. Pull it tight and lock a link into the notch on the fastener.

  13. Step 8 - Pull red draw chain and fastener taut

  14. Feed the rubber end of the draw chain through the red rings. Depending on tire size, you may only be able to get it through one of the two rings, but try to get it through both. Stretch the rubber end tightly and hook it onto a link on the side chain.

  15. Step 9 - Use rubber end to tighten tire chain

  16. Repeat this entire process on the other tire(s).

  17. You want the chains tight against the tire tread. So drive forward about 15 feet and stop. The chain will have centered itself creating some slack. Retighten the draw chain on each tire. Then you’re ready to drive. Grab your towel from your road kit to sit on so you keep your seat dry.

  18. While driving, if you hear any indication that the chain may be broken and it’s hitting your car, STOP as soon as safely possible. Chains that are flapping can wrap around a strut or shock component causing big damage to your vehicle. Listen for a loud sound of slapping, or metal on metal.

  19. As soon as you’re through the snow zone and have a safe place to pull off, stop, put on your hazard lights and remove the chains. Take off your wet outer layers and throw them in your road kit. Remember: DON’T drive for any distance on bare pavement.

How to Drive With Snow Chains On

  • Be sure to keep it at no more than 30 mph or you can damage not just your chains but your vehicle.
  • Don’t lock your wheels by braking suddenly.
  • Start slowly, to avoid spinning.
  • When parking, give yourself extra space so you don't break your chains by hitting a curb.

When You’re Back Home

Because they’re steel, tire chains will rust if they’re stored wet. Lay them out to dry first.

Also check them for wear, especially if you’ve driven them on asphalt for any distance. Look for flat spots, and replace the chains if you find some.

Worn tire chains.
Link at left shows flattening from wear. Link in center shows sharp edge from wear that can damage a tire.

Some stores that sell tire chains will give you a full refund at the end of the winter if you don’t use them. Check to see if this is offered before you buy.

Want more tips on winter road safety? See 19 Winter Driving Resources You Can’t Do Without.

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