How To Put On Tire Chains (Snow Chains)?


Snow-laden roads and icy conditions can transform serene winter landscapes into treacherous terrains for drivers. Over the years, my winter road trips across such landscapes have instilled in me the importance of preparation, and how crucial tire chains (or "snow chains") can be.

Installing tire chains on your tires can be a game-changer, adding a much-needed layer of safety and control to your drive. They improve your vehicle's traction dramatically, making it less likely to skid on slippery surfaces. However, the installation process can be daunting if you've never done it before. That's where this detailed, comprehensive guide comes in handy. Leveraging my extensive personal experience, I'll be guiding you on how to install tire chains on your tires.

Understanding the Importance of Tire Chains

Tire chains, as I've come to realize, can be your best friend during winter. I vividly remember my first experience using them - I was facing an uphill drive on a road blanketed with fresh snowfall. Without the chains, my car struggled to gain traction and skidded occasionally. But after installing the chains, the difference was palpable. My vehicle climbed uphill with relative ease, giving me a newfound confidence to navigate the snowy conditions.

This is because snow chains work by biting into the snow and ice, increasing your tires' grip, reducing the likelihood of skidding and generally enhancing vehicle control. It's not an exaggeration to say that they can be a lifesaver in winter weather conditions. In many parts of the world, they're not just an added safety measure but a legal requirement when driving on snow-covered roads.

Types of Tire Chains and Their Differences

Over the years, I've come across and used various types of tire chains, each with its unique features and benefits. Traditional link chains are a popular choice and for good reasons. Despite being somewhat noisy and a bit rough on roads, they are hard to beat in terms of durability and traction - I can vouch for this through my own experience in various heavy snowfall situations. But when I moved to a region with less snowfall and more urban driving, I needed a smoother ride and found cable chains a great fit.

Though they may not be as durable as link chains, their performance on icy roads was more than satisfactory. Diamond chains offered a balance between these two types. With their unique pattern, they provided robust traction while being less jarring during drives on partially cleared roads.

How to Choose the Right Tire Chains for Your Vehicle

When I bought my first set of tire chains, I made the mistake of not considering my vehicle type. I ended up with chains that were too heavy for my relatively compact car, causing a few tense moments during drives. That's why I can't stress enough the importance of choosing tire chains that match your vehicle type, tire size, and the kind of road conditions you'll be driving on.

Consult your vehicle owner's manual before making a purchase - certain vehicles have restrictions on the use of tire chains due to limited clearance in the wheel wells. Take into account the driving conditions you usually encounter. For heavy snow and frequent winter driving, go for the sturdiest chains your vehicle can accommodate. For occasional winter driving or lighter snow, a lighter, easier-to-install option might be sufficient.

Reading Your Tire Size

One thing that can be easily overlooked, yet is absolutely crucial, is knowing your tire size. I remember the awkwardness I felt when I first walked into a store to buy chains, and realized I had no clue about my tire size. Your tire size is imprinted on the sidewall of your tire and includes the tire width, aspect ratio, and rim diameter.

This information is essential because tire chains need to fit your tires perfectly. An incorrect fit could result in reduced performance or even damage to your tires and vehicle.

You can use Swanky Tires's Tire Chain Size Calculator, which we created with chatGPT!

Preparation Before Buying Snow Chains

Through my experiences, I've learned that preparation is key when it comes to buying and using tire chains. You should inspect your vehicle and especially your tires, to ensure they are in good shape. Chains can't compensate for worn-out tires with poor tread depth. Practice installing the chains in a comfortable environment before you actually need to use them.

I remember the first time I tried to install chains in a real situation. I was on the side of a snowy road, the temperature was freezing, and my fingers could barely move. The chains seemed like a puzzle I couldn't solve. Practicing beforehand can help you avoid this kind of stress and ensure a quick and correct installation when needed.

Safety Precautions Before Installing Tire Chains

Safety always comes first, and this is especially true when installing tire chains. Ensure your vehicle is safely parked, away from traffic. Try to find a flat and well-lit place to park. I always carry a reflective safety vest in my car, which I wear to make myself visible to other drivers. This is especially important if you're installing chains at night. Another tip is to wear waterproof gloves. snow chains are cold, wet, and can be sharp in places. Gloves will keep your hands warm and protect them from potential cuts.

Unpacking and Pre-inspection of Your Tire Chains

Each winter, before the first use, I unpack and inspect my chains thoroughly. I check for rust, broken links, or damaged tightening devices. It may seem like overkill, but a damaged chain can fail when you most need it, or even damage your vehicle.

One winter, I discovered a broken link on one of my chains that I had missed when storing them at the end of the previous season. Had I not done my routine pre-inspection, I might have had to face a dangerous situation on the road.

Understanding Your Tire Chains’ Installation Instructions

tire chains come in a variety of styles and designs, and each comes with its own set of installation instructions. It's important to follow these instructions to the letter, as incorrect installation can lead to chains falling off, damage to your vehicle, or reduced chain life. I keep a printed copy of the instructions in the glove box of my car, so I can refer to it if needed. I also suggest watching a few installation videos online if this is your first time installing chains. It can make the process a lot easier.

Laying Out the Tire Chains

I remember my first few attempts at laying out the chains. I was always in a rush, and invariably, the chains would end up tangled, turning the whole process into a time-consuming, frustrating ordeal. Now, I know better. I start by laying the chains on a flat surface, making sure they are not twisted or tangled. This step allows you to identify the inside and outside of the chains, and where the tensioning device is located. I also check again for any damaged links or parts.

Correctly Positioning the Chains on Your Tires

Positioning the chains correctly over the tires is crucial. The chains should be centered over the tire tread, and they should sit evenly on both sides of the tire. I have found it helpful to kneel or sit on a small mat or piece of cardboard while doing this to stay comfortable and dry.

I also make sure I have a small EDC flashlight (my beloved tiny Olight i3S EOS) on hand in case it gets dark. Remember, being patient and precise during this step pays off during the drive.

Connecting the Chains Around the Tires

When connecting snow chains, it's important to start from the inner edge of the tire and work your way to the outer edge. This process might feel awkward at first, especially on the inner edge, but it gets easier with practice. Ensure that the connection is as tight as possible to prevent the chains from coming loose. This step can be challenging, especially in cold and wet conditions.

I have found that taking a few moments to warm my hands and flex my fingers before starting can really help with dexterity.

Adjusting and Securing the Chains

After connecting the chains, it's time to adjust and secure them. This involves pulling the chains into position and then tightening them using the built-in tensioning device. Ensuring the chains are tight and secure is crucial. Loose chains can damage the tires, the vehicle, or even fall off completely.

I remember a time when I failed to secure the chains properly and they ended up damaging the wheel well of my car. It was a tough lesson, but it underscored the importance of this step.

Double-Checking Your Work

Double-checking the installation can save you from potential issues down the line. I always take a moment to check that the chains are evenly positioned on the tires, the hooks are facing the right way, and the chains are secure. It might seem like an unnecessary step after a successful installation, but trust me, it's well worth the few extra moments.

Testing and Initial Driving with tire chains

Your first few meters of driving with tire chains on will feel different. The car will react differently to acceleration, braking, and turning. Start slow and feel for any signs of loose chains or strange sounds. If anything feels off, stop and check the chains. I learned the importance of this the hard way when I ignored a strange sound and ended up with a damaged wheel well due to a loose chain.

Knowing When to Use and Not to Use Your Chains

Over the years, I've learned to use my chains only when necessary. tire chains on dry pavement can damage the road and cause excessive wear to your chains and tires. Moreover, the speed limit while using chains is typically around 30 to 50 km/h. Anything faster could damage the chains and vehicle.

Always stay updated with local regulations regarding snow chain usage. Some areas may have certain times of the year or specific roads where chains are required or prohibited.

Monitoring and Maintaining Your tire chains

I make it a point to regularly check my chains for wear and tear during the winter season. It's also a good idea to clean your chains after each use. Dirt and salt can speed up the corrosion process, leading to early failure. After cleaning, let them dry completely before storing to prevent rusting.

I once ignored this advice and ended up with a set of rusty chains the following winter.

Removing and Storing tire chains

When it's time to remove the chains, carefully reverse the installation process. Clean them thoroughly and let them dry before storing.

Storing the chains in a cool, dry place helps prevent rust and keeps them in good shape for the next season. Over the years, I've found that proper maintenance can significantly extend the lifespan of tire chains.

Common Troubleshooting While Using tire chains

Despite your best efforts, you may run into issues while using tire chains. The chains might fall off, cause damage to the vehicle, or pose challenges during installation.

In my experience, most of these issues can be prevented by correct installation, regular checks, and swift action when something seems off.


As someone who has driven extensively in winter conditions, I can attest to the invaluable role that tire chains can play in enhancing safety. The process of selecting the right chains, installing them correctly, and maintaining them might seem daunting, but with a little practice and this comprehensive guide, I hope you'll gain the confidence to tackle winter roads with ease. Remember, preparation is key. Take the time to understand your tire size, choose the appropriate chains for your vehicle, and familiarize yourself with the installation instructions. Practice installing and removing the chains in a safe and comfortable environment before you need to do it on the side of a snowy road.

When it's time to install the chains, take all necessary safety precautions and ensure a proper fit. Position the chains correctly on the tires, connect them securely, and adjust the tension to eliminate any slack. Double-check your work before hitting the road to ensure a safe and reliable installation.

During your initial drive with the chains, pay attention to any unusual sounds or handling characteristics. Adjust the chains if needed and maintain a reasonable speed. Remember, chains are designed for use on snow-covered or icy roads, not on dry pavement.

Regularly monitor your chains for wear and tear, and clean and store them properly after each use. Be prepared to troubleshoot common issues such as chains falling off or difficulty in installation. With proper maintenance and attention to detail, your tire chains will provide reliable traction and enhance your safety throughout the winter season.

In conclusion, installing tire chains on your tires is a skill that can greatly improve your winter driving experience. By following the steps outlined in this comprehensive guide and drawing from my personal experiences, you'll be well-equipped to navigate snowy roads with confidence and peace of mind. Remember, safety should always be your top priority. Stay prepared, stay vigilant, and enjoy the beauty of winter while keeping yourself and others safe on the road.