AWD and chains

Our Toyota Highlander is all-wheel drive; do we put chains on the front tires, rear tires, or all four?

What does Toyota have to say about chains in the owner’s manual? Why are you using chains?

If you invest in a set of 4 winter tires, you will not have to worry about where to install chains, or for that matter, go to the trouble of installing and then removing those chains every time that the road conditions change.

And, more importantly, if you don’t begin to read your Owner’s Manual, you may make mistakes with more issues than with just tire chains. Some vehicles can be safely operated with tire chains, but the design of other vehicles does not permit the installation of tire chains without damage being done to the vehicle.

A well-meaning forum member could give incorrect information that could cause damage to your vehicle. The Owner’s Manual should be your trusted source for information regarding the safe and economical operation of the vehicle.

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one thing i have to say about some of the ignorant people in this forum when it comes to snow chains is your all rude dumb and dont know jack about snow chains. ill admit i have a 98 4x4 chevy silverado and dont know the best way to install them. but i do know that im not worried about truly needing them but more the fact that washington state patrol in the past few days required all vehicles including awd and 4x4 to chain up or turn around over i90 over the passes. now with that said. ive always heard on a 4x4 truck you want one chain on the right front and one on the left rear or if possible on all 4 tires, but this week i’ve heard to put them both on front and i’ve been told both on the rear. i’ve come to the conclusion none of you truly know anything about chains and ill just have to call state patrol as even the tire shops gave mixed advice. so ill give some advice

   dont listen tto anyone in hear but me!!!!!! GO and call your local state or highway patrol for advice.

“dont listen tto anyone in hear (sic) but me!!! GO and call your local state or highway patrol for advice.”

Unfortunately, the police are not likely to be technical experts regarding the AWD system on a Toyota Highlander. While it is a good idea to consult with the police regarding statutes that might mandate the use of tire chains in certain conditions, the Owner’s Manual is still the best source of information regarding that specific vehicle’s compatibility with tire chains.

If the chains do not have sufficient clearance with any one of a number of suspension, driveline, or steering components on a Highlander, or if the driveline is just not designed for the use of tire chains, the result could be…very expensive…and no warranty is going to cover owner-inflicted damage like that.

As I said previously, “A well-meaning forum member could give incorrect information that could cause damage to your vehicle. The Owner’s Manual should be your trusted source for information regarding the safe and economical operation of the vehicle.”

Only in extreme conditions, say if all four tires are spinning on ice, or off roading. If you have only ONE set and must “git er done”, put them on the front more maximum bite, but I wouldn’t go driving for miles on end yadayadayadayadayadayada all the way unless the ENTIRE trip was on ice or feet of snow. Otherwise , with only one set, put them on the back if expect to do many miles of driving with them on.
My BFG all-terrain T/A have been great tires for snow and mud and driving between 4x4 episodes with no chains.

Agree…in general cars (and a highlander is a car not a truck) don’t do well with chains. Highlanders are too expensive and delicate to trust with anything but really good snow tires.
Like the guy who spends $30K on a boat and skimps on a mooring;fool’s choices.
Tires are the only thing that keeps a potentially fine performing car in touch with the road.

If you don’t have mountain passes to climb, don’t even think of using chains on AWD systems. AWD will fail if you use a slightly different size tire on one wheel. 4WD is a better system for use with chains if the police require them.

Even if the manual of your Highlander said that chains were appropriate, they are so owner dependent, fitment wise, that only the most experience in their use “should use them”. Chains on a truck is a much more forgiving situation. Mounting and maintaining chains while you drive, is not for the unknowing.

one thing i have to say about some of the ignorant people in this forum when it comes to snow chains is your all rude dumb and dont know jack about snow chains.

Do you hear yourself?


No, I’m fairly sure that he doesn’t hear himself, otherwise he wouldn’t make such rude and ignorant statements about others who are giving valid advice in a civil manner.

Isn’t it richly ironic when someone calls other people dumb while he himself is unable to put together even one sentence without major errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar? Then, when you throw in advice that is potentially dangerous, natedawg2037 is just a one man festival of wrong-headedness, as well as rudeness.


Even thought I have a fair amount of repair experience, every time I write in with a contribution, I do so knowing there are many in this forum with more experience or different experience than me. I fully expect they may reply with corrections to my entries.

Many times, I learn from their corrections. Other times I may disagree.
At all times I at least try to respect what they’re saying.
Replies like the previous one that slams other contributors, make it difficult to respect what they’re saying.

Wow! Lots of manure in this thread!! I’m assuming you are driving on PAVEMENT, right?? Put them on the BACK!! On the front, they make steering difficult and the rear axle is TWICE as strong as the front axle.

With chains, your speed is limited to 20 mph. If you can go faster than that, you don’t need the chains! Take them off!

If you drive on bare pavement or semi-bare pavement, the chains will destroy themselves in a few miles, ripping up your tires and inner fenders at the same time.

If “Ice Road Truckers” don’t need chains, NEITHER DO YOU!! If the cops say you MUST use chains, it’s better (and cheaper) just to turn around. That’s what they really want you to do…

Get a set of AT tires, I them on my 1993 Explorer with Firestone Destination AT’s. These babies have got me through some serious stuff, even plowing 2 ft of snow off a driveway at Donner. Of course the Explorer has a heavy duty 4 wheel drive system than your Highlander. My brother in-law has an Aucura MDX has to use cable chains, he puts them on the rear, I suggest cable chains up front, and only when conditions require them. The chains I do carry are still brand new-never used. Remember snow/ice is tricky to drive on, slow down and do not pass or you’ll find yourself in a ditch.

Old thread, but might be time for revival:
Reading the manual for my 2015 Subaru Outback says
*If chains are required, use s-class clearance and only in the front unless your Outback is a Limited or Premium with 18” wheel and tire option, then no chain, even s-class."

I run Continental 3+ season tires (the “DWS” indicators show if they are safe for light snow).
I bought a set of SUB s-class chains for a recent trip into snow country. My thought was that I could spend $135 on 2 sets of chains or $1200 on snow tires and rims.

Like a good, prepared traveler, I fitted the chains in my driveway on a sunny 50 degree day so that if I actually needed them, I would be familiar with installation. Instead of trying to install them in the dark just as Colorado HP instituted traction law Code 16 (Chain up or stay off).

The owner’s manual is right. Even custom-sized SUB s-class chains will clear the suspension components only in a straight line! Turning more than 1/2 turn of the steering wheel brought the chains dangerously close. I would not have been comfortable driving on mountain switchbacks that require tight turning radii.
The rear wheels have slightly more clearance.

There is a solution for such situations. This is for CUV owners with large tire/wheel combos who are comfortable voiding your warranty (or like me have enough miles on the car not to matter).

My Subaru has 5x100mm wheel studs. I bought a set of 4 wheel spacers. 8mm front and 5mm rear. This changes your steering geometry. This creates an angular load on the wheel carrier bearings that they were never engineered for and can accelerate wear. This causes increased load on the wheel studs.

I intend to install and drive on the spacers ONLY if the weather looks like I might need chains. They install just like changing a flat tire.

Alternately, I can drive the F250. Chains fit on a full-sized truck.

I doubt LEOs will give specific directions for all possible vehicles as to which which wheel(s) should have the chains, that is what owners manuals are for.
They will tell you what roads require chains.

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I suggest you take the Ford. Don’t mess with the spacers. As you pointed out, they will damage your wheel bearings.

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No they won’t. They aren’t thick enough to do that. The OEM wheel offset is intended to put the centerline of the wheel between the inner and outer bearings. The bearings are spaced about an inch or so apart. As long as the centerline is somewhere between the bearings, it has very little effect on the geometry or life of the bearings. It is when you add thick enough spacer, or use a wheel with too much offset that you get the centerline of the wheel outside the outer wheel bearing that you have these problems. And the problem grows exponentially as you get further out.

Edit: slip your fingers on top of the tire, underneath the strut and you will see that you cannot use chains on a Subaru even in a straight line. Centripetal force will lift the chain off the wheel as it picks up speed and beat the bottom of the strut.

I have a Highlander as well. Even though it’s AWD the front wheels still do 80 percent of the work. I would put the chains on the front still

I have a 2017 Toyota Highlander XLE which is AWD and the Owner’s Manual says to either use 4 Snow Tires or 2 Chains on the front wheels only. It says not to put Chains on the rear wheels.