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Snow tires and chains

Experts advise installing 4 snow tires on a front-wheel drive car.

Why can I get by with chains on only 2 wheels?

Does an ABS system impact the need for 4 (as opposed to 2) snow tires?


You need the traction on all 4 wheels for BRAKING. Chains are cumbersome, and only required in certain areas of the country, like the Donner Pass in California on the way to Reno, Nevada.

Chains are also hard on the pavement, as well as on the car’s suspension system, and a really stupid solutions for everyday driving in the lower 48 states.

See what your owners manual says. I would not put chains on the front wheels. There is not enough clearance, the CV joints can get damaged by a loose link, lots of mechanical reasons not to. The back wheels without chains would have less traction and not be able to follow around a turn, you would be fishtailing and ending up in a ditch. You would be better off getting 4 Blizzaks or Michelin X ice snow tires.

Chains are to get you through those few spots where you could not get through otherwise. Winter tyres will get you through most all places. I have driven on closed freeways blizzards ice storms etc, but never needed chains. I might add that there have been a few times I have decided to pull off and wait it out. On blizzard had me stuck in a motel for two days before they re-opened the road.

If chains are required then I suggest it might be smarter to fine a place to spend the night. If you wait too long you can end up with a blanket in the hallway.

If your car has ABS brakes, traction control, and/or stability control systems you need 4 winter tires so those systems function properly and provide the safety designed into the car.

Winter tires on just the drive wheels was popular before ABS brakes came along. In fact 4 winter tires has always been far better than just 2 in snow. When ABS brakes came along it made the difference more important when driving on dry and wet roads between the snow storms.

In theory, chains provide much better traction than snow tires.
In practice, they will not provide you nearly the traction you need - mostly because they won’t be on your tires when you need them there.

One season about 40 years ago I decided to use chains instead of good snow tires. We drove weekly up to our rental ski house in northern Vermont. The first few trips up there I was full of energy and enthusiasm for installing chains. Then that passion began to wear off.

I grew tired of installing chains when the roads were unplowed, and then removing them again when they were plowed or pavement was showing (only to repeat the process several times in a night).

I learned that when you’re nice and warm in a car, wearing clean dry clothes, and perhaps a bit tired, the last thing you feel like doing is to get out, lie on your back - getting wet and cold, to install/remove/install/… chains.

I’m still a big believer in the value of chains, but not in place of winter tires.

Get four good winter tires.

You should consider snow chains for emergency mobility ONLY! They should be installed ONLY when the conditions REQUIRE them.

So the first question you have to ask is: “Should I really be going out if I need to install chains?”

If conditions are that bad - then you need 4 chains!

I agree with essentially everything that has been said so far, but–as usual–I do want to add some other information.

First, the OP should realize his safe driving speed with tire chains is VERY slow. Some Owner’s Manuals specify that the maximum driving speed with chains is…perhaps only 20 mph. Even if no maximum safe speed when driving with chains is listed, it is really not a good idea to drive at more than “city speeds” with chains. Certainly one would be well-advised to avoid highway speeds.

Additionally, some car manufacturers counsel that tire chains should NOT be used on particular models, simply because of inadequate clearance for them. Reading what your Owner’s Manual has to say on this topic might be very enlightening.

Then, we have the reality that chains should only be used when the roadway is totally or almost totally covered with ice or a layer of snow. Once you come to dry pavement with no accumulations, you have to take the chains off. And, then, once you encounter bad road conditions again, the chains should be remounted.

A trip of…let’s say…30-40 miles could well involve multiple chain mounting/demounting routines while lying on the cold, wet ground. Trust me–lying on your back and your side on the wet, cold ground gets really old really fast, and your upholstery will be much the worse after your wet, salt and cinder coated clothing leaves its mark on the fabric or leather.

Also–Do you really want to be lying on the pavement while other drivers are piloting their vehicles–possibly in an unsafe manner–only a foot or so from where you are sprawled on the ground?

As was said, you will be far better-off if you buy a set of 4 winter tires and forget about tire chains. Winter tires (which are different in both appearance and function from the old-technology “snow tires”) can be left on the car for the entire winter season and will actually give you far more stable handling than tire chains. If you spend a few bucks more at the outset in order to have the winter tires mounted on their own steel wheels, you can do the tire changeover twice a year relatively quickly and–in the long run–at lower cost than if you have to pay for twice a year removal and remounting of your regular tires and your winter tires with just one set of wheels.

If you have to cross a mountain pass no matter what the road conditions are, then chains are appropriate, but–Are you really likely to be in that situation? For the average driver, winter tires are far more practical and are far safer.

You dont need chains. Throw a pair of cables in the trunk for emergencies

Chains as everyone has said, are for emergency application and then at much lower speeds. You can “get by” with them just on the drive wheels if you drive very slowly, and your goal is to GO and not travel fast enough to adversely affect handling and unbalanced braking which unequal traction would indeed do.

If your intent is to use them for an extended time, all four wheels is the best way. RWD cars and trucks are much more controllable when chains are mounted on the rear. The few times I’ve mounted them just on fronts, it was scary at any speed above a crawl. BUT, if you don’t think chains can really help in deep snow where even snow treads might not…check this out.

That’s the kind of chain aplication I had in mind. This would be a once in a 100 year storm in the Boston area.

Great video, but gave me PTSD from all the ice and snow I used to have to drive in. Here in Mexico, I haven’t seen snow in several years, since my last trip into the snow zone. I do not miss it.

Tire chain manufacturers recommend chains for the drive wheels only, but if you get winter tires, get them for all four wheels. I think chain manufacturers say you can get away with only one pair on the drive wheels because they only expect you to use them in emergency situations.

Im still thinking you dont need "chains for a car. Chains are for trucks Cables are for cars. They do make good dependable cables