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Tire chains on a Subaru?

The owner’s manual for the 2010 Subaru states “Tire chains cannot be used on any tires for your Legacy and Outback because of lack of clearance between the tires and vehicle body.” How can this be for a vehicle advertised as being great for winter driving? Couldn’t they have built the car (SUV) with an extra inch of clearance?

I know the argument that you rarely need chains on a Subaru. That’s true, but there are conditions in which you do need chains, if you are going up or down a moderate incline with hard packed snow and ice.

The other idea is to put on winter tires every year. That may be ok if you live in snow country, but in California most people live in areas free of snow and do not want to put on winter tires for a few trips to snow country. It would be easier to carry chains and use them if necessary.

I assume you did mean winter tyres and not snow tyres. In addition how about those cable things rather than the chains? Check with Subaru before using the cable things however.

I thought it was usually not recommended to put chains on any 4 wheel drive vehicle?

I have an Outback with traction control, vehicle stability control, and (obviously) AWD and ABS.
And, I still use winter tires!

The bother of mounting and dismounting tire chains is…major. And, did you know that the maximum safe driving speed with tire chains is under 20 mph on most vehicles? Put it all together and you can see the superiority of simply buying winter tires.

I can understand your shock at finding out that you can’t use tire chains on this new vehicle, but if you had done some due diligence (such as reading the Owner’s Manual in a demo model) prior to purchase, you would not have this dilemma. Believe me–this is not the only AWD vehicle that does not permit the use of tire chains, so automatically assuming that tire chains would be okay on this vehicle is not realistic. That is why potential buyers need to do their due diligence prior to purchase.


Your option is to buy all seasons that are rated average to good at least in snow, and KEEP THEM current. The will not perform as well on ice and maybe a little noisy. They are sold and perform decently. That’s usually not the case with original equipment tires.
AWD cars should NOT be driven differently than FWD cars. They are not off road, only safer in the same conditions. Don’t expect more.

OP hit one of my pet peeves.
More and more manufacturers are making cars that don’t take chains.

Some states, such as CA, still require chains on certain mountain passes when it snows–doesn’t matter what kind of tires you have on your car (although this is rare for AWD vehicles, admittedly).

And I’m sure OP will look on his/her next car to see if it takes chains, as will I, but it’s not something you think of until you’ve been bitten. For example it’s not something that gets mentioned in model reviews by, say, Edmunds, Consumer Reports, or Kelly Blue Book, to my knowledge. So the next time I go car hunting I will have to physically look in the owner’s manual of every car I test drive (or plan on test driving).


Scrabbler makes a good point.
A Subaru Outback is a car…IMO and I wouldn’t expect ANY car to run with chains. They have 17" low profile alloys ? Even if you could squeeze them in I’d hate to take a chance with the rims. If you anticipate ever using chains, get a truck/truck based SUV and steel rims…otherwise, you take the chance with the owners manual.
They have some new products out that are promising (tire socks etc). Keep an eye on them and reviews. Something may turn up in the next year or so that you could substitute for in a pinch only. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Here is a list of the products I’ve considered (I have a similar problem to OP, except I don’t have AWD):

Spikes Spiders Basically you attach a hub contraption to your car at the begining of winter, and then the spikes spiders themselves just snap on when you need them, and snap off again. About $500-$600. I actually bought a set. The one and only time I tried to use them, they came off, and one went to parts unknown. Probably bad hub installation on my part, but I’m loath to try another time.

Thule K-Summit Appears similar to Spikes Spiders except you don’t need to preinstall a hub and they are supposed to go on without any tools. Amazon reviews were mixed–some people really loved them and others had problems with them coming off.

Autosocks: promising, but they can’t be used on dry roads, and the website says they aren’t for use where there are chain controls.

Snobootz: Actually considering plunking down money on this: $250. Basically rubber and metal cleats that attach to your wheels with velcro and fabric. Consumer Reports had difficulty putting them on and other reviewers had a great deal of difficulty taking them off. Consumer reports said they were excellent on ice and hard packed snow, but not as good as all season tires in loose snow. Supposedly can be driven on dry pavement for short periods.

The Snobootz website says they’re legal in CA, but that’s not quite the same thing as saying they’ll satisfy chain control requirements.

Hope this helps.


I did mean winter tires, not snow tires if by that you are referring to the all season tires that come with the car. Cables are “cable chains” and would seem to be excluded by the wording in the owner’s manual. That said, cable chains seem to fit ok, and I will carry them with me.

I have used a FWD car in the snow and can put on chains easily in 5 minutes per wheel – my wife driving, turning the wheels either direction, using a metal “U” to hold the end of the chains to the tire (hard to find these U’s anymore), and rolling forwards or backwards over the chains.
I am shocked! I owned an AWD Legacy station wagon for 15 years. I no longer have the owner’s manual, but it said low clearance “S” chains on the front wheels were ok, low speed driving, of course. I did this a few times, in conditions where the snow melted in direct sunlight but froze in the late afternoon, and we had to get back to our lodging. So I never imagined that a new Subaru would not take chains.
In most cases, you can’t find the owner’s manual online, just their glitzy brochures, and the owner’s manuals of new cars are in shrink-wrapped plastic. I will try to remember to read the owner’s manual before I buy my next new car, but I hope that won’t be for another 15 years.
Why don’t they make their new models with one inch more clearance?

Cables work fine. Use them.

If you really need chains on your AWD Subaru you probably should not be driving. My Outback did great in 3ft of fresh Colorado snow with four Blizzaks. Get winter tires mounted on separate rims.