Tire Chains vs Winter Tires

I live in Rhode Island and I am debating tire chains (for about one hundred bucks for all four tires) or winter tires (for about six hundred bucks for the set mounted and balanced). It snows so infrequently here, I am leaning towards chains.

Chains are a pain, but they are very effective. You really only need them on the drive wheels. For the amount of snow you are going to see in Rhode Island, I’d buy some chains, put them on once to make sure they fit, throw them in the trunk around Thanksgiving and put them back in the garage around Easter. There’s an excellent chance that you will never actually need them and that if you do, they won’t do you any good because all available lanes on Rhode Island roads are occupied by stuck vehicles. I lived about six years in various Boston suburbs and can’t recall that I ever put chains on.

Most people whom I have known who bought tire chains used them once, and never again.
The bother of mounting them was bad enough they said, but that was outweighed by the bother of having to take them off once they reached clear pavement. Somehow, lying on the cold, wet, salt-covered ground many miles from home in order to remove the chains was not alluring enough for them to repeat that experience.

If you live in a rural area that rarely gets snow plows, then by all means you should buy tire chains. On the other hand, if you live in a suburban or urban area, you will likely never use those chains again after one experience.

I use a set of 4 Michelin X-Ice tires on their own steel wheels from December through March, and I enjoy the fact that these tires provide superior traction even on dry roads once the temperature drops below 45 degrees. The special rubber compound that is used in modern winter tires provides superior traction and safety at lower temperatures, even when there is no snow or ice on the ground.

What does the owner’s manual say about tire chains?

I’ve used chains on a RWD truck (never again, I hope), but I would not want them on a FWD vehicle. They will work, if you can get them on, but driving the car with the chains on will not be pleasant.

Putting them on is a MAJOR pain. It’s not so bad when you’re practicing on a sunny afternoon. Seems simple and easy, but it’s horrible when it’s snowing and cold and you’re wearing gloves. I’d spend the money for winter tires just to avoid messing with tire chains.

IMHO chains are not appropriate for this car, but if you decide to go that route you’ll only need two for the front wheels. Chains will do no good on the rear, and four chains might vibrate the car to pieces before you get where you’re going.

I can’t imagine driving with chains on all four wheels.

Even though my Subaru is AWD, I have a set of four Nokian Hakkapeliitta winter tires mounted on steel wheels, which I put on the car when winter comes. The winter tires and wheels cost some money, but they work and I don’t regret the cost. When there’s snow on the ground a good set of winter tires works better than anything else.

I second what VDCdriver said, you’ll hate the chains after you’ve used them once or twice.

I drove a school bus up mountain roads in Colorado for a year and had to put on chains about once a week during the winter. Talk about a pain in the butt!

Here’s why I recommend winter tires over chains. Let’s say you get a blizzard, put on the chains and get by without problems. Now, let’s say you get just a bit of winter drizzle which ices up on the road at night – will you put the chains on?

Winter tires are recommended for anytime the temperature falls below 45 degrees. Summer tires lose traction and flexibility in cold weather whereas winter tires do not. Chains are great in deep snow and winter mountain driving. As a former east-coaster (CT and MA) I’ve experienced more dangerous winter driving with just a dusting of snow, freezing drizzle and black ice than a huge snowfall. People slow down in snow, they usually don’t on black ice until it’s too late.

Go with winter tires.


I’d recommend a set of good all-season tires rather than either winter tires or chains. All-season tires are what I’ve been driving for many years up here in NH and they do just fine.

You don’t need to go overboard for Rhode Island weather.

Chains can do a lot of damage. They may not even be legal in RI.

I agree with the individual who feels you should get some good all-season tires. The chains would certainly be a hassle, but having them just in case isn’t a bad idea. Snow tires would be some hassle too as you would only want them during the winter season, so you’d be changing tires in the fall and spring. You wouldn’t want to drive on them all summer. In fact, I believe snow tires on dry roads aren’t ideal because they wear out quicker on that surface due to the composition of the rubber.
I live in Minnesota and deal with plenty of winter weather. Especially if you are on roads that get maintained decently during the winter, I’d recommend a good set of all-season radials. I have Goodyear Weatherhandlers. You’d be surprised what a front-wheel drive car and decent tires can get through with sensible winter driving habits.

We live in Maine and there are coastal areas that can easily be traveled in and about with all seasons that are rated well for snow. RI can’t help but be a coastal area. Pardon me for saying, but I can’t imagine in my visits there why anyone would need snow tires…and I’m a snow tire proponent, normally.
Chains are super over kill and potentially damaging for the inexperienced. Save your money and drive carefully the few times you even see snow.

Why go out and play with the crazies and possibly wreck your car?? STAY HOME if it gets that bad!!

You can’t really count the full $600 cost of the winter tires since your summer tires would then last twice as long.

I vote for the winter tires. Chains are a pain to put on, plus you probably won’t have them on when you hit that first patch of ice.

I tend to think that chains made sense on old rear wheel drive cars, but these days on a front wheel drive car with halfway decent tires, if the snow’s deep enough to require chains to get moving, chances are there’s going to be high centering issues.

I have a theory that in the mountain passes on the west coast they just require them because they make people slow down.

Chains are no substitute for good winter tires.

Whether winter tires are necessary is another debate, but you seem to suggest so-called all season tires are inadequate in the winter, and I agree with that assessment.

I Agree With Putting On Good All-Season Tires And Forgetting About The Trouble Bothering With Chains And Snow Tires Or Winter Tires.

I live above the 45th parallel and we have horrendous winter weather here with snowfall measured in the hundreds of inches annually. We have operated the family fleet of FWD cars on All-Season tires for decades now without need for additional help, with always at least two of us commuting in seperate cars and driving hundred mile round trips to work.

The most treacherous driving is a result of reduced visibility because of fog, snow fog, or blinding snow and I know of no tires that increase the near-zero visibility.


This stuff really works! Happiness for $19.95!


Rhode Island does get NorthEasters e.g. the Blizzard of 78 (27 inches in Providence per Wikipedia). And snow removal in Southern New England isn’t what it is further North. I really don’t think anyone is going very far thru deep snow without chains. Problem is that neither is anyone else. Unless the storm starts in the middle of the night and piles up too much snow before morning for drivers to contemplate going out, stuck cars will be a much bigger problem going places than traction.

Personally I think that putting on chains once or twice a decade is cheaper and less of a hassle than dealing with snow tires every year. But judging from the other posts here apparently I’m wrong.

In addition to all the previous thoughts, let me add this. The terrain you travel in is as important as the weather you experience. People who live just a few miles away may have more need for winter snows/chains. To repeat what most have said, regardless of the occasional storms you face, if you travel on unpaved and non maintained roads with grades to consider, you may need winter tires/chains. Otherwise, flatlanders get along pretty well in most conditions with safe driving habits and all season tires regardless of the weather.

I’ve lived in the Sierra Nevadas (Mammoth Lakes), San Diego, and now Newport, RI. Having lived in a place where we sometimes got 6 feet of snow in one night (Mammoth Lakes), the only time you’ll need chains is during a severe blizzard. I say DURING because usually places that get such snow have the roads mostly clear the day after the blizzard. If you can avoid actually driving in it, a good set of snow tires will be all you need the next day. If you are actually driving during the blizzard, you’ll need chains.

Definitely buy some good winter tires. The best thing is to buy a good set of winter tires and mount them on a separate set of wheels. Then when winter rolls around you can swap them out yourself with a jack and a tire iron, saving you huge money on mounting fees and a lot of time as well.

The reason you should get them is because the chemical composition of winter tires keeps them rubbery and sticky to ice and frozen roads even in extremely low temperatures. This means better traction, less sliding, less getting stuck.

Don’t cheap out on tires; the first time you slide into another car and have to pay for body work you’ve just tripled the cost of first-rate snow tires. The peace of mind that you get from having quality winter tires is worth the 600 bucks as well.

RI does not get horrible storms except on extremely rare occasions. NOTHING would have worked in that region in the blizzard of '78. Cars were buried on I-90 to the point where resuers had to climb over the snow and scrape off the windows to see if there was anyone alive inside. People died in that storm. Main routes were shut down for days due to buried cars. I was there. People had to dig their way out of their houses. The only thing that worked in that blizzard was staying home…which I, fortunately, did. But in truth nobody knew that was going to happen. The storm system just stalled dead in one place and kept bringing offshore water in and dumping it on the region as snow. It was a truely once-in-a-lifetime event.

That storm can not be used as an indicator of the weather to expect in Rhode Island.