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When driving on snowy and icy roads, often the one thing that can keep you from getting stuck is a good set of tire chains. These vehicle accessories consist of metal chains that install around the wheels of your vehicle to maximize traction in snowy and icy conditions, making them a necessity for those who live in regions that see extreme winter weather each year. In fact, some states even require snow chains if traveling in certain mountainous areas during extreme winter weather. Finding the right set can be challenging, as not all tire chains are identical. They come in different sizes, materials, and tread patterns to suit different types of vehicles and varying severities of winter weather. Many models are designed to be easy to install, reducing the time one has to spend out in the cold. Learn what features are vital to consider when shopping for these winter weather vehicle accessories and find out why the models below are some of the best tire chains on the market.
How we chose the best tire chains
In reviewing more than 25 sets of tire chains for this article, we considered what sets best suit vehicles ranging from smaller cars to large SUVs and heavy pickup trucks, keeping the following considerations in mind:
Traction: Although traction isn’t the only thing, it’s clearly the most important factor in tire chains. We chose only models that provided ample traction.
Durability: I only included chains made from steel alloys that could hold up to supporting the weight of a vehicle in difficult weather conditions. This included traditional tire chains and those that use steel rollers or coils.
Installation: Tire chains are typically installed in extreme winter weather on the side of a road or in a snow-covered driveway. With this in mind, we only chose tire chains that one could capably install in these conditions. Tire chains with self-tightening features outranked those that required manual tightening.
The best tire chains: Reviews & Recommendations
Whatever kind of vehicle you drive, you don’t want to go out in the winter without the best tire chains, because even the best heated gloves, socks, and vests (even a battery-powered electric blanket) don’t keep you as comfortable as getting home and out of the storm safely. We’ve rounded up the best options on the market. from heavy-duty to budget-friendly picks.
Best overall: Peerless Auto-Trac Light Truck/SUV Tire Traction Chain
Why they made the cut: This pick eliminates the major headache with tire chains—putting them on—with an innovative design that essentially automates the installation process, making them one of the most user-friendly options on the market.
- Material: Manganese alloy chain
- Shape: Diamond
- Size options: 14 to 20 inches
- Easy to install
- Excellent traction with a diamond-shaped pattern
- Durable steel alloy construction
- A little on the heavy side
Tire chains generally aren’t user-friendly. Most require you to jack the car up to properly tighten them to the wheel, which often involves paying someone else to do the work. That’s not the case with Auto-Trac’s Peerless tire chains, which use a tensioning system that automatically tightens the chains to the wheel. To install, simply attach the internal cable to the tighteners that run around the outside sidewall of the tire and begin driving to activate the ratcheting system that tightens the chains.
The diamond pattern of this set of chains not only facilitates the automatic ratcheting system, creating a tight grip around the tires, but it also makes for better performance by creating more surface area and improving traction.
In addition to being easy to install, this set is durable, thanks to its manganese steel alloy construction and heavier gauge chain links. Of course, that gauge also makes these chains on the heavy side at 15 pounds for the set. With sizes ranging from 14 to 20 inches, this set of chains is one of the more versatile options on the market, capable of fitting light trucks, SUVs, and cars.
Best heavy-duty: AutoChoice 6 Packs Car Snow Chains
Why they made the cut: The thickness and coverage of these chains take the traction one can get from a set of tire chains to another level. And while the installation may take longer, it’s less complicated.
- Material: Steel
- Shape: Squares
- Size options: 14 to 20 inches
- Heavy-gauge chains provide optimal traction
- Separate pieces make them easier to install
- Fits a wide variety of tire sizes
- Installation is more time-consuming
One look at this set of tire chains from AutoChoice, and one can see that they are much beefier than other models, thanks to sets of six thick chains for each tire. With their thicker gauge and square design, these chains dig into snow and ice to provide ample traction. The chains are divided into six separate pieces per wheel—a six-pack—which attach independently. The chains have thick straps that consist of tendon material that thread through the rims and tighten to the wheel in a similar fashion to ratcheting tie-down straps.
This design has both positives and negatives. By having separate pieces, they’re easier to install, as there is no need to untangle and line up a single stretch of chain or jack up the wheel. Simply apply one set, then move on to the rest. On the flip side, attaching six separate sets of chains to each wheel is time-consuming.
While this set of tire chains is on the pricier side—you’ll need to buy a set of six per wheel—it does include some useful extras, including two pairs of gloves, a long hook to help with mounting, and a fiber-absorbent towel.
Best low-profile: Glacier Passenger Cable Tire Chain
Why they made the cut: Although there is a trade-off in traction, we love the low-profile design of this set of chains, which makes them suitable for most cars.
- Material: Steel rollers
- Shape: Square
- Size options: 14 to 20 inches
- Fits type S low-profile vehicles
- Lighter weight makes them easier to install
- Affordably priced
- Traction isn’t as good as standard tire chains
Tire chains can be tricky with passenger vehicles with S clearance, which means there is limited space between the wheel well and the tire. Adding the additional thickness of snow chains can damage the car as the chains scrape against the wheel well when the suspension flexes. In fact, some car manufacturers will even void warranties if they find that a car has used chains that are too bulky for the wheel well.
Glacier solves that problem by creating tire chains that aren’t really chains at all. Glacier’s tire chains actually consist of a set of hardened steel rollers that run perpendicular to the tire treads and secure to a thick gauge wire cable that runs the circumference of the tire’s outer sidewall.
The result is a tire chain with a low enough profile that it can fit S-clearance passenger vehicles. And, at 6 pounds, these chains are also easier to install than heavier sets. Keep in mind that there is a trade-off. While these roller-style chains will improve vehicle traction for snowy weather, they don’t provide the same traction as a set of traditional tire chains.
Best for trucks: Security Chain Company Quik Grip
Why they made the cut: Though they may be tougher to install, you can’t argue with the fact that these chains offer the superior traction and durability that heavy-duty trucks driving on snow-covered roads require.
- Material: Alloy steel chain
- Shape: Square
- Size options: 15-20 inch
- Durable all-chain construction
- CAM tightening system makes installation easier
- Thicker gauge chains provide superior traction
- Harder to install than other types
- Won’t work with low-clearance vehicles
Larger trucks and SUVs require heavy chains that won’t break under intense weight or extreme conditions. Thanks to their durability, these thicker steel alloy manganese chains are one of the best options for full-size trucks. They’re even rated to work with farm equipment and dual-wheeled trucks.
Security Chains’ tire chains have a square configuration design, which provides maximum start-up traction. We like this set in particular because of the integrated CAM tightening system that eliminates the need to use tensioners to tighten the chains. The Quik Grip chains that don’t have this feature are less expensive, but we think it’s worth the additional cost to save the hassle of purchasing tensioners separately.
Even with the CAM tightening system, these chains are more difficult to install than other options, but the superior durability and traction they offer make them a must-have for heavy-duty trucks that face severe winter weather. Remember that these chains won’t fit trucks with S-class clearance requirements.
Best budget: Security Chain Company Super Z6 Cable Tire Chain
Why they made the cut: These tire chains are inexpensive and versatile, capable of fitting most cars, trucks, and SUVs. We also like the design, which makes them easier to install than other tire chains by eliminating the need for manual tightening.
- Material: Alloy steel coils
- Shape: Diagonal
- Size options: 14 to 20 inches
- No need to manually tighten
- Low profile makes them compatible with most vehicles
- Affordably priced
- Steel coils do not provide as much traction
This versatile set of tire chains from Security Chain is easy to install, affordably priced, and will fit vehicles with restricted clearance around the wheels. They consist of alloy steel traction coils thinner than standard chains, making them compatible with most cars. They only require a quarter-inch of sidewall clearance, so they’re suitable for most cars and SUVs as well as trucks.
These tire chains are also easier to install than other models thanks to rubber connectors that hold the coils taught, eliminating the need to tighten the chains manually.
This set of chains also preserves handling better than bulkier chains while preserving such important safety features as anti-lock brakes, traction control, and all-wheel drive. Keep in mind there is a trade-off. The low profile and limited coverage of the coils do provide less traction than larger sets of tire chains.
Things to consider before buying tire chains
Perhaps the most important trait to consider is how well the chains will keep you from getting stuck. The rule of thumb is rather straightforward when it comes to traction. The thicker the chain and the more coverage on the tire tread, the better the traction. Chains with heavier gauge steel links will dig into snow better than coils or rollers, providing better traction. Keep shape in mind as well: Square-shaped chains may provide better traction for getting started but diamond-shaped chains provide better directional traction, which means better handling.
Please pay attention to what the chains are made from, which will determine their durability. Generally speaking, a steel alloy with manganese is considered “high strength” steel, which can better withstand the pressures exerted on it when functioning as a tire chain. While chains may have superior strength, steel alloy rollers and coils are also quite strong. In addition to the chains, pay attention to other materials they use to hold them in place. While rubber and thick nylon straps may be durable enough for cars and light trucks, heavy-duty trucks require all-chain construction.
Size is important because the tires must be compatible with the size of the tires on your vehicle. Tire chains are not one size fits all. Most models of tire chains come in a broad range of sizes to suit different tire sizes. Tire chain manufacturers include size charts that correspond to the model numbers of their products. Check the size of your tires (printed on the sidewall of each tire) and match that size to the right model tire chain.
Most likely, you’ll be installing tire chains in inclement weather, so it’s important to purchase chains that you can install as quickly as possible. If you have a car or small truck, consider purchasing a set of tire chains that are self-tensioning. Self-tensioning chains take a little more work to install initially, but they don’t require you to tighten (and retighten) the chains manually.
Q: Do you need tire chains for all four tires?
Legally, you only need to have one set of tire chains to travel in mountainous areas during the wintertime. However, if you have a 4×4 vehicle, it’s a good idea to have two sets. Even with a two-wheel-drive vehicle, two sets of chains can improve traction.
Q: Do chains damage tires?
When there is ice and snow, tire chains dig into them and don’t put pressure on your tires. However, driving on bare roads for long stretches can cause the chains to dig into your tires and damage them (as well as the road itself). Chains can also damage tires if they are not properly installed.
Q: Is it hard to drive with snow chains?
Although snow chains will improve traction and help prevent your car or truck from getting stuck, it is still hazardous to drive in snowy conditions. When driving with snow chains, you should never exceed 30 miles per hour.
Final thoughts on the best tire chains
Choosing the right tire chains requires finding a product balancing good traction and easy installation. The Peerless Auto-Trac Light Truck/SUV Tire Traction Chain excels on both fronts, making it one of the best all-around tire chains you can put on your car or truck. If you’re looking for a set of chains to outfit your heavy-duty pick-up truck, then consider going with Security Chain Company Quik Grip, which offers superior traction and durability.
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