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During the winter, it’s imperative to keep your tires in good shape to maintain the best traction on icy roads. You should always keep them properly inflated and switch out summer tires for a pair of all-season or winter ones.

If there’s a thick layer of snow on the road, you should also keep a set of tire chains or cables handy. How do you know which ones are right for your vehicle and how do you use them? Let’s go over the basics.

Do you really need snow chains?

A set of tire chains on tires.
Tire chains | Joshua Lott via Getty Images

According to RepairPal, snow chains and cables are necessary for FWD or RWD cars. While you only need to install the chains on the drive wheels, having them on all four wheels is even safer. In a FWD car’s case, you should at least put tire chains on the front wheels.  

Your car is generally more capable of driving over snow and ice if equipped with AWD or 4WD. Drivers don’t have to make split decisions on icy roads because the AWD system automatically sends torque power to all four wheels. Still, RepairPal recommends installing tire chains on the rear wheels for maximum safety. 

Snow tires are also great to have in the winter because of the wider tread gaps, which increase road grip. Some of them also have studs for better traction over packed snow. If you have snow tires, you probably don’t need tire chains.

How to determine the right tire chain size

You should match the tire chain size to the size of your tires. You can usually find these measurements in your owner’s manual, the inside frame of your driver’s side door, or the sidewalls of the tires themselves.

Once you have the size, look for a set of tire chains with that same size on the box. If you’re buying the chains online, confirm that it’s the correct size in the product description.

Follow snow chain requirements

You should always carry a set of snow chains while driving through a snow chain requirement area. In over 30 states, your car must have snow chains attached at certain times of the year. The exact requirements are different in every state, so do your research before going out in the snow.

In most cases, FWD and RWD vehicles are required to wear snow chains, with no exceptions in these areas. Alternatively, you may be able to use snow tires alone. If the weather conditions aren’t as severe, you may not have to attach snow chains to 4WD or AWD cars. 

However, some states like Montana require your car to have tire chains attached regardless of the drivetrain in severe weather. In states like Massachusetts, drivers need a permit if they want to use chains or snow tires with studs.

How to attach and remove tire chains correctly


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Most tire chains have a label indicating the side that should be facing the pavement. For traction cables, the biggest clasp should be installed on the rear. Position the eyelet side toward the front of the tire.

To remove snow chains, unfasten the rubber tightener and the front clasps first. After angling the outside wheel with the steering wheel, you can unfasten the back clip on the other side.

Driving with snow chains on your tires

RepairPal cautions drivers not to exceed 30 mph while driving with snow cables or chains. Otherwise, you can drive as normally as you would on winter roads. 

That means no sudden braking or acceleration. Try to stay a few miles under the speed limit in areas with limited visibility or rapidly falling snow. Tire chains can help you avoid winter accidents, but never underestimate the importance of safe driving practices.