How Many Readers Carry Chains And Actually Know How To Mount Them?

Back in the old days, many of us had knobby snow tires even studded ones mounted on a separate set of rims stashed in the corner of the garage, ready for mounting.  Tire designs and compounds changed over the years.  Snow tires still exist, but all season tires are the norm. If you have a car/SUV that has four-wheel drive, you are good to go for most winter conditions.

Last year, in Box in the Back, I listed what you should carry for emergencies when you headed into the mountains.  What Else Should You Have In Your Car provides suggestions on what to do/not to do if you are forced to stop for a long period, either by an accident or road closure.

The best time and place to learn how to put on tire chains is in your driveway on a nice day. Worst: roadside in a snowstorm.

What wasn’t covered was chains with which I have a love-hate relationship.  They’re clunky, a pain in the rear to install on the side of the road.  If one section comes loose, it can beat the crap out of a fender, wrap around an axle, or rip out a suspension component.

While most of us prefer not to install chains, there are parts of the country where the local gendarmes have the right to insist you use them even on a four-wheel drive vehicle equipped with mud and snow tires.  No chains, no going any farther.

Some states require chains on snow-covered roads. You have no choice, so you better know how to use them.

Point one.  If chains are required, getting told to put them on is not the time to turn around, drive back to the last town you passed, and buy a set.  They should have been bought before you left the house and kept handy, i.e. where you can get to them without having to pull everything out of the trunk.

Research chains types to pick the ones that are the best fit for your vehicle and your needs.  Click here for a really helpful link that offers instructions on selecting the right chains.

Point two.  A chain “inspection/installation” station is not the place to learn how to put your chains on because it is cold, snowy, and often dark.  Don’t rely on some helpful soul to rescue you.  Putting chains on slush, cinder, sandy wheels is a dirty job, so be prepared.  Practice putting them at home before you leave. Put them on and take them off several times so you know the drill.  One enterprising soul I know has the instructions downloaded on his iPad as a reminder.  While it is a helpful reminder, a video is not a substitute for actual experience.

Point three.  While you don’t need a separate pair of overalls and boots, carry a small rubber mat you can kneel on and a pair of heavy rubber gloves you can slide over a pair of ski glove inserts.  Leather work gloves also work. This will keep your fingers from getting cold and numb or cut.  Practice with the gloves on.

You make be like me and hate chains, but don’t leave them behind because, one day, you’ll need them or possibly lose a day or so of skiing.


  1. tahoecharlie says:

    This article and it’s attendant links lists all kinds of alternate traction devices, cables and chains as if they are all “legal” for use everywhere. THEY ARE NOT. Please thoroughly check out the “local” laws/requirement for the state, county and ski area you are thinking of buying traction devices for before you wast your money on a device that may NOT be legal at your area/destination.

    For example: most “alternative traction devices” are NOT legal in CA, especially going to and in the Sierra/Tahoe ski areas – ie on I-80; also “Cable” type chains are prohibited on certain “local” Sierra roads/areas – you will NOT get through chain-control check points with these devices.

    Also MOST “all-season-tires” are worthless in heavy snow/ice/slush conditions as they are optimized for high mileage with “hard” rubber compounds and limited sips that freeze solid at low temps; whereas true snow tires use “soft” rubber and lots of sips that say pliable in freezing temps – look for the mountain/snowflake icon on the sidewall.

    In 20 years of living and skiing in the Tahoe area I can say that probably 90% of the winter accidents or “off-road” excursions I see are caused by out-of-area drivers driving too fast in SUV’s with all-season tires – slow down when it’s snowing folks.

  2. Christopher Stannard says:

    I have a Volvo XC60. The chains cannot fit inside of the wheel as it would feature the brake pipes, so I have to have the expensive kind that fit outside. Being a senior senior (81) i find pushing the chain over the wheel for the last few inches is very difficult so i bought a rubber mallet which, together with a short piece of wood with square ends, solves the problem.

    • Bob Margulis says:

      I had the same problem with my Subaru Outback. On the recommendation of a friend (head of Ski Patrol at the Mt Rainier backcountry hut system) I bought two pair of AutoSocks and can recommend them as an alternative. That said Blizzaks with the car’s skid control turned off is so effective I rarely ever need anything more.

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