Every year, many Americans experience a phenomenon in which frozen water in crystalline form precipitates sporadically for several of the coldest months of the year, often accumulating in depth upon the ground. This, in case you're unfamiliar, is known as "snow." And it can play havoc with traction, whether on foot or in a car.
If you live somewhere that receives the occasional dusting-to-an-inch of snow at a time, shelling out for all-wheel-drive or snow tires is the prudent thing to do. Other Americans, however, live in areas where snowfall can come quickly, often — and by the foot. Snow plows may not be there right away to get it. That is where tire chains come in.
Tire chains, a.k.a. snow chains, can be literal chains, or one of several other different styles. But whatever the material or pattern, their function is the same: they wrap around tires and offer extra traction and maneuverability over snow and ice. You store them in your trunk, and deploy them when needed.
Which tire chains should you buy? There are a few factors to consider. How big your tires are and how much clearance you have around them are the main factors. You don’t have to have a truck or an SUV to use tire chains, but if you're planning on using them on a passenger car, make sure they bear the SAE Class S rating, as these are designed for vehicles with restricted wheel well clearance.
There’s also the question of how much you’re willing to pay. Keep in mind that tire chains tend to be sold in pairs, and you have four wheels. You can get a full set for less than $100, but as with tires, leveling up to more expensive ones will get you better performance, durability, and ride comfort. They'll probably be easier to put on, and they'll also be less likely to scratch up those fancy alloy wheels.
Here are some great options.
Best Overall Tire Chain
The Super Z6 chains are cable-based and work for passenger cars, trucks and SUVs. They are super low-profile, requiring only 1/4-inch of ground clearance. They are easy to install without moving the vehicle. And, they're relatively affordable.
Best Upgrade Tire Chain
German engineering generally means two things in the automotive world: impeccable performance and a lofty price. That fits the Konig XG-12 Pro to a t. These chains offer premium features including a self-tensioning system and anti-scratch nylon bumpers to protect your wheels.
Best Affordable Tire Chain
The Quality Chain Cobra chains are cable-based and intended for passenger car use. The low-profile steel rollers are designed to increase tire-to-road contact and reduce vibration and noise. They are also galvanized for rust protection. Just keep in mind that the rubber adjusters are sold separately.
We picked the best tires to help you stay mobile through the winter months.
These traditional chains offer a self-tightening ratchet system, a diamond pattern for improved ride comfort and most of the capability of Security Chain's Z-Series cable chains.
Want the fancy name-brand but don't want to pay the big bucks? Konig offers the CB-12 chains, which are a more basic and affordable alternative to their premium options. The CB-12 has a manual tensioner instead of a self-tensioning system.
Great for ATVs
These heavy duty chains have cross-chains every two-links for a more consistent ride and better steering. They also have two studs per link for better traction.
From the helmet and top layers to toasty heated base layers, these are some of the essentials you’ll want when you ride through the coldest months of the year.