Do 4WD need snow chains? Yes! 4WD vehicles need snow chains during extreme weather.
Snow on the road is one of the challenges of winter driving. Imagine you’re headed up a hill, but you don’t have enough traction to handle the snow and ice. This can happen with 4WD vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler, Ford Explorer, Subaru Forester among others.
That’s why you need snow chains. They’re essential for safe handling. Even if you think they’re not necessary, they’re a must-have on many roads. That’s usually indicated by a round blue sign.
In today’s post, we will go through different facts about snow chains and how helpful they can be for your 4WD.
Snow Tire Chains Explained
Snow chains are a must-have accessory for people living in snowy regions. Here are some important things you need to know about them.
Snow Chains Tension
Snow tire chains are usually categorized by tension, such as manual tensioning, assisted tensioning, and automatic tensioning.
Snow chains with manual tensioning are ideal for people who aren’t planning on using them regularly. With these chains, you are the one to determine how effective the tension is on the tires.
It might take you a few minutes and steps to figure out how to install them. But the process should be easy with an instructions manual. In most cases, you can simply drape the shackles over your 4WD tires and drive forward.
The best thing about manual tension chains is the fact that they are inexpensive, making them a great choice if you have a tight budget.
Snow chains with assisted tensioning may vary in features from one model to another. They are normally equipped with built-in devices, such as integrated pulls or cams.
These extra features make installing as well as securing the chains simple and quick. What they will not do is automatically align and tighten. But they are much easier and faster to install compared to manual tension or manually adjusted chains.
But here is the thing, you still need the appropriate tool to individually tighten the cams. You may also need a chain adjuster for optimum adjustment.
Self-adjusting snow chains are great to have if you are planning to use your vehicle more frequently.
They come with a heavy-duty ratcheting design that automatically tightens while you are driving your 4WD. All you have to do is attach the inside cable, connect the self-tighteners, and then drive. You don’t need any extra chain tensioners when using self-tightening chains. They normally meet Class S clearance on pickup trucks as well as SUVs.
The installation of some automatic tension chains, however, may require you to do some practice. It may not be a walk in the park, considering that there are a few things you are putting together.
5 Tips When Using Snow Chains
Here are the five things you need to know about snow chains:
Buy Snow Chains Ahead of Time
Buy your chains ahead of time and keep them in your truck or SUV for easy accessibility. Getting them in time is a good way to guarantee your safety in the snow or ice.
Practice How to Install Snow Chains
If you own a 4WD and you live in snowy regions, then you should know how to install snow chains. The best way to do that is by practicing. You can do this on your driveway.
This goes for all types of snow chains, whether it is self-adjusting, assisted, or manual. You can make good use of the instructions manual.
Pay Attention to Caltrans Alerts
Pay close attention to Caltrans alerts to know exactly where snow chains are needed. When you see notices saying that you are coming up to snow chain control, you want to ensure that you have them installed before reaching the spot where traffic is stopped.
If you reach the stop point and you don’t have them on, you could easily create a backlog for everyone behind you.
Seek Help From a Snow Chain Installer When Necessary
If you are not comfortable putting the chains on yourself, there are always chain-installing services along the highway to help for a fee. These are usually people that have been designated by Caltrans as professionals to help.
Drive Slowly and Safely in the Snow
Driving in the ice and snow requires keen use of your vehicle’s controls and a lot of anticipation. The snow chains will give your 4WD added traction, but that doesn’t mean you are completely safe.
When pulling away from a standing start, engage the second gear if possible and accelerate gently. Fast acceleration can make your wheels skid and churn up loose snow, which can push your wheels deeper into the snow. Your vehicle could shoot off without your full control.
The weight of traffic tends to clear the road surface. So, it’s usually better to use busier roads with lots of vehicles. Snow-covered roads can hide road debris as well as potholes. Drive slowly and take extra care to avoid damaging your tires in case you come across debris or potholes.
If you, unfortunately, get stuck because you installed poor-quality snow chains, don’t panic. Instead, straighten up the steering and clear the snow from the wheels and chains.
When driving on ice, you need to gently accelerate and then brake using a higher gear to avoid unnecessary wheel spin. Stopping distances are about 10 times longer on ice. So, leave a greater distance in traffic than you would normally. Always confirm that the front car is at least eight seconds ahead of you.
Black ice is transparent and appears the same color as the tarmac, which is common on overpasses, less busy roads, bridges, and shaded areas that don’t get much sunlight. So, be on the lookout to stay safe on the road.
How to Choose the Right Tire Chains for 4WD?
Here are important things you need to take into account when looking for snow chains for your 4WD:
Identify the Size of Your 4WD Tires
Before going to the store to get some chains for your 4WD tires, make sure you gather some information about your tires.
Look at the three measurements located on the side of your vehicle tires. The numbers are tire width, height ratio, and wheel diameter. Use these figures to determine the clearance between your tires and other internal components. Settling for smaller chains will not do you any good.
Tire Chain Classification
Snow chains are classified into the following categories:
Class S Tire Chains
Some 4WDs may require you to install Class S snow chains. They are usually made for use on automobiles that have limited wheel well clearance.
You need a minimum clearance of 37 mm (for the A dimension) between the wheel well and the top of the tire tread. You need at least 15 mm (for the B dimension) between the vehicle and the sidewalls of the tires.
Class U Tire Chains
These chains are recommended for tires with non-limited wheel clearances. For the A dimension, you need a clearance of 50 mm, while for the B dimension you require a clearance of 23 mm.
Class W Tire Chains
These are suitable for light trucks. The minimum tread-face clearance (for the A dimension) is 64 mm. The minimum sidewall clearance (for the B dimension) is 38 mm.
What Are the Conditions?
You need to consider the conditions in which you will be using the snow chains.
Tire Chains for Ice
If you are planning to use your 4WD mostly on ice, then you need to select tire chains with a superior bite to effectively break through the solid surface.
We recommend chains that come with icebreakers or spikes. They usually have cleats or built-in studs that are perfect for gripping the ice. But these traction devices can provide a very rough ride on roads with shallow snow.
Tire Chains for Deep Snow
For deep snow, we think chains with large links are the best option. They provide exceptional traction and can stick into ice for added versatility. They also offer smoother rides, making them a great choice for most snow conditions.
Tire Chains for Light Snow
All the aforementioned chain types provide good traction on light snow. But those with cleats or icebreakers may cause some serious damage on roads. Not to mention that they can provide rough rides on light snow.
How Frequently Will You Be Using the Snow Chains?
The frequency at which you install and uninstall your chains matter a lot, especially if you consider ease of installation.
Having two pairs of heavy-duty tire chains in your truck or SUV isn’t enough if you don’t know how to install them. You can’t be employing the services of a professional every now and then. So, the chains must be easy to install and remove.
Of the three types—manual tensioning, assisted tensioning, self-adjusting (automatic tensioning)—the self-adjusting models are the more convenient option followed by the assisted, and then manual.
Which Tires to Chain Up
Snow chains are designed to be installed on the drive tires. This is usually the two front tires on front-wheel drive vehicles and back tires on rear-wheel-drive vehicles.
If you have four-wheel drive and you are only planning on installing chains on the front tires, we advise that you consult your vehicle’s manual for guidance. We, however, recommend that you install snow chains on all four tires on your 4WD to maintain the best performance as well as handling.
Under normal circumstances, your 4WD has roughly the same traction at each tire. This is what creates the experience of normal control when cornering, accelerating, and braking. This experience of normal is usually disrupted under ice and snow conditions.
If you only install snow chains on the front tires, your vehicle’s rear tires are likely to swing during driving and braking. Installing snow tire chains on the rear only could limit the steering ability of your 4WD.
So, there’s no better compromise in this case. The best thing you can do is equip all your tires with snow chains. This means you will need two pairs of tire chains.
Snow Chains Vs Snow Tires
Although you are looking for snow chains for your 4WD, it’s also worth considering snow tires. Let’s compare these two and decide which is the better option.
Modern snow tires provide far more traction compared to regular tires when driving on snow. They also provide good performance on the ice. But does the performance of snow tires approach that of reinforced snow chains?
A vehicle equipped with regular tires and moving at about 32 kilometers per hour would take approximately 195 feet to stop. Snow tires, on the other hand, may take roughly 160 feet to stop. But reinforced snow chains may take about 77 feet to stop.
The ability to enhance your 4WD performance—drivability and stopping distance—on snow depends mostly on the traction or bite of tires or chains. On snow and ice, chains give higher traction and pulling power compared to tires. Reinforced snow chains offer better performance on treacherous winter roads.
Chains, however, have inherent drawbacks. They are rough riding, noisy, and vulnerable to breakage. It can be annoying to have to drive on snow chains over long stretches of road with melted snow. You can drastically reduce the life of your tires and chains. Not to mention that some chain types require some know-how for quick installation.
What’s the Verdict?
Snow tires are good for all-year-round use, but they are not particularly the better option for treacherous conditions. So, for overall superior performance, snow chains take the win.
Snow Chains Vs Snow Socks
When you are looking for extra traction to handle snow conditions, you’ve got options: chains or socks.
Snow chains are considered to be the better option to keep in your 4WD vehicle. But did you know that there is another type of traction device called a snow sock? They are simply a pair of socks with a grippy fabric that goes over your tires.
Both snow socks and chains provide traction on snow and ice. And with a little practice, both are relatively easy to install.
If tire chains are listed as the first choice in your vehicle’s owner’s manual, then snow chains are your best bet. They are very durable and can tackle the worst of conditions compared to snow socks. But remember that they are a little bit challenging to install compared to snow socks.
Tire socks are purposefully made for vehicles with restricted wheel well clearance. Not to mention that socks provide a smoother ride. They install quickly and easily, but they tend to wear out faster and frequent replacements are necessary.
What’s the Verdict?
Snow socks are super easy to install and provide a smoother ride. But they also wear out faster and may not be able to handle the worst of conditions. So, snow chains are the better option.
Tire Chains Installation Tips
- Make sure the chains match the size measurements on your 4WD tires
- Park your truck or SUV in a flat, firm area, such as your driveway
- When unpacking your chains, always make sure they have all the parts
- The chains must hang evenly over your tires
- The amount of chain draping over the sidewalls and treads must be the same
Do 4WD need snow chains? Yes, they do! Your vehicle may have heavy-duty tires that can effectively handle light snow. But what will you do when you encounter deep snow or ice or when you come across Caltrans control. So, in more ways than one, snow chains are a must-have accessory for 4WD owners living in snowy regions.
Just make sure you get the right type, class, and size. Also, be mindful of the roads. For example, you may not need chains fitted with cleats on light snow to avoid damaging the roads.