Snow chains are designed to be put on tyres in order to help drivers get through snowy conditions. They sound like the perfect solution for car owners who are concerned they might get stuck in snow. But do they work? How easy are they to fit? And what are they like to drive with? We answer your questions here.
What are snow chains
As the name suggests, snow chains are metal links designed to go round car tyres. They come in pairs and you fit them to the car’s driving wheels. They then bite into the snow, giving you grip where tyres might ordinarily be spinning uselessly.
In some areas of Europe, carrying snow chains is compulsory in the winter as they prevent cars getting stuck on slippery snowy surfaces.
How easy are they to fit?
You need to have a set of snow chains that will fit your wheel and tyre size. You can’t buy a set of chains for a VW Polo and expect them to fit a Golf, for example.
Some cars will also have limited clearance between the wheel and suspension. When buying chains, it’s always worth talking to an expert, your car manufacturer or looking in your user manual about whether the chains you’re looking at will be suitable for your car.
Chains can be tricky blighters to fit. Getting them on will undoubtedly involve some grubbing around on the ground.
How much do snow chains cost?
This depends on the kind of car you have. For a small car, you can get sets for around £30. If you’ve got a large SUV and you want a set of quality items from a brand such as Thule, they’ll cost upwards of £100. And if you want a really premium easy-to-fit set, they’ll cost north of £300.
Can you drive normally with chains?
They are not designed to be used at motorway speeds. And they shouldn’t be used on ordinary tarmac as they’ll damage it. When driving on snow, the top speed recommended for a car fitted with snow chains is 30mph. Cars fitted with snow chains shouldn’t accelerate or brake aggressively.
What about snow socks?
There is an alternative to snow chains. These are made from a textile anti-slip material and go over the wheel and tyre. For occasional UK use, they are an ideal solution as they’re light to carry around and easier to fit than snow chains. They will also work on cars that have limited clearance between the suspension and wheel.
However, snow socks are not as effective as snow chains on steep gradients. They won’t provide the same amount of grip in deep snow. And in countries that demand snow chains are carried, snow socks are unlikely to be an approved alternative.
If you do buy chains
It’s worth fitting chains to your car before you have to as a way of practicing. Doing it in the drive or in a garage when you’ve got all the time in the world will show you what you’re up against. Much better to do it there in the daylight than at night by the side of a snowy road.
As well as the chains, we’d ensure you have something to kneel on such as one of those padded garden kneelers, knee pads or at the minimum a bin liner, a pair of waterproof gloves and a torch. These will all help if you have to fit chains roadside.
The quick answer to the question is: if you live in an area where it snows regularly and you’re worried about getting stuck, chains will ensure you keep moving – as long as you can fit them. They are also cheaper than buying and fitting winter tyres.
As mentioned, snow chains are a legal requirement in some areas of the continent. But if it’s just for snowy roads in the UK, snow socks could be a cheaper, almost-as-effective alternative.
I’ve been writing about cars and motoring for more than 25 years. My career started on a long-departed classic car weekly magazine called AutoClassic. I’ve since pitched up at Autosport, Auto Express, the News of the World, Sunday Times and most recently the Daily Telegraph. When I’m not writing about cars and motoring, I’m probably doing some kind of sport or working in my garden.