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Winter driving conditions can change from mild to wild in the blink of an eye — and when the roads are at their very worst, many drivers rely on tire chains to provide a confidence-boosting spike in traction.

In simple terms, tire chains or snow chains are installed around your vehicle’s drive wheels on an as-needed basis, where they wrap around the tires to help provide an increased bite into the surface beneath.

Tire chains are designed for occasional use in the most severe conditions. As such, they’re stored on board the vehicle until needed, when drivers install them just ahead of traveling through deep snow and treacherous roads. With tire chains mounted, you’ll experience a dramatic improvement in traction and grip for accelerating and braking in deep snow, on ice, or in an off-road setting.

But tire chains can damage pavement, negatively affect a vehicle’s handling, and are typically intended for low-speed use, so they need to be removed once the vehicle is clear of the conditions that they were installed to tackle.

Tire chains come in many shapes and forms, including some that aren’t even chains at all. For instance, cable chains are a popular alternative and amount to steel cables (rather than steel chains) that wrap around the wheels and tires. Other alternatives include rubberized and studded strap-on traction shoes or traction-enhancing blocks that are strapped to the wheels to help free a stuck vehicle.

Below, we’ll look at some options for drivers after added traction and bite when the weather is at its worst.

EDITORS PICK: ONORM B23 Diamond Tire Chains

best tire chains

Designed to help your truck or SUV tackle the nastiest conditions, these affordably priced chains are designed for long-lasting performance. Built to the highest quality standards globally, they meet various quality and safety standards and feature an exclusive ratchet tensioner that ensures a snug fit that improves traction, eases installation and removal, reduces wear, and helps prevent possible damage to your vehicle’s body that may be caused by bigger, thicker, and heavier chains.

With the ability to last up to 83 percent longer than competing products, these ONORM chains are available in sizes to fit a variety of vehicles. Pricing is listed per pair, and the online vehicle selector tool helps ensure easy access to the perfect size chains for your vehicle.

Read More The 8 Best Winter Tires and Why You Absolutely Need Them

Super Z LT Traction Chain

best snow chains

Use the online vehicle selector to ensure a proper fitment and the Super Z Traction Chains will quickly become one of the most valuable items in your winter driving safety kit. Made by the Security Chain Company, these chains claim to be the fastest and easiest to install traction products on the market, and feature a built-in rubber tensioner that eliminates the need to retighten the chains after installation.

Excellent all-around performance and high durability combine with easy installation to make this product a go-to for many drivers. They’re highly compatible with low-clearance vehicles and minimize the potential for damage to the vehicle body and other mechanical parts, even under severe use. A plastic carrying case is included and owner reviews point towards great performance, great pricing, and very quick and easy installation.

SC1032 Radial Chain Cable

best tire chains

From the experts at the Security Chain Company comes the SC1032 chain cable. These highly affordable and well-reviewed chain cables come in a heavy-duty carrying case and feature lightweight construction for easy portability. Priced per pair, the online vehicle selector will help ensure shoppers select the perfect chain for their specific make and model of vehicle. When installed, these cable chains ensure a significant boost in traction, while minimizing tire and sidewall wear thanks to their smoothness compared to conventional chains.

A long service life is built right in thanks to all-steel construction and the use of proven traction coils, instead of steel rollers, which may flatten over time. Just be sure to read the instructions fully before installing: some owners have reported that the instructions may be confusing, and these cable chains have a specific tightening procedure that needs to be followed closely.

All said, the SC1032 amounts to a solid and affordable general-purpose traction aid that’s worthy of a space in your trunk during the winter months.

Konig XB-16 Snow Chains

konig snow chains

Excellent owner reviews and one of the best warranties in the business help justify the slightly higher cost of these tire chains from Konig. Sold in pairs and sized specifically for the application, most owners report high levels of satisfaction, with words like ‘great’, ‘excellent’, and ‘top-notch’ coming up frequently. Several experienced users even report that these are the best chains to own, and among the easiest to install.

Heavy-duty construction contributes to long life, and the manual tensioning system requires just one quick stop after installation to snug the chains down. If you’re after a top-performing premium product that’s easy to use, highly effective, and highly rated, look no further.

ECLEAR Adjustable Anti-Skid Emergency Alternative Traction Device

best tire chains

Here’s a novel alternative to tire chains that’s lighter, more flexible, and easier to use. Available in a variety of sizes, these traction aids are constructed primarily of cold-resistant rubber that house built-in studs for improved contact and traction. Sold in pairs, these alternative traction aids are installed to tackle the same sort of conditions as tire chains — though they’re lighter, more portable, and soft, which means minimized risk of damage or wear to the tire, sidewall, or your wheels.

Though no owner reviews are available, we’d consider this product to be akin to strapping on a set of studs (rather than chains) to your winter tires for a boost in traction. Like traction chains, vehicle speed must be limited when they’re in use, and they need to be retightened shortly after installation for maximum safety and effectiveness. If you’re after a highly portable and damage-free traction aid for occasional use, the ECLEAR Adjustable Anti-Skid Emergency Alternative Traction Device might be for you.

Trac-Grabber Straps

best tire chains

Here’s another unique alternative to tire chains that’s highly effective, portable, and affordable.

In simple terms, Trac-Grabber straps allow drivers to attach a ribbed rubber block to the outer surface of the driven wheels and tires by way of a heavy-duty strap. Simply fish it through the spokes of your wheel, and tighten. The ribbed rubber block clears snow and mud from beneath the tire as it rotates, and provides improved bite to the surface beneath, helping free a stuck vehicle.

A single strap is installed to each wheel, and when the rubber block is in contact with the ground, it focuses the entire weight of that corner of the vehicle onto the rubber ribs for tremendous bite. If you’re not keen on installing tire chains, the Trac-Grabber straps may be an ideal alternative. Remember that these devices are only installed once you’ve already become stuck, but that there’s a better chance you’ll free the vehicle without having to call (and wait for) help.

Sold in sets of two, the straps fold up into a storage bag that’s light and portable, taking up less space than a shoebox. Just be sure the attachment straps will fit through the spokes of your wheels before you buy, and be sure to select the right sized product variant for your specific application.

Read More Top 10 Best Snow Brushes and Ice Scrapers

Tips About Tire Chains/Snow Chains and How to Pick the Right Ones

If you’re considering adding a set of tire chains to your winter driving toolkit, you’ve got some homework to do first including determining which product is best for your vehicle, whether or not the size you need is available, and whether or not you’re able to use tire chains in your locale.

Here’s a look at some things to keep in mind before your purchase.

What Product is Best?

There’s no single tire chain product that will be the best for every driver and it all depends on what you drive, how and where you drive it, and the conditions you’re looking to tackle. When looking through the various options above, be sure to consider reading owner reviews, which can reveal important information about fitment and function that you’re best to know about before you buy. If in doubt, be sure to contact the seller and ask for their opinion. With a little more information about your locale and vehicle, they may be able to point you in the direction of a better product.

Can I Even Use Tire Chains?

You’ll want to check on local regulations before making your purchase. In some locales, drivers must carry a set of tire chains on board their vehicles to travel on certain roads at certain times of year. In other locales, tire chains are prohibited entirely. Know the rules before you buy: you might face a hefty fine if you’re caught using tire chains in an area where they’re prohibited. If you’re not allowed to use tire chains or snow chains, the alternative options we discussed above like the traction straps might be a better option if you want some extra insurance in dicey winter conditions.

Read the Instructions Carefully

Whatever product you wind up with, be sure to fully read and understand the instructions before your initial installation, and practice by installing the chains, cables or straps you decide on in the driveway before you actually need them. This will speed their installation (and your confidence) when installing in inclement weather, and make you more comfortable with the process.

Remember that tire chains often need to be installed, driven on briefly, and re-tightened, for maximum safety and effectiveness, and that using tire chains also requires following some specific instructions and changes to how you drive your vehicle — including a significantly reduced top speed, and special considerations when accelerating, steering and braking. The instruction manual has the full scoop.

Consider Your Vehicle

Though many tire chains are designed for general, all-purpose use on numerous vehicles, it can pay to keep a few things about your car or truck in mind when selecting the product that’s’ right for you. If you drive a smaller, sportier or lowered car (or truck), or any vehicle with a narrow gap between its tire and body, you’ll want to consider a set of low-profile tire chains or the typically thinner cable chains to help minimize the risk of damage to the body of your vehicle.

Also, note that many winter tire chains are designed specifically for use in snow and slush, and not for use in an off-road setting in mud, sand or clay. If you need a do-it-all tire chain that’ll work in both a winter, and an off-road setting, be sure to look for that, specifically, e-mailing the seller and asking questions as needed.

Don’t Forget to Remove Them

Tire chain and related products are intended to be installed when they’re needed and removed the moment they aren’t. Do NOT leave tire chains installed to your vehicle if you’re driving outside of the conditions they were designed for. This could cause accelerated wear and damage to the chains (and your tires and wheels) as well as increased likelihood of an accident.

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