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Tire Chains: When You Can Use Them


If you’ve ever driven through a steep mountain pass, you
may have noticed signs reading “chains or snow tires required.”

These signs, often accompanied by flashing lights, are
intended to warn drivers of hazardous winter
weather driving conditions
. When the lights are flashing, state traction laws are
in effect, meaning drivers need to have the right tires or equipment to
navigate the steep snow- or ice-covered roads ahead.

In a previous blog post, we already explained everything you need
to know about snow tires
. Now, we’ll take a closer look at the topic of tire

What Are Tire Chains?

Like the name suggests, tire chains are a special type of metal chain designed to wrap around the tires of your vehicle. These chains provide additional traction by helping your tires dig into deep snow and ice.

Compared to dedicated winter tires, chains are less expensive and are only intended to be used when driving in severe winter weather.

When Should You Use Tire Chains?

Tire chains can be used whenever you need to give your tires some extra grip. This makes them especially helpful when driving in slippery conditions, such as:

  • Snow: When driving through deep snow, the metal links of tire chains provide an extra layer of traction to prevent your wheels from spinning.
  • Ice: Tire chains are helpful on icy surfaces, too. The metal chains help break through the solid, slick ice – giving your tires some additional “bite.”
  • Mud: While most people think of tire chains as a winter-only accessory, they can also help you navigate off-road terrains like dirt and mud.

Can I Use Tire Chains on My Vehicle?

The great thing about tire chains is they can be installed on nearly any size tire or wheel. However, just because chains will fit around your tire doesn’t mean they can be safely used on every vehicle.

For example, some passenger cars have a limited amount of clearance between the tire and other parts of the vehicle, like the wheel well or suspension components. Using a set of tire chains in a vehicle like this could cause a significant amount of damage. So, check your owner’s manual to see if the vehicle manufacturer restricts the use of tire chains.

What Type of Tire Chains Should I Buy?

Like most automotive accessories, choosing the right type of tire chains for you will depend on a number of factors, including your vehicle, budget and how often you plan to use them.

Traditional chain designs incorporate heavy-duty metal chain links. These types of chains are great for frequent use but they can also be heavy and expensive. Other types of tire chains incorporate alternative materials such as metal cables or a plastic/composite construction. These chains typically have a lower profile, making them a better fit for passenger cars. While they’re often easier to install, they can also tend to be less durable.

How Do You Install Tire Chains?

Since the design of tire chains varies by manufacturer, you should always start by reading the instructions that come with your chain kit. However, most chains can be installed by following these simple steps:

  1. Park your car. It’s best to install your chains away from traffic in an area like a parking lot. But if you need to use the side of the road, park your vehicle safely on the shoulder and turn on your hazard lights.
  2. Prepare your chains. Take your tire chains out of the storage bag and work to untangle the links, if necessary. Be sure to position the chain so any metal hooks are pointed away from the tire. This is also a good time to check your tire pressure – especially since inflation pressure can drop in cold temperatures.
  3. Connect the chain around the tire. Start by laying the chain flat on the ground behind the tire. Then, grab the inner cable at each end. Bring the cable up and around the tire, connecting it at the top. After the inner side is connected, connect the outer portion of the chain using the provided hooks.
  4. Position the chain on the tread surface. Once both sides of the chain are connected, adjust the chain so it wraps around the tread surface of your tire. On most tire chains, this will create a diamond shape across the tread surface.
  5. Tension the chain. Tighten the chain by following the manufacturer’s instructions. Budget chain kits often require manual tensioning, while more premium chains include automatic or assisted tensioning devices.
  6. Repeat for additional tire(s). Follow these steps to install chains on the remaining tires. While it’s best to use tire chains on all four tires, you can often get by with a single pair. Just be sure to install the chains on your drive wheels (for front- or rear-wheel drive vehicles). If your car has four-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD), consult the owner’s manual for more specific guidance on how to install the chains.
  7. Drive forward slightly. After installing the chains, pull forward a few car lengths. Then, get out to check the chain placement. Tighten the chains again, if needed, to remove any slack.

How Should You Drive with Tire Chains?

When driving with tire chains on your vehicle, you need to take some extra precautions to avoid damaging your vehicle.

  • Drive slow. When using tire chains, do not go faster than 25 mph in your vehicle. Driving at high speeds can damage your car.
  • Listen carefully. If you hear any strange noises, like slapping sounds or metal-on-metal contact, get out and check your chains. It’s possible a chain may have broken, or it could be hitting part of your vehicle.
  • Avoid sudden starts and stops. Spinning your wheels, or stopping abruptly, can cause the chains to come loose.
  • Don’t drive on bare pavement. Once the roads have been cleared, stop to remove your tire chains. Driving with chains on bare roads can damage both the pavement and your chains. It may also be illegal, depending on where and when you’re driving.

What Happens If You Don’t Use Tire Chains When Mandated?

Just like any other traffic law, violating a traction law can result in fines, a ticket – or both. For example, if you get caught driving without chains or snow tires on a two-wheel drive vehicle in Colorado when extra traction is required, you’ll receive a citation with a $100 fine and $32 surcharge. And if you cause the closure of one or more lanes of traffic, the price jumps to a $500 fine and $156 surcharge!

Are Tire Chains Legal to Use in Every State?

In general, tire chains are legal to use anywhere in the United States under the right conditions. However, the laws that govern the specific use of tire chains will vary depending on the state you’re driving in.

Some state laws dictate when drivers are required to use tire chains, while other laws explain when tire chains are not permitted. The exact language will differ by state. But in general, most laws explain that tire chains can be temporarily used on vehicles when roads are covered by snow or ice. And chains are often prohibited on dry roads because they can damage the road surface.

For a complete list of regulations by state, check out

Be Prepared When Winter Weather Strikes

Having a set of tire chains in your trunk is a great option to help you navigate severe winter weather conditions. But if you ever find yourself stuck, Erie Insurance can help. Our Emergency Roadside Service coverage1 pays for the cost of pulling your vehicle out of a ditch or deep snow, as long as you’re within 10 feet of the roadway. Best of all – adding Emergency Roadside Service to an ERIE auto insurance policy only costs about $5 per vehicle per year.2

ERIE® insurance products and services are provided by one or more of the following insurers: Erie Insurance Exchange, Erie Insurance Company, Erie Insurance Property & Casualty Company, Flagship City Insurance Company and Erie Family Life Insurance Company (home offices: Erie, Pennsylvania) or Erie Insurance Company of New York (home office: Rochester, New York).  The companies within the Erie Insurance Group are not licensed to operate in all states. Refer to the company licensure and states of operation information.

The insurance products and rates, if applicable, described in this blog are in effect as of January 2024 and may be changed at any time. 

Insurance products are subject to terms, conditions and exclusions not described in this blog. The policy contains the specific details of the coverages, terms, conditions and exclusions. 

The insurance products and services described in this blog are not offered in all states.  ERIE life insurance and annuity products are not available in New York.  ERIE Medicare supplement products are not available in the District of Columbia or New York.  ERIE long term care products are not available in the District of Columbia and New York. 

Eligibility will be determined at the time of application based upon applicable underwriting guidelines and rules in effect at that time.

Your ERIE agent can offer you practical guidance and answer questions you may have before you buy.

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