6 Tips For Best Performance With Tire Chains

Tire chains can be essential for maintaining good tire traction on snow and ice. These six tips can help you get the best performance from your tire chains.

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by J. Keeler JohnsonFebruary 22, 2022
PHOTO: Daneil Johnson

Tire chains, also called snow chains, can be essential for maintaining good tire traction on snow and ice. When winter weather strikes, adding chains to you tractor, farm truck, etc. can improve performance and safety under challenging conditions.

But getting the most out of them requires more thought and care than randomly purchasing a set of chains and hoping they do the job. The following six tips can help you get the best performance from your tire chains.

  1. Make sure your tire chains are sized correctly.

Tire chains come in many different designs, and choosing the perfect type will depend on the vehicle you’re operating, the amount of snow you receive in a typical winter and the frequency with which you plan on using chains.

But regardless of the design you ultimately choose, buying the correct size is critical. There are three numbers you need to know:

  • the width of the tire from sidewall to sidewall
  • the tire height aspect ratio
  • the diameter of the tire

The measurements you need are likely inscribed on the sides of tires, though the exact formula and numbers listed can vary depending on the type of tire.

The good news is, chains are adjustable and typically fit a few different sizes of tires. Manufacturers often provide handy guides for finding the right size chains, so a little research and number-crunching will ensure you purchase the right size.

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  1. Install a suitable number of chains.

How many tires chains do you need? A two-wheel drive vehicle typically needs a single pair of chains, installed on the drive wheels to maximize traction. But a four-wheel drive vehicle will ideally have chains installed on all four tires, requiring the purchase of two sets of chains.

  1. Make sure the chains are properly tightened.

Some types of tire chains are self-tightening. But others require a bit of work to ensure they’re secured snugly around the tires.

After installing the chains and tightening them as best you can, drive forward a short distance, park the vehicle, and tighten any more slack that has appeared in the chains.

  1. Don’t use tire chains on pavement.

Tire chains are terrific on snow and ice, but they’re not suitable for use on hard surfaces like pavement. In fact, driving with tire chains on pavement can damage both the surface of the road and the chains themselves.

If you’re going to operate on dry roads, remove the chains—you’ll save them from wearing out prematurely.


Read more: Let’s talk traction! Here’s how to maximize your tires for winter.


  1. Avoid high speeds when using tire chains.

Tire chains are meant to provide traction under challenging conditions, with an emphasis on the “challenging conditions.” Just because you’ve installed tire chains doesn’t mean you can operate your vehicle as though conditions are perfect.

Steering can be affected, and driving at high speeds is not advised. Chains can break loose and cause damage.

So how fast is too fast? Staying under 30 miles per hour is a good target. You probably don’t have to worry about exceeding this limit when operating a tractor around your farm. But if you’re putting tire chains on your farm truck, this is important to keep in mind.

  1. Consider adding ballast, too.

Tire chains aren’t the only winter add-on you should consider. In order to achieve enough traction for hard jobs like clearing snow, you may need ballast to increase the amount of weight pressing down on the drive wheels.

Ballast comes in many forms. For a farm truck, it might be a load of sandbags in the bed. For tractors, it might be suitcase weights, wheel weights, or even rocks piled into a ballast box.

Liquid tire ballast can be particularly effective. But make sure you’ve chosen a liquid that can handle winter temperatures. Straight water won’t cut it in the cold.

Stay safe driving!


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