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What are snow chains?

  • What are snow chains?
  • Do you need them?
  • Parkers explains 

Snow chains are a mesh of metal chains fitted around a car’s tyres to provide extra grip in snowy road conditions.

How do they work?

Snow chains fit around a car’s tyres like a web in order to provide extra grip compared with a regular set of summer tyres.

They can only be used at low speeds on snow or ice, not on a main tarmac road as they can cause damage to your car. That means you’ll need to take them off if you reach a piece of asphalt or gritted road after driving on snow.

How do I fit snow chains to my car?

The good news is there’s a wide variety of snow chains available that aren’t too tricky to fit to your car. First you’ll need to check whether chains are compatible with your tyres. If you have low-profile tyres you may not be able to use snow chains as they add extra width and can come into contact with the bodywork and suspension or damage the alloy wheels.

We'd suggest having a couple of practice runs of fitting snow chains. The first attempt can be a little fiddly, and you don't want your first time to be in the severe cold. Practise at home on a flat surface so you know what you're doing when the time comes where you really need them. 

Unravel the chains and drape them over the tyres and connect up all the relevant parts (it’s best to follow instructions that come with the chains, as different systems can vary). You won’t be able to connect the bottom parts due to the tyre being in contact with the ground, so you’ll need to roll the car forward to finish the last bit.

Some automatically tension themselves when you drive away, while others require you to do it when you fit them and adjust them occasionally on the move – the chains will settle on the tyres once you drive off for the first time.

Do I need them?

That depends on where you’re driving. In the UK, we barely get enough snow to warrant using snow chains unless you’re in a particularly rural area where roads aren’t gritted. If you do regularly use these kinds of roads when the temperature plunges, snow chains may be a worthwhile investment, but there are alternatives listed below.

If you’re going somewhere like Germany, Austria or Switzerland in the winter months, a set of snow chains must be carried in your car by law, and there are signs on the road instructing you when to fit them, too. We'd recommend researching local laws if you're planning a trip to other countries in winter.

Similar to

If you’re not convinced by snow chains, snow socks are also available which fit around your car’s tyres in a similar way, but are simpler to fit. However, in our experience they are not always as effective.

It might be worth investing in a set of winter tyres if you live in or travel to areas where road conditions can be seriously affected by wintry weather. Click here to read more about winter tyres

Looking for more jargon-busting motoring meanings? Head over to our Parkers Car Glossary page and take a look at our other definitions