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Tire chains vs. cables - which is better and why? Those who live in locations where the winters are harsh often have to make this tough choice.

Tire chains are more difficult to install since they are heavier, but they are durable and can last several years, so they are usually preferred over cables. Conversely, tire cables are less bulky and quicker to set up, and if one of the cables breaks, they're less likely to cause any damage.

Tire chains and cables are essential for driving in snowy and icy places. They may make your ride a little bumpier, but nothing surpasses them for improving traction, grip, and control. Some vehicles require chains or cables that do not stick out too far from the tire. Although cables are normally smaller, certain chains meet the Class S requirements for vehicles with low clearance.

Tire chains may not be the ideal solution if your car or SUV has larger wheels and low-profile tires since installing tire chains requires sufficient clearance under the fender. Having dealt with many types of tires and chains, we have put together this simple guide to help you choose between tire chains vs. cables.

Table of Contents

Tire Chains vs. Cables - Key Differences

Tire chains and cables are installed on tires to enhance traction, grip, and balance on snowy or icy roads. Inexperienced drivers face numerous obstacles when driving on snowy or icy roads. So, if you're not prepared, driving during harsh winters may be risky. For example, the weather may prevent many drivers from having a clear vision of the road ahead. Or, even worse, it can impair your ability to maintain control of your vehicle. Fortunately, drivers have a few choices for increasing traction in their vehicles throughout the winter months.

Tire chains and tire cables are both designed to serve the same purpose. Both are essential for that much-needed traction when driving on the road with deep snow. However, even though snow chains and snow cables do the same task, there are a few key differences that should influence your final decision:

Tire chains are constructed out of huge, heavy steel links commonly employed on two-wheel-drive vehicles. Despite the effectiveness of tire cables, tire chains appear to provide more traction.

On the other hand, tire cables are commonly used for 4WD vehicles and are made of steel aircraft cables enclosed in alloy traction coils. Tire cables are lower in weight and easier to apply/remove than tire chains due to their construction. In addition, they are also highly affordable.

Chains provide superior traction and last longer. They also appear to be less prone to rusting. Some chains are more straightforward to attach than others. The same is true with cables, except that the cables are lighter. Cables are fine for occasional use, but tire chains are the way to go if you frequently drive in the snow.

What Are Tire Chains and How Do They Work?

Tire chains are considered as a net of metal links encasing your tire. This net of robust steel links provides added traction when the snow gets deep. Snow chains come in a variety of sizes to accommodate different tire sizes, so be sure you obtain the right size for your car. While a decent pair of winter tires will help get your automobile through some deep snow, securing a set of chains to the drive wheels (either front or rear) can help you gain more control of the vehicle during harsh weather conditions. However, keep in mind that with tire chains on, the driving speed will be limited to roughly 25 to 30 mph.

What Are Tire Cables and How Do They Work?

Tire cables differ in composition, despite seeming similar once installed on the tire as they perform the same function. Tire cables provide extra grip to your car's wheels in deep snow, similar to tire chains. They're made of steel cable that's been enclosed in an alloy and look more like cables than chains. They come in a variety of sizes to accommodate different tires, just like snow chains.

How To Choose Between The Two

So, they're both doing the same thing, but how do you choose? Snow chains are more difficult to install since they are heavier. They must also maintain a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour. However, in terms of durability, tire chains trump tire cables, so they're a better choice if you frequently use snow chains. If you have a bigger vehicle or SUV, chains are a good option.

In comparison, snow cables don't have the same speed restrictions as snow chains, but they aren't as robust. They're a good choice if you only require them once in a while. If you'll be using them frequently, snow chains may be a better option, so you don't have to worry about them wearing out.

Understand the Laws in Your Area

Snow chains or snow cables will keep you in control of your car when the weather is at its worst. Be cautious of the local laws, regardless of whatever option you choose. Both snow cables and chains are prohibited on particular highways or while driving on clear roads. Therefore, make sure you only use them when necessary and remove them as soon as possible.

If your car is not properly prepared for winter driving, it can be a dangerous and frustrating experience. While you could spend a lot of money on a separate set of winter tires for your car, a more cost-effective option would be to invest in a set of tire chains or cables for when the snow starts to fall.

After you've decided whether you want snow chains or tires for your car, you may get both for a reasonable price at your local auto parts store or online.

Is it necessary to hire a professional for installation?

Fortunately, installing chains or cables on your car does not require the assistance of a professional and can be completed in a matter of minutes. All you have to do is drive over the tire chains or cables, secure them appropriately to the front or back tires, and tighten them down.

Comparison Between Tire Chains and Cables

Type of Car

The type of car you have is an important factor in determining whether you should get tire chains or cables. While most SUVs and pickup trucks have enough room around the wheel arch to accommodate any form of chain or cable, some cars, particularly sedans and hatchbacks with low ground clearance, have very little clearance around the wheel arch. This makes installation difficult and increases the risk of harming your car.

Check the amount of space around your wheels and refer to the manual for suggestions. If you're concerned about the quantity of room required, snow cables are the way to go.

Depth of the Snow

The amount of snow you'll be driving in is the next factor to consider. Snow tires are adequate if the snow is only a few inches deep. However, if you plan on driving in much deeper snow, you'll want to invest in a set of chains. The thicker the traction device you want, the more snow there is. Cables are designed to be thin, so they won't be able to get you through as much snow as a strong set of chains would.


You should also think about how often you'll be utilizing the chains or cables and how far you'll have to travel. If you're only going to use them a couple of times for short distances, tire cables will suffice. Chains are more resilient and will last longer if you use them several times a week and cover longer miles each time. Some of the more expensive cables are likewise made for long-term usage, but you can expect to pay a premium for the higher quality.


Snow chains can cost a lot of money. If you know you'll be traveling to a location where snow is likely to occur, purchase a set ahead of time. If you decide to purchase tire chains at the last minute, the rates will most likely be very high, especially if you have an unusual tire size. Otherwise, cables are usually the most cost-effective option. We've talked about the trade-offs you'll have to make when choosing cables vs. chains, and if you're looking for a set that will receive a lot of use, you should definitely invest in a decent set of chains.


The majority of chainsets are sold in pairs. The installation of a single pair of snow chains on the driving wheels is recommended by most states and vehicle user manuals. This refers to the front wheels of a front-wheel-drive car and the rear wheels of a rear-wheel-drive vehicle. If you have a 4WD or AWD vehicle, you can put them on either set of wheels, and in extreme conditions, it is recommended to install them on all four wheels.


For decades, chains have been the go-to ice and snow-gripping option for vehicles. They began as "ladder" designs that wrapped around tires and have now evolved into crisscrosses and other patterns. Snow cables are a modernized version of snow chains. Cable chains use a high-strength steel aircraft cable enclosed by alloy steel traction coils and provide superior traction and a smoother ride than regular chains for passenger cars and trucks.


Snow cables are often easier to install because they are a newer and lighter traction technology. Rubber lighteners are available for cables, making it easier to keep them securely fastened as compared to chains.

Tire Chains vs. Tire Cables - Final Thoughts

While snow cables have grown popular with passenger cars and trucks, snow chains are still preferred for heavier vehicles such as trucks, buses, and construction equipment because of their greater traction and longevity. However, it makes no difference whether you use chains or cables. The key is to install everything correctly. Just make sure you get the correct size for your car, whether you go with chains or cables. After purchase, practice mounting them on your tires — a cold, icy highway is not the best place to try to put them on for the first time.

Tire Chains Vs Cables

About The Author

Charles Redding

Charles Redding

I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.

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