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It’s important to put snow chains on the right tires to improve winter driving. Knowing tires to put your snow chains on isn’t always common knowledge.

Thankfully it’s pretty easy to learn which tires to put your snow chains on and be able to drive onto fresh, powdery snow with no problem.

You’ll want to put your snow chains on the drive wheels of the vehicle. The “drive wheels” can mean different things for different vehicles. A 2WD vehicle will need the chains on the front. Some 4WD drive vehicles might need chains on either the front, back, or both sets of wheels.

There are reasons why knowing which tires to put chains on is important - in part because the right knowledge will drastically affect how well your vehicle drives in the snow. We’ll also discuss what snow chains do and how to know which tires to put them on.

We’ve driven through snow and used snow chains - it’s part of living in the upper Midwest. We’ll cite resources that have helped us learn, too.

Table of Contents

Putting snow chains on your tires

The biggest factor in determining which tires you put snow chains on comes from the vehicle’s drivetrain. The drivetrain is an indicator of how many wheels the vehicle can use at the same time to make it move.

Drivetrains include 2 Wheel Drive, Rear Wheel Drive, 4WD, and All Wheel drive.

Where do I put the chains with the 2-wheel drive?

A 2 wheel drive vehicle delivers power to the two front tires, so these are considered the drive wheels. You’ll want to put the snow chains on the front two tires to get desired ability to drive through snow better.

All Wheel Drive

The drive wheels for an all wheel drive vehicle can vary. We suggest checking the manual for your vehicle to see what the manufacturer recommends. The answer is more commonly using the rear wheels though. You do certainly have the option of putting drive chains on all your tires.

Rear Wheel Drive

Rear wheel drive vehicles will need the drive chains wrapped around the rear tires. For people with sports cars, check to make sure you have tires that are capable of accepting chains without damaging the tire - they can be soft and incapable of accepting chains.

Four Wheel Drive

Four wheel drive is similar to all wheel drive. Check with your vehicle manual to see if there are any particulars about the setup, but you can often choose between putting chains on all four wheels or putting them just on the back.

Why does it matter which tires I put the chains on?

You’ll notice whether or not you have snow chains on, especially if they are on the wrong tires because they won’t make a difference. A snow chain is meant to dig into snow and provide better grip and traction on slippery and snowy surfaces.

While you might expect improvements to how much control you have of your vehicle when you stop or accelerate, putting snow chains on the wrong tires won’t be able to deliver.

Are snow chains legally required?

In some parts of the world, there are signs indicating that snow chains are required to drive-thru. These signs are an indicator both that the roads ahead could be treacherous, and that emergency services might not be able to reach you quickly.

There are restrictions and dates in the United States when you can and cannot use snow chains, too. The reasoning behind any restrictions is that metal chains are tougher on the road than typical rubber tires and can cause additional wear and tear on surfaces. Roads would wear out faster if more people used snow chains at times when they weren’t necessary.

Do I need snow chains?

In some cases, you are legally required to have snow chains but to be honest, these situations are few and far between.

Snow chains are most appropriately used when the road (or path) is covered in the hard compacted snow. Recently fallen, fluffy snow is not the best for snow chains because the tire itself can probably handle the snow - and the chain will more likely find pavement, which isn’t a good thing.

Should I practice with snow chains?

You'll want to practice two things with snow chains - taking off and removing quickly, as well as starting to drive your car with them on. The purpose of practice accelerating and stopping with snow chains is to understand how they will react differently from your typical tires when trying to maneuver with your vehicle.

Should I drive differently with snow chains?

While the snow chains package should come with instructions in regards to speed, it’s suggested you drive under 30 miles per hour when using snow chains. This will help you maintain control while also not causing excess wear on pavement or your tires.

How important is the size of snow chains?

You want snow chains, or snow links, with a nice tight fit around your tire. A tight fit ensures that the chain will perform as you expect it to. A loose chain will be of little help as it won’t have the pressure of the tire making contact with the snow.

When should I take the snow chains off?

An easy answer here is whenever you don’t need them. If you aren’t going to be driving a distance on hard-packed snow and ice, you should take them off. Don’t drive with snow chains on dry, or even wet pavement either - you shouldn’t be able to see pavement!

You may end up finding yourself in a place while driving where you no longer need your chains on. Pull over as far as you can and remove them. Your tires and the pavement will thank you!

Are snow chains worth it?

So you’ve heard that snow chains can be hard to put on, and they are only useful for a few situations. Are they worth it? The answer is a resounding yes, especially if you find yourself driving on hardened ice and snow - even if not very often. Roads like these don’t tend to be maintained well anyway, so chances are you will experience the same problems every season. Snow chains make it worth not having to go around or stay home for a while every year.

Which Tires Do You Put Snow Chains On?

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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