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How to Put On and Remove Tire Chains for Snow

February 6, 2017

With many different snow chains and cables out on the market, it can be difficult to figure out which ones are right for your vehicle, if your vehicle actually needs them, and/or how to install them correctly. One of the most common options for passenger vehicles is traction cables, which RepairPal KB installs on a 2003 Honda Civic in the video below.

RepairPal recommends that you practice the installation and removal of snow chains or traction cables before you need to install them. Practice installation in a safe place, with your flashers on, and fully away from moving traffic.

Do I need snow chains or cables for all four tires?

You'll see in the video that RepairPal KB has traction cables for her FWD 2003 Honda Civic, therefore she installs the traction cables on the front two tires. It's important to know whether your vehicle is front-wheel drive (FWD), rear-wheel drive (RWD), or all-wheel drive (AWD), or four-wheel drive (4WD). This will determine if snow chains or cables are needed and which set of tires they must be installed on, since they must be installed on the drive wheels.

Do I need chains if I have four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive?

The short answer is yes. Even if you have four-wheel drive on your vehicle, if you're entering a snow chain requirement area, you're required to have a set with you. In some circumstances, you will be required to have them on your vehicle with absolutely no exceptions. In general, it's safer to travel with a set of chains or cables than without.

Do I need chains if I have snow tires or winter tires?

The same rules apply as above with 4WD and AWD — yes, although you might not have to put them on. If you're entering a snow chain requirement area, you need to have a set with you. 

What size chains or cables should I purchase?

To figure out which chains you should purchase for your tires, verify the size of your vehicle's tires, which is printed on the side of them. You can then match it to the size of the chains you're purchasing, displayed prominently on the box.

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Which way should your chains go on the tire?

Your chains or cables may have a visible piece that says "Tire Side" or something similar, telling you which edge should be positioned facing the tire or hitting the pavement. This is visible when RepairPal KB holds up the writing facing the camera.

Also on the traction cables RepairPal KB installs, there is a visible opening, or split side, in the cable that allows her to wrap the cable around the tire, immediately showing which side should go on the front versus the backside of the tire. The cable should predominantly feature the smooth, eyelet side positioned toward the front side, or part of the tire that's facing you, with the larger clasp in the back.

How do chain requirements work? 

This depends on the requirement level and the vehicle you're driving. If you have FWD or RWD and there is a requirement for snow chains, you must install them on your vehicle. If you have 4WD or AWD, it can depend on the severity of the conditions.

Can I drive normally with snow chains on?

You'll want to read the instructions on your chains very carefully, but for the most part, you should try to accelerate and brake slowly and cautiously, while not exceeding speeds of 30 mph.

How do I remove snow chains from my vehicle?

In the video below, RepairPal KB demonstrates how to remove the traction cables that she installed, with tips for efficiency.

About the Author

Kimberlea Buczeke is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

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There are no lights on my dash. it runs like there is no damage except the cable is rubbing my tire.
Possibly looking for a minivan that can handle winter conditions