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Get a Grip: When and Where to Use Snow Chains for Winter Driving

Putting on snow chains

I've lived in Canada my entire life and have never put on snow chains. If you don't drive in the mountains or in extreme winter weather conditions, chances are you've never used snow chains either! But in certain winter weather situations, snow chains can be a life-saver and even if you never have to put them on, it's still good to know how.

What are snow chains?

Snow chains are sets of chains that you put on your tires to help with traction on ice or snow. Traction is increased by 100% when you use snow chains correctly; they also make stopping on ice and snow much easier. You can buy them at your local automotive store and they're sold in sets of two.

Snow chains come in a variety of configurations and some are easier to put on than others. Check your owner's manual to see what kind of chains they recommend for your vehicle; and definitely consult a professional when buying snow chains for the first time.

When/where would I use snow chains?

Snow chains are for use in extreme weather conditions - when the road has a good layer of snow and ice - and are most commonly deployed in mountainous areas, when you need extra traction in changing elevations. Snow chains on passenger vehicles aren't legally required anywhere in Canada, but the BC Ministry of Transportation recommends that "all motorists be prepared by carrying chains in preparation for situations where severe weather is encountered."

Driving for an extended period on dry roads can wear down the chains and damage your tires (and the road surface), so wait to put on the snow chains until you've reached an area where the chains are actually helpful. When you're out of the deep snow, remove the chains. Make sure to drive gently with the chains on. The maximum recommended speed when driving with snow chains is 50km/h - any faster could lead to loss of control, chain failure and/or tire damage.

In some parts of the country, snow chains are prohibited, in order to preserve the roads. In Quebec, for example, only emergency vehicles, tractors and snow removal vehicles are permitted to use snow chains. In parts of BC, on the other hand, most commercial vehicles must carry snow chains on most major highways between October and March each year.

For a good run-down of snow tire and chain laws in Canada, check out this post on Autoblog.

How do I get snow chains on my tires?

Firstly, be sure to consult your vehicle's owner manual to see if they have any advice on how to avoid having snow chains interfere with other parts of your vehicle, like steering, suspension or brake lines. Your chains should go on the tires of your power axle - the rear wheels in a rear wheel drive car, the front wheels in the front wheel drive or all four wheels in an all-wheel drive. Ideally, regardless of what kind of vehicle you have, you'll have chains for all four tires, to give you car the extra traction.

As with most skills, practice makes perfect - it's much easier to get your chains on in your garage than it is on the side of the road in harsh weather conditions. So when you get your chains, practice taking them on and off until you've worked out any kinks in your technique. This video will give you a general idea of how to apply chains to your tires - of course, these instructions will vary, depending on which style of chains you've purchased.

Have you ever used snow chains on your vehicle? Share your experiences in the comments!

- Rose R.


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Walter Greening

I have never used chains on a passenger vehicle but this video gives me some good info on how to tighten them on the Yard tractor I have. Years ago while working with Petro-Canada in the Savanna Area. I was talking to a field operator and he mentioned going to a gas plant in the Savanna area (mountianous) he pulled into the parking lot and he was the only one without chains on his vehicle. It was a good indication of experienced vs inexperienced driving on back country mountian roads.

Liz Gillespie

Snow chains are for sissies.

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