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Know-It-All: Tire Chains

Chain season isn’t over for many parts of the country, and if you’re thinking about storing yours for the year, we hope you’ll reconsider until April when most states with chain laws lift their requirements.

SAE Classes

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) regulates chain application based on wheel clearance. Most newer cars meet the SAE Class S standards, especially when aftermarket wider, low-profile, or large tires/wheels are fitted to the vehicle.

S Class: Non-reinforced regular passenger tire traction devices for restricted clearance. Minimum tread face clearance is 1.46” or 37mm, and the minimum sidewall clearance is 0.59” or 15mm.

U Class: Non-reinforced regular or lug-reinforced passenger tire traction devices for regular (non-restricted) clearance. The minimum tread face clearance is 1.97” or 50mm, and the minimum sidewall clearance is 0.91” or 23mm.

W Class: Passenger tire traction devices with light truck components or light truck traction devices. The minimum tread face clearance is 2.5” or 64mm, and the minimum sidewall clearance is 1.5” or 38mm.

Links & Patterns

Perhaps you didn’t realize something as simple as tire chains could have so many options, but we’re here to help you sort out what’s best for you.


You'll typically find square, D-shaped, twist, or roller links. Each provides a different level of grip, strength, and flexibility. Added studs or V-bars provide aggressive traction while alloy or hardened steel adds durability.

Square - Great for snow and superior on ice due to square edges providing extra bite, but create a rougher ride than rounded links

D-shaped - Great in snow and ice while providing a relatively smooth ride

Twist - Great for snow and mud for a smoother ride, but offer adequate performance on ice

Rollers - The smoothest ride, these feature cables wrapped in steel, which are good for use in light snow


Once you’ve got your links together (chain pun), you’ll need to choose a pattern. This is where you’ll see the most benefit, so you’ll want to choose an optimal design for your needs.

Ladder patterns feature horizontally arranged cross chains that provide excellent grip and stopping power in a forward motion. 

Diagonal V-Patterns use criss-cross chains. Their off-centered position allows for better traction and stopping power while turning. 

Diamond pattern chains cross vertically and diagonally along the tread, providing extra coverage for even better traction and stopping power in forward and turning motions. Olympia, or Grip

H-patterns are generally used in heavy-duty applications and cross over the tread laterally, with a center block to provide more grip

Common Mistakes

  • Forgetting adjusters - These help cinch the chains, but more importantly, prevent serious damage if a link were to break
  • Skipping the exam - Not laying the chain out flat and examining for tangles or twists, which cause links to snap
  • Failing to prep - Not learning how to apply your chains before you need them. Figuring it out on the side of the road in snow or ice is not the time you want to learn
  • No adjustment - Ensuring your chains aren't loose prevents them from sliding around and moving out of optimal traction position, which can lead to link damage and breakage 
  • Driving and/or accelerating too fast - This tears up the concrete and increases your chances of breaking a link. Fast driving hurts fuel economy. Drive slowly to optimize traction
  • Wrong drive wheel - Applying to the wrong drive wheels or to a low profile car with wrong clearance will not help you grip the ice or snow 
  • Dry Usage - Failure to remove when your vehicle has cleared the snow or ice. This chews up the concrete and continues to wear on your fuel economy
  • No storage - We know chains can be cumbersome and take up space, but the expense of the fine for not having them should you run into a "chains required" area makes the hassle worth it

Know Before You Go

Know the laws where you’ll be driving, especially if you’re visiting. If you’re renting a car, check with the rental policy. Many places do not allow chains, which means if you’ll be in an area that may require them, you may need to have a contingency plan for snowstorms. Stay safe, Traction Tribe!

How to Put on Tire Chains

Looking for videos to help you place your chains? Our YouTube channel has several instructory videos for different vehicle applications. Check it out! 

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