When do you Need to Use Tire Snow Chains?


Winter’s icy grip can turn your daily commute or scenic road trip into a slippery, heart-pounding adventure. But with all that winter wonderland charm comes a frosty reality: treacherous roads and slippery slopes that can leave your heart racing for all the wrong reasons. We’ve got the ultimate snow-savvy secret up our sleeves, and it’s as cool as it gets – snow chains! These trusty companions help you towards a smoother driving experience on snow (and safer) by providing your vehicle with added grip. So, buckle up (or should we say ‘chain up’?), because it’s time to explore snow chains and when should you actually use them for maximum benefit! 

When Do You Need to Use Tire Snow Chains? 

Tire snow chains are essential in a number of cases, as we’ve discussed below. 

Extreme Winter Conditions

In the frostiest of times, snow chains become your winter driving saviors. They’re not just for deep snow; even when the roads start to get a little frosty, you need to consider them. Here’s when you should definitely think about using snow chains:

  • Heavy Snowfall: When you’re dealing with around 6 inches (15 cm) or more of snow, it’s time to break out the snow chains. This much snow can turn the road into a slippery slope, and that’s when snow chains are a must. The more snow piles up, the slipperier the road becomes, and that’s when snow chains are essential.
  • Icy Roads: Ice is a car’s worst enemy. Even if the snow isn’t piling up much, when the road turns icy, snow chains are a lifesaver.

For example, let’s consider the state of Colorado. It’s a place where snow chains are incredibly important. In Colorado, they often see heavy snowfall due to its stunning mountain ranges. The Rockies can get quite a bit of snow, and the state often mandates the use of snow chains in specific areas when snow levels reach around 6 inches (15 cm) or more. So, if you plan to explore the beautiful Colorado mountains during winter, make sure you’ve got those snow chains ready for action!

Remember: It’s not about waiting until the snow is piled high; it’s about staying ahead of the winter challenges. 

Cable chains on a car tire, with a relatively simple and easy-to-secure design; this is a ladder-type design

Hilly or Mountainous Areas

Snow chains gain even more importance when you find yourself navigating through hilly or mountainous regions. Here’s why they’re your go-to companions in such terrains:

  • Enhanced Traction: In hilly or mountainous areas, roads are often winding and steep, making it challenging for your vehicle’s tires to maintain grip. Snow chains provide that extra traction needed to conquer these tricky terrains.
  • Risk of Steep Inclines and Declines: As you ascend steep slopes, your vehicle’s tires can easily lose traction, and when you descend, braking can become treacherous. Snow chains significantly reduce the risk of sliding or losing control in these situations.

Slippery Roads

When it comes to slippery roads, winter can throw a variety of challenges your way, from icy patches to slushy terrain. Snow chains can be your saving grace in these conditions.

  • Icy Roads: Icy roads are like a skating rink for your car. Snow chains grip onto the ice, providing the traction your tires lack. They help you steer and brake more effectively, reducing the risk of skidding.
  • Slushy Terrain: Slush is a soggy mix of snow and water, making roads a sludgy mess. Snow chains bite into the slush, preventing your tires from spinning futilely. This ensures you can maintain control and move forward steadily, even when slush tries to hold you back.

Snow chains at the front wheel of a grader at the Pikes Peak Highway

Local Regulations

Local regulations and authorities often require you to use a snow chain. Understanding and adhering to these rules is essential for safe winter driving.

  • Regulatory Guidance: Local authorities, such as state governments or municipalities, often enact specific regulations regarding snow chains. These rules take into account the unique weather patterns and road conditions in a given area. They specify the conditions under which drivers must use snow chains for the safety of all road users.

For instance, consider the state of Utah. Utah has breathtaking mountainous landscapes, particularly in the areas around Salt Lake City and Park City. When winter arrives, these regions receive substantial snowfall, and the terrain becomes rugged and hilly. To ensure safe and trouble-free journeys in such areas, Utah requires the use of snow chains during winter weather events, especially when navigating steep inclines or declines. 

As a matter of fact, there’s even a law that governs this principle. As per Utah statute UCA 41-6a-1636, it’s mandatory for all drivers to have either steel link or cable chains on their tires or use snow tires with an M+S rating when facing severe winter conditions. Ignoring this law could lead to hefty consequences, including fines of up to $1,000 or even a potential jail term of up to six months!

  • Variable Requirements: These regulations can vary widely. Some areas might mandate snow chains only during extreme snowfall, while others might require them when temperatures drop below a certain threshold or during icy conditions. Mountainous regions often have more stringent rules, given the heightened risk in such terrains.
  • Check Ahead: It’s crucial for drivers to check local regulations and be aware of specific requirements for the regions they plan to traverse. This information is readily available from local authorities, transportation departments, or online resources. Ignorance of these regulations may lead to fines and, more importantly, compromise safety.

Traction chains on a wheel loader

Tips for Using Tire Snow Chains

Winter driving with snow chains demands precision and preparation. Here are some specific tips and best practices to ensure a safe journey:

  1. Speed Control: Maintain a moderate and safe speed. It’s recommended not to exceed 30 mph (48 km/h) when driving with snow chains to prevent excessive wear and tear on both the chains and your tires.
  2. Proper Installation: Ensure your snow chains are correctly installed. Consult your vehicle’s manual or manufacturer guidelines for precise instructions. Improper installation can lead to damage or accidents.
  3. Frequent Inspections: Periodically check your snow chains during your journey, especially after driving for around every 30 miles (48 km). Make sure they’re secure and haven’t loosened.
  4. Avoid Smooth Surfaces: Snow chains perform best on snowy or icy surfaces. Avoid driving on dry pavement with snow chains, as this can cause premature wear and discomfort.
  5. Braking Caution: Allow for greater stopping distances. It may take twice the normal distance to come to a full stop when using snow chains. Maintain a safe following distance from the vehicle in front of you.


To sum it up, using tire snow chains is a must when dealing with winter’s challenges on the road. Whether there’s lots of snow, icy streets, hills or mountains, or slushy terrain, snow chains provide extra grip to keep you safe. Local rules often require their use in specific areas with harsh winter conditions. So, to stay safe and enjoy your winter travels, it’s important to follow the rules and use snow chains correctly. 

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