What are Tire Chains?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Tire chains are devices intended to enhance a vehicle's traction during heavy snow and icy conditions. There are three general types of tire chains- diamond, cable and link. A diamond-style chain gets its name from the distinctive diamond pattern of the interlocking metal strands. The cable version has a series of straight metal strips which run horizontally against the face of the tire. Link tire chains are a combination of cable and diamond styles, with a chain link lattice running horizontally against the tire's face. All three are effective for most winter driving emergencies.

Tire chains can be damaged by asphalt.
Tire chains can be damaged by asphalt.

Use of tire chains for additional traction is most common in mountainous areas and in regions which receive very heavy snowfall. In fact, some states require the use of tire chains and/or snow tires while traveling on roads known to be especially treacherous in winter. This practice cuts down on the number of motorists stranded because of poor traction in isolated areas of the state.

Putting chains on tires increases traction for driving on snow and ice.
Putting chains on tires increases traction for driving on snow and ice.

Laws concerning the use of tire chains or other traction-assisting devices vary from state to state, and occasionally from city to city. In general, tire chains must be in good working order and free from defects. The closing mechanisms must not be loose or broken. Driving with chains on bare pavement is not only dangerous, but may actually be a misdemeanor traffic offense in some municipalities. Chains may also damage road surfaces or become damaged by the hard asphalt. The difficulty is that some drivers find the act of removing tire chains to be time-consuming and needless, especially if they will be driving back into wintry road conditions.

Some states also require (or at least allow for) studded snow tires during certain times of the year. Using a combination of tire chains and studded snow tires may or may not be permissible, so it pays to learn your state's regulations.

In an emergency situation, some tire chain manufacturers offer temporary use cable or link chain systems. These traction aids wrap around the tire and are secured with straps or hooks. Use of these emergency chains may allow drivers to drive out of snowbanks or icy patches on the roadway.

Cable chains run horizontally across the width of the tire.
Cable chains run horizontally across the width of the tire.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments

SilentBlue

Tire chains can ruin the roads, and are not meant for climates where the roads are likely to clear up in the near future. In places like Alaska in the winter, however, they may be necessary. If there is snow in mountainous terrains like in the northern Rockies, then these tires are in high demand, and the manufacture of them can provide a good income.

Qohe1et

The random weather changes in New England make it unlikely that the area will grow particularly fond of tire chains. New Englanders prefer to "tough it out," showing a stiff upper lip to random and intense weather conditions.

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