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FAQs - snow chains and winter driving advice

Always try on your chains when you receive them

Tyres (of the same size) can vary between manufacturers, especially mud & snow or off-road treaded tyres therefore no online snow chain retailer can prescribe the correct size of chains with 100% reliability. If you think you have received the wrong size just give us a call so we can arrange to exchange them for a better fitting set. Please remember to try them on in clean/dry conditions, and not to drive on the chains in case you do want to exchange them.

What snow chains should I use for my vehicle?

We offer a full range of snow chains to suit all vehicles - the key considerations are:

1. Chain size/type (suitable for your tyre dimensions and vehicle weight/power); 

2. Clearance - at the back of the wheel (see below for more on this);

3. Clearance - between the tyre tread/surface and wheel arch (and space to get your hands into the arch).

Note: very low profile tyres can also limit the options open to you. Please call us if you have a query.

Our budget Polar range are perfect for getting you out of trouble, both here and abroad, and meet all legal requirements when driving in Europe and on mountain roads - these are used by the RAC, AA and MOD. For ski trips and journeys abroad we would recommend a stronger high-tensile option such as our premium ranges of snow chains which offer all our budget snow chains offer, as well as being stronger and having an automatic tensioning system (with the exception of the Thule/Konig CK-7s and Zip Transports which are manual tensioning). Our premium range of snow chains are more hardwearing, are made of high-tensile steel and carry a 5-year warranty. We also sell snow socks; a textile 'sock' that wraps around the wheel to give increased grip in snowy conditions. You can read more here on the pro's and con's of chains versus socks.

How do I check the clearance of a vehicle? (Or what thickness of chain can my car accommodate?)

Some vehicles have very little space between the wheel and the suspension of the vehicle or other obstructions meaning the chains could come into contact with the bodywork, braking systems or suspension with serious consequences. It is possible to check if your vehicle has a clearance problem by placing your hand into the wheel arch, onto the tyre and feeling around the tyre for obstructions which come close to it, especially the far/inside wall of the tyre. Move your hand from 9 ‘O' Clock round to 3 ‘O' Clock along the back/inside of the wheel to check the distance between the wheel and any obstructions. Keep in mind that a chain sits over the rubber of the tyre, thus any obstruction which comes close on any side of the tyre could be an issue. You should also consider the proximity of the wheel arches when the steering is turned if you are fitting to the front wheels, usually the squeeze point is at 3 or 9 o clock on the back of the wheel when the steering is on lock. (Check by putting the steering on lock and putting your hand into the squeeze point to assess the proximity of arch to tyre, and the same for the opposite lock.)

My vehicle has limited clearance - can I still use snow chains? 

Our standard car snow chains have a 9mm protrusion and so there needs to be a gap of about 15mm between the inner edge of the tyre and any obstructions (to allow for movement of the chain). For 16mm chains you need at least 21mm of clearance. When it is not possible to fit a standard snow chain we have various options to help. The Thule K-Summit snow chain requires no clearance around the back of the wheel as it fixes to the wheel nut on the outside of the wheel, making it suitable for the most affected vehicles. We also have a 7mm chain  which has been specially designed for cars with insufficient clearance for a 9mm chain. A snow sock is another solution; a textile cover that wraps over the wheel to give improved grip on snow covered roads. The traction given by a snow sock is not as good as that of a snow chain and you have to move the vehicle to fit them, but they are intuitive, light/small and cannot damage the vehicle. Technically socks do meet legal requirements on European mountain roads however in practice the conditions dictate who is allowed to pass, so if the weather is bad you can be turned back with a sock when you would be allowed to pass with a chain.

Many 4x4/SUV/Van and mid-size vehicles also have clearance problems and again the Thule K-Summit offers a very comprehensive solution, for those vehicles that have really poor clearance. The Thule XG12-Pro snow chain can be used on some of these vehicles as it protrudes only 12mm from the wheel (compared to the standard 4x4/Van/Motorhome snow chain protrusion of 16mm). And the Easy-Fit SUV has an even smaller protrusion at 10mm, so that can be fitted to vehicles where even the XG-12 Pro is slightly too chunky.

In order to fit a regular snow chain you also need enough space between the wheel and the arch to get your hands into the arch on top of the wheel, and ideally be able to reach an inch down the far side of the tyre (as you will need to push the first connection down the back, off the tyre tread). If you can't do this, then the best (sometimes only) solution is the type of chain that attaches to the wheel nuts, like the K-Summits.  

How many snow chains do I need?

Snow chains are sold in pairs and need to be fitted to the drive wheels. This is generally seen as sufficient and meets the legal requirements on mainland Europe and mountain roads. Some drivers prefer to use four snow chains (two sets) for additional traction. This would give more control, especially if you are driving for long stretches in areas requiring snow chains but is not essential - some vehicles handle better than others in cold conditions so it's difficult to generalise. On a four wheel drive vehicle they are generally fitted to the front wheels (please check manufacturers handbook for advice, many are 'fit to rear'), if there is limited clearance at the front you will either have to buy a more expensive chain for the front or they will need to be fitted to the rear wheels. If unsure please call/email us.

Where and when should I carry snow chains?

On mainland Europe a driver is responsible for equipping his vehicle for all weather conditions. A driver can be fined if he fails to use snow chains when they are needed, thus impeding the normal flow of traffic or causing an accident.

Snow chains are a legal requirement on all European mountain roads. Roadside checks are carried out and drivers may be fined if they do not have a set in their vehicle. Snow socks do not meet the required standard in European ski resorts.

How fast can I drive whilst using snow chains?

We would always recommend driving with caution in snowy conditions, even when using snow chains. The maximum recommended speed is 30mph.

A gentle driving style is essential when using snow chains. Excessive acceleration and hard braking will put too much pressure on snow chains and may cause them to snap.

What accessories do I legally have to carry in my car when driving on the Continent?

Regulations regarding accessories are subject to change and we would recommend checking the AA website for the most up to date information. Currently it is compulsory to have a GB sticker, warning triangle, reflective vest, beam deflectors and spare bulb kit across most of continental Europe plus breathalysers for France.

Regulations regarding the use of reflective vests vary from country to country, with some countries requiring any passenger that exits the vehicle to wear one. We recommend all passengers have a reflective vest.

Are snow chains legal?

The use of snow chains is legal in the UK, as long as they are not used in a manner that will damage the road surface. This means snow chains must only be used on snow-covered roads and need to be removed when driving on a tarmac surface. The use of snow chains is legal across most of Europe, and in many areas they are compulsory. Local signs indicate when they are legally required and this includes all mountain roads/ski resorts. Outside of these compulsory areas, any driver found to cause a hold up or accident as a result of not being equipped for the weather conditions is liable to be fined.

Can I use snow chains on tarmac?

Snow chains are designed for use on packed snow and ice. Driving on tarmac is not recommended because it will wear the chains very quickly and increase the chances of breaking them. Snow chains can also be used in muddy conditions - very useful for motorhomes. We also sell snow chains to the middle east for use in sandy conditions!

What about snow socks?

Snow socks are an alternative to snow chains usually recommended when a car does not have clearance for snow chains. If you are unsure of which to choose you may find useful our snow chains vs. snow socks  article. It remains a grey area whether socks meet the required legal standard in European ski resorts.

How easy are snow chains to fit?

Once you have the hang of it you should be able to fit each snow chain in a couple of minutes. We recommend you try on the snow chains before you go on holiday. We have also produced snow chain fitting videos, available on the fitting page, so you can see how it's done.

Snow chain maintenance  - what should I be doing after use?

After using snow chains we would recommend washing them in warm soapy water asap, ideally with a firm brush to remove any salt residue and muck (jet washing is also an option for this stage). Finally having hung the chains to dry you should spray them with WD40 and then hang to dry again. The WD40 helps stop/reduce corrosion particularly with a view to ongoing storage. The longer chains sit in a wet (or worse, salty and wet) container the quicker they will rust and deteriorate.

 Is there anything I should avoid doing when using snow chains?

The most common problems encountered are: (1) Wheel-spin or locking-up the wheels under braking - this is the most common way people break chains; (2) Incorrect fitting, in particular failing to centre the chains such that the inner or outer bands get run-over (or any of the working components like the springs, ratchet or connectors). You can see by looking at the chains that the chain sections intended to be driven on are more robustly built than the inner and outer bands, or the working components which should sit against the tyre wall away from the road surface. (3) Hitting curbs or pot holes can also break chains, but since this is usually not intended by the driver it's only mentioned here as something to avoid where possible. (4) Driving on clear tarmac (without a significant covering of snow or ice) is also to be avoided.

 Are there limitations to what can be achieved with chains - do they work on all gradients in all conditions? 

Chains massively improve traction on snow, ice, mud and even sand however they do not enable you to defy physics. Where you can and can't go largely depends on the vehicle's abilities, load, driver ability and myriad other factors. So do not assume you are invincible with chains on - some slopes for some vehicles will be unclimbable even with chains on. In such circumstance do not spin the wheels to try get up the slope, as there is a high chance you will break your chains and potentially damage your vehicle. 

 

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