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Tire chains 101

By Gordon Molloy

Back in October, I wrote a column about tire chain regulations. Since then, I have had several inquiries concerning the article, which I appreciate. Some questions dealt with 4-Wheel Drive vs. All Wheel Drive. As far as tire chain requirements go, they are treated identically. The only difference is the way all four wheels are engaged to create traction with all the wheels. So when you see any state regulations concerning tire chains, they may only mention 4- Wheel Drive but this includes All-Wheel Drive as well. Other questions I received dealt with the different type of chains and studded tires.

THE FACTS: To get answers to the questions regarding studded tires and the various types of tire chains being offered on the market, I went to what I felt was a very reliable source, Tweedy Tire in Jamestown. Several friends who purchased their tire chains there recommended them as a source of factual information. Bill Myers took the time out of his busy day to discuss tire chains with me. It didn´t take me more than a minute to determine that this company is into customer service. You know, the kind you used to get umpteen years ago. Even while we were talking, others behind the counter were calling out to be sure every customer was being taken care of. That´s nice.

SOME CHOICES: First we discussed studded tires. If you have snow tires and want studs inserted, Tweedy does it for $12.50 a tire. Studded tires are great in the snow.but not so good on dry pavement. The braking distance on dry payment becomes considerably longer. And, unknown to most, tire chains are still required with studded tires. A regular snow tire is treated the same as a studded snow tire. There is also a specific period when they can be used on California highways, so you need a back up set of tires for the rest of the year. Before I get into the various types of tire chains on the market, Bill made a very strong recommendation that you first check your vehicles owner´s manual to see what they recommend. He also emphasized that the speed limit with chains on is 25 MPH. Any faster and you are risking the chains breaking and flying off your vehicle. Remember. 25 MPH.that´s it!

Now, let´s get into “Tire Chains 101.”

First, tire chains go on the rear for rear wheel drive vehicles and on the front on front wheel drive vehicles. If you don´t know what you have, check your manual. A real clue is if you have a flat floor across the front between driver and passenger you have a front wheel drive. Now, let´s cover conventional tire chains. There is now an improved version call “Ice Breakers” and I would suggest that if you want conventional tire chains, this is the way to go. “Ice Breakers” have an extra “x” welded at each chain connection which gives you the extra grip you want but be sure that you have the required clearance to handle the Grippers.” On some cars there is not enough clearance between the tire and fender well. This type of tire chain runs around $30 to $90 per set, depending on size. You should also consider chain tighteners or adjusters. They are rubber straps with hooks that hold the chains tight on the tires and run any where from $5 to $10 a set; they´re a good investment.

OTHER CHOICES: Next come Cable Chains which were developed for low clearance between your tires and the fender well and for radial tires. Cable chains run between $40 to $100 a set, again, depending on tire size. They are somewhat easier to install than conventional chains. Finally, we get to “Spikes Spider” which came on to the tire chain market in the late 80s. If properly installed, they are the easiest tire chains to put on. The down side is they run about $400 a set. One of the real key is the installation of the special hub which you leave on during the snow season. One thing nice about buying your “Spikes Spider” at Tweedy Tire is they custom fit the special hub to your vehicle at no charge. we´re back to customer service. When the hub is installed properly, they are a “piece of cake” to snap on and go.

If you live or drive to any area above 3,500 ft elevation, you need tire chains. Even if you don´t have to put them on, you are required to carry them in your vehicle; it´s the law.

I think I have covered the subject pretty well, but if you have questions, email me at gordon@sierramountaintimes.com. Hope this information will help you with any concerns you have about tire chains. Remember, you have to have them in your vehicle and don´t drive over 25 MPH after you put them on.

Reprinted with permission from Sierra Mountain Times