Updated: May 27, 2015

Snow Tires - Snow Chains - Studded Tires

Driving in winter weather can be dangerous, even under optimal conditions. Most states have requirements about what kinds of tires or traction devices are needed on highways during winter storms and icy and snowy conditions. With more and more 4X4 SUVs on the road, some people think they don't need chains or snow tires anymore, but most state laws require snow tires for 4 wheel drive vehicles, and many also require 4 wheel drive vehicles to at least carry additional traction devices in case of severe icy weather conditions. Putting chains on your car has always been a hassle, from having to crawl around in the mud and snow trying to fasten them on, and then having to worry about them rattling and banging your car or falling off -- no fun for anyone. This has led many to opt for studded snow tires during the winter season, alleviating the need for chains under most conditions. In this guide, we will take a look at what kind of studded tires, snow tires, and snow chains are available, where you can buy them, how much they cost, and we will get some good tips on safe winter driving tactics.

What are studded tires and snow tires?

Studded tires have small metal studs sticking out of the rubber, providing additional solid contact with the road surface and additional traction. Some people keep a set of studded tires and have them installed on their vehicles during the winter months. Usage of studded tires is not allowed in some states and areas, so make sure you check before installing them on your car. Your local tire store should be able to familiarize you with regulations. You can hear cars that are using studded tires - they make a click-click-click sound as they drive past. One of the biggest complaints about studded snow tires is that they ruin the road surfaces over time, creating ruts and bumps. You can also get studless winter tires that have been specifically designed for snow driving, with special rubber compounds and tread designs, like the Bridgestone Blizzak, the BF Goodrich Winter Slalom, the Dunlop SP Arctic, the Firestone Firehawk PVS, the Goodyear Eagle Ultra Grip, the Michelin Arctic Alpin and Pilot Alpin, and the Pirelli Winter Ice and Winter Snowsport. Most of these snow tires cost about $80 each. Check out TireRack.com for lots of good information and prices on the best snow tires. One alternative to studded tires is something called AutoSock. Designed in Norway, they are much lighter and easier to use than chains. You slip them on and off in about 2 minutes only when you need them. Like the name says, they are made of a high-tech textile/fabric and fit over your tires almost like socks, providing greatly increased traction. They aren't designed for 3 feet of snow on mountain passes, but for getting around town on icy days, this may be all you need.

Best Snow Chains - 4x4 snow chains

When snow tires are not enough, you need to move on to heavier traction devices, like snow chains. Snow chains look like thick metal wires and links that wrap around the surface and sides of your normal tires, encasing them in a metal shell that can dig into and grab onto ice and snow, unlike a regular rubber tire. If you're like most people and are accustomed to shop with Amazon, check out their list of bestselling snow chains. They have packages ranging from about $50-$150. They usually stock the Security Chain brand, which gets good reviews and is especially good for cars with tight fits around the wheel wells (and easy to install). If you need more help picking out chains, check out TireChain.com for information on chain requirements state by state, as well as for a huge selection of the most popular brands of snow chains and tire chains. They have been in business for almost 60 years, selling tire chains online for the last 8 years. They offer phone support for questions and for orders, and ship orders the same day they are placed in most cases. Their Diamond Tire Chains are popular and easy to install. They run about $60-$70 per pair. They have chain installation photos on their site as well for people who need instructions for installing snow chains. You need to know the size of your tires when buying chains - look for it printed on the sidewall of your tires. For example, you might see P175/75R-13. You will select chains that fit that tire size. They also carry chains for trucks and SUVs, not just car tire chains. You can also get heavy duty link chains for bigger trucks and vehicles. For 4X4 vehicles, we like the RUD Grip 4X4 chains (RudChain.com). At about $200 for a set of 4 chains, these things work like a charm and are amazingly easy to install. For instructions and pictures on installing show chains, check out their website. Also check out ChainBuddy.com for a great toolkit to assist in installing chains, especially if you have older chains that are not as easy to use.

Winter Driving Tips

Driving in snow and ice can be scary and dangerous, especially for inexperienced drivers. Here are some tips for keeping safe:
  • Keep the defroster running with plenty of hot air - this keeps ice and snow from building up any more than necessary. Also, use the rear defroster if you have one to keep your back window as clear as possible.
  • When driving in snow and ice, do EVERYTHING a little more slowly than under normal conditions -- make gentle turns, accelerate slowly, brake gently. Sudden moves make the car skid and lose control.
  • Make sure you have chains that fit your vehicle, and know how to use them -- always practice putting them on once or twice under dry conditions -- learning to put chains on in the middle of a snow storm is no fun!
  • Chains go on the drive axle of your car, where the power is - know if you have a front or rear wheel drive system (most small cars and sedans are front wheel drive, most trucks are rear wheel).
  • Always carry an ice scraper and flashlight in your winter car. A bag of sand in the trunk doesn't hurt either, adding extra weight to the read end and providing traction if you need it.
  • Wear good gloves when putting chains on - ice cold metal and moving parts are a recipe for disaster with bare, cold hands.
  • On long mountain trips, always carry some extra blankets, clothing, and food and water.
  • Practice your snow driving. Head for a big parking lot or field after a fresh snow and get a feel for what happens when you accelerate too fast, hit your brakes too hard, or turn to sharply. It's easy to get your car into small, controlled skids, even at 15-20 MPH. Learning how to steer out of a skid while keeping your car under control could save your life one day.