How to choose and fit snow chains correctly

choose and fit snow chains correctly

How do you choose and fit snow chains correctly? Our guide outlines all the factors you have to consider to use snow chains in winter.

When the winter holiday is approaching, the winter tyres are put on, the wiper water has enough frost protection. Is there anything else missing? Yes, because only winter tyres are not always enough. In some regions, snow chains are also useful or even mandatory.

If you want to go skiing or tobogganing in the mountains, you should not just think about your own equipment. The car must also be winter-proof. These include, among other things, suitable winter tyres. But also snow chains keep winter holidaymakers better at their disposal in order to be able to mount them if necessary, advises the testing organisation Dekra. Their use may be necessary on some routes or may even be mandatory announced by a sign, so it is necessary to know how to choose and fit snow chains correctly.

However, motorists should prepare their use well – and thus already practice at home and in the dry. Because “learning by doing” with clumsy fingers during snowstorms on the Alpine road is unpleasant and dangerous, warns testing organisation, Dekra.

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There are different chain systems

You can buy the chains in the car accessories trade or in the car dealership. This can be worthwhile for those who travel more frequently in the relevant regions. Some car clubs also offer chains for rent.

In general, you need to be careful that they fit exactly to the respective tire size. There are also different systems – from the classic rope chain to the quick-assembly system, each with advantages and disadvantages and with peculiarities in assembly.

And this is also why experts advise to try the assembly in peace in advance of the trip at home. In addition, a pair of work gloves for assembly work belongs in the trunk. It makes sense to wear a foot scraper or a mat on which it can later be more comfortable to kneel on site when the chains are pulled on.

Where do the chains go – front or back?

Basically, they belong on the wheels of the driven axle. The following applies to all-wheel-drive vehicles: Chains on all four wheels are ideal – the minimum is chains on at least two wheels of one of the drive axles. If you put the chains on the front, you bring more power to the road because of the weight of the engine. On the other hand, snow chains on the rear axle offer better protection against the shearing of the rear on smooth surfaces. For more information, see the operating instructions for your car. And the chains always belong to the car in time and not only when it has already become stuck.

With snow chains, a speed limit of 50 km/h applies in Germany. Snow expert Paul Edmonds advises to drive carefully. This is because the driving and braking behaviour of the car is changed on a snowy surface.

In addition, electronic stability control (ESP) and drive slip control (ASR) can affect the effect of the chains. If nothing else is specified in the vehicle’s operating instructions, it is best to switch off both for chain driving, the experts advise.

It is best to fit snow chains in time, i.e. before driving on icy or snowy ground. Before installing the snow chains, the wheelbarrows and tyre surfaces should be free of ice and snow, so that the chains can be fastened more easily. As a general rule, snow chains are always mounted on the wheels of the driven axle, the test organisation advises.

How to fit snow chains to car wheels

The assembly itself can be done without any tools with a little skill, when you need to choose and fit snow chains correctly. In order not to get unnecessarily stressed during ice and snow, it is recommended to practice attaching the snow chains beforehand. Snow chains, which are equipped with a rope ring, are first carried out behind the wheel. Then the steel cable ring is closed above the tire.

Next, the clamping chain is hooked in and the snow chain is carefully placed over the tread of the tire. Finally, the clamping chain is placed in the chain lock and clamped. For the assembly of snow chains with rigid steel ring, the ring is pushed above the tire, then the chain is pulled down until the steel ring is attached to the inside. The tire should then be moved for a quarter of a revolution to secure and clamp the chain correctly.

Tip: In all variants, the chains should be restretched for safety after a journey of about 100 metres.

This traffic sign indicates snow chains are needed in Europe

How to choose and fit snow chains correctly

These are the rules in European countries

Those who go on holiday by car in Europe have to pay attention to traffic rules and regulations that they do not know from home. This also applies to the obligation to use snow chains. 

In the lowland areas of Germany, it is almost never the case that motorists have to fit snow chains. Those who live in the area of low mountain ranges, where it snows heavily in winter or want to holiday there, often get the opportunity to put the non-slip irons on the tyres. However, there is generally no obligation on snow chains in Germany. Instead, authorities in areas where the weather conditions require it can demand in the short term that vehicle owners put on snow chains or ban them from continuing without chains.

The round road sign with a blue background and the image of a chain-equipped tyre indicates the obligation to use snow chains. 

In this case, a round sign – traffic sign 268 – with a blue background and the image of a chain-equipped tyre indicates the obligation. If you do not install snow chains, you will face a fine if caught. However, the possible fine is usually the smaller problem in such weather conditions. If there is indeed so much snow that chains are prescribed, you should absolutely comply with this rule, especially for safety reasons — and know how to choose and fit snow chains correctly .

According to the ADAC, there is also no fundamental obligation in other European countries to equip the car with snow chains in winter. As in Germany, however, motorists must attach the chains to all the wheels of the car’s driven axles if necessary or if indicated by a traffic sign. In Austria, for example, the round blue sign also indicates this.

In Switzerland, it is a traffic sign with the inscription “Snow chains mandatory”. Snow chains may be removed when the traffic sign “End of the Snow Chain Obligatorium” appears on the roadside. Those who fail to comply with the obligation may have to pay a fine of 100 francs, equivalent to around 85 euros.

In France, snow chains are compulsory on some mountain roads, which is also indicated here by a traffic sign. If you have created the chains, you must not drive faster than 50 km/h. A violation of this will cost you 135 euros. In Italy, on the other hand, it is mainly the holiday areas of Milan, South Tyrol and Tuscany, where snow chains are temporarily prescribed depending on the weather conditions.