Driving in winter conditions can be quite stressful and dangerous, as your vehicle becomes susceptible to slipping and skidding on the road. That's why, in most states, the law recommends or demands that drivers use traction devices, commonly known as tire chains, on their vehicles. However, to an inexperienced driver, every chain must look the same.
Well, for better or for worse, that isn't the case, since the market offers a wide variety of tire chains that suit different vehicles and needs. In this article, we'll cover some of the best tire chains the market has to offer. We also included the comprehensive buyer's guide to help both the experienced and inexperienced drivers pick the set of best tire chains. So, without further delay, allow us to introduce you to the world of the best tire chains.
Our top pick:
The Top 10 Tire Chains To Buy In Winter:
Security Chain Company ZT741 Super Z
The ZT700 series is designed as a traction device for sport and utility vehicles, as well as SUVs and pickups. The patented design features rough-and-tough components specifically created to meet the Class S clearance requirements and provide easy installation.
As a product suitable for SUVs and 4x4 vehicles, the ZT741 comes as a set of two pairs of chains, one for each wheel. The plastic package includes everything you'll need for the quick and safe installation of ZT741 on your wheels, including the rubber tensioners that hold the chain in place. There's also a pair of waterproof gloves, a detailed installation and removal guide, and a storage bag for more comfortable transport.
The installation process is quite simple and doesn't require you to lay the chains flat and drive your vehicle over them. In fact, you can install them without moving your car. Since they're designed for vehicles with limited clearance, you can rest assured they won't damage any of the vehicle's body parts or mechanical components. Additionally, they work quite well with various electronically monitored systems, such as ABS and AWD, providing unparalleled traction and durability over standard tire chains and cables.
That said, the only downside are the hooks on the rubber tensioner. Though the chains feature extreme durability and will likely last you for several seasons, the hooks on the tensioner are made of plastic material. As such, they're prone to breaking due to constant exposure to the cold. Though rare, these breaks can be a nuisance; luckily, they're widely available at most retailers and easily replaceable.
Security Chain Company SZ143 Super Z6
The SZ143 is another excellent model from the Security Chain Company, which excels among the best tire chains. Like the previous product on this list, the SZ143 is designed for various vehicles, including passenger cars, light pickups, and SUVs. It features a limited-clearance design and matches 215 – 285 tire widths.
Advertised as one of the best tire chains on the market, the SZ143 is remarkably easy to install, remove, and maintain due to its convenient features. The diagonally-patterned cables are made of manganese alloy steel, making them extremely lightweight and comfortable to handle, smoothing out the installation process. As with the previous product, the installation doesn't require that you move your vehicle. Just adjust the product around the wheels and use a self-tightening rubber to fixate them to the wheels.
Performance-wise, the alloy steel traction coils provide a good amount of traction on snowy and icy surfaces and overall good durability. Thanks to the 6.3mm low-clearance design, the product features incredible versatility and excellent overall compatibility with the anti-lock braking system, traction control, and other electronically monitored control systems.
Just as a previous product, the SZ143 has a single downside: plastic hooks on the built-in rubber tightener. These tend to become brittle and break when exposed to extreme colds for an extended period. While they can't damage the vehicle or the tires, a broken hook is quite a nuisance. Other than that, the SCC should be commended for designing the SZ143, one of the best tire chains on the market.
Security Chain Company QG2228CAM
The GQ series, or the Quick-Grip, is the SCC's line of products for highway service light trucks, which will provide your vehicle with optimal traction. Also, they're great for off-road driving, as well as driving on surfaces with excessive amounts of snow and ice. But unlike previous SCC products on our list, this particular item is an actual set of tire chains, rather than tire cables.
Still, the QG2228CAM model is a single-pair, meaning that it covers only the two driving tires, making it unsuitable for 4x4 drives. If you’re looking for a double set that’s more suited for four-wheel drives, we suggest you take a look at the QG4200 series. Both series feature the same specifications when it comes to chain material, but differentiate in the number of wheels they cover.
The QG2228 is a ladder-type tire chain made of extremely durable manganese alloy steel, with long-wearing square links. They're incredibly resistant to damage and corrosion, which is why they're great for both on- and off-road applications. However, sturdiness and the great traction they provide come at a cost – high clearance. The GQ2228 doesn't satisfy the Class S clearance requirements, making them unsuitable for passenger vehicles.
Another distinct feature is the presence of a CAM mechanism that allows somewhat easy installation but eliminates the need for self-tighteners. However, due to the product's design, you'll have to "drive over" the chains to set them on the tire. If you don't like the thought of using an additional tool for your tire chains, the QG2228 comes in a non-CAM variety, which would require the use of a self-tightening rubber, which is sold separately.
Peerless 0232105 Auto-Trac
The Peerless 0232105 is quite popular among drivers since it's reliable, easy to use, and suits many different types of vehicles, including passenger cars. Thanks to its fantastic features, like a unique chain pattern, it delivers exceptional results against slipping or skidding. But there is more to this chain than meets the eye.
The product comes with a straightforward, but relatively small instructions guide that, despite its shortness, elaborately explains the installation process. Step one includes placing the chains around the tire, which can be done without moving or jacking up the vehicle. Step two consists of connecting the inner chain and attaching the alternating self-tightening ratchets. And finally, the third step is the most essential – drive.
With such an easy installation, it's no wonder these tire chains are among the best tire chains on the market. However, apart from providing convenient installation and removal, the self-tightening ratchets also facilitate self-centering and automatic tightening during driving. But perhaps the most significant performance feature this model offers is the diamond pattern chain made of manganese alloy steel. It provides superior traction while being durable and lightweight at the same time.
The 0232105 is a one-size-fits-all product in terms of versatility across different types of vehicles. It's suitable for light trucks, SUVs, and passenger cars, which means it satisfies the Class S clearance requirement. In the end, considering the features it delivers for a more-than-reasonable price, the 0232105 easily fits among the best tire chains on the market.
Security Chain Company SZ127 Super
If you're looking for reliable but lightweight cable tire chains for your car, the SZ127 would be a go-to choice. The product comes with a set of two tire chains, which are easy to handle and install on your passenger car, SUV, or a light truck, without having to move the vehicle. And due to their relatively low weight, they're easy to transport and store in your car.
The SZ127 has a self-tightening rubber that allows convenient installation and does an excellent job keeping the chain tight and centered around the wheels. The entire product is designed to operate in a low-clearance setting, posing no danger to any of the vehicle's components, even in cases of heavy abuse. However, due to their low profiles, the connectors pose a challenge to work with, especially in the cold weather.
The traction coils provide improved compatibility with ABS and traction control systems, 4x4 drives, and other electronic driving systems. They work wonders on snow- and ice-covered roads, providing exceptional grip and better vehicle control within the recommended driving speeds of 30MPH. Reportedly, this particular model works well for driving in the mud just as good as moving in the snow. However, the manufacturer did not specify this, so we can't attest to such claims.
The product has no significant downsides, except for the plastic hooks on the rubber tightener. This appears to be the issue with all the models that feature a rubber tightener, which the manufacturer would hopefully address. Also, several users reported incorrect sizing, which could be a mistake on the retailer's part. Other than the plastic hooks, we couldn't find any other significant downside.
Quality Chain Cobra Cable 1046
The 1046 Cobra passenger cable chains ship out in pairs and provide Class S clearance, making them one of the best tire chains for passenger cars, rather than SUVs. In fact, it’s better suited for cars with big alloy rims that move through areas with mild snow.
The cable chain itself consists of low-profile carbon steel rollers specifically designed for durability and stability. They also provide a fair amount of traction, significant noise and vibration reduction, and straightforward installation and removal. Additionally, they hold up well over extended periods, since they're further galvanized to prevent rust.
Unfortunately, the cables aren't connected by a securing chain to form a ladder pattern, but with a steel wire. While this is common practice for products that use self-tightening rubber, Cobra's wire is relatively thin. This isn't necessarily bad, as it will prevent scratches on fancy alloy rims, but it may not hold up through some unintentional abuse. Additionally, the rubber tensioners aren't included in the kit and are sold separately by the manufacturer.
Luckily, you won’t fall victim to false advertising; the product is advertised as a traction device for light vehicles in mild-snow areas. And the product’s price mirrors its capabilities, since it’s more than reasonably priced, placing it among the best tire chains for milder conditions.
TerraGrips Tire Chains
The TerraGrip tire chains hold dominion over the tire chains market's agricultural segment due to their overall versatility, durability, and traction. But, as you can imagine, a product of this size doesn't fit a standard passenger vehicle. Instead, it's best suited for lawn tractors, rider mowers, or ATVs.
This traction device actually features rubber slats rather than steel chains or cables, which offers a whole new world of possibilities compared to steel chains. The rubber slats provide the actual traction and grip exceptionally good in snow, mud, mulch, gravel, asphalt, grass, and pavement. Unlike steel chains, the rubber is much less susceptible to wear, while at the same time soft enough to prevent any damage to the surface it's deployed on. Additionally, the rubber elements also prevent tire wear.
The product does have chains, of course, but those only serve to connect the rubber slats and hold them in place over the wheels. All the steel components are plated to resist rust and any damage induced by the elements. This includes all the plates, bolts, and hooks used to connect the traction-providing rubber slats to the actual chain.
TerraGrips are designed for tractor-type vehicles and require a minimum of 2" clearance all around the tire for safe use. Installing and removing this product doesn't require any tools, but poses a slight inconvenience due to the product size. Still, it's one of the best products in its category, which is why we believe it's worth the extra work.
Security Chain Company SC1034
You must be thinking we’re the fan-crowd of the Security Chain Company, but that’s not true. The real reason we mention them so often is simple – they make top-tier products. Their SC1034 radial cable chain is one example of SCC’s excellence.
Conceived initially to prevent, or at least minimize the sidewall wear on radial tires, the SC1034 was among the first product cable chain products. Not only did it revolutionize snow traction devices, but it also established the SCC as a market leader in the category of cable chains. As a device that meets the Class S clearance requirements, the SC1034 requires 6mm of operating space around drive tires.
The entire product features all-steel construction, featuring Peerless traction coils instead of standardized steel rollers. This allows for lightweight yet durable construction that is perfect for passenger vehicles and light trucks. With such lightweight construction, the SC1034 is incredibly comfortable to handle, install, and remove from your tires. The ladder-pattern design is held together by steel wire with a tightening mechanism that doesn't require tools or additional chain tighteners.
Overall, the SC1034 brings many improvements in snowy and icy conditions, especially considering its price and long service life. It provides better braking and cornering performance while needing only a spray or two with an all-purpose lubricant. So, if you’re looking for a straightforward and affordable cable tire chain for winter months, the SC1034 surely fits the description.
KONIG CB-12 100
Featuring a simple yet reliable tensioning system and a 12mm operating clearance requirement, the KONIG CB-12 offers simplicity as one of their best selling points. So, the next time winter takes you by surprise; you can easily install the CB-12 and glide through the snowy and icy terrain.
The CB-12 model prides on the simplicity since the design offers no bells and whistles – just a traditional, diamond pattern steel tire chain. However, KONIG has been successful with simple designs in the past, confirming that the simplest solutions often are the best solutions. And this easily translates to the CB-12 model, with its straightforward installation and removal.
The chains provide exceptional traction on snow and ice and aren't too bumpy on the asphalt. Still, despite the top-tier materials used to build them, we recommend removing them for driving on the dry road, to avoid damaging the asphalt. The absence of self-tightening systems isn't noticeable, as the product features a fantastic manual tightening system that actually holds the chains snuggly fit over your tires.
Unfortunately, the product doesn't meet the Class S requirements and isn't suitable for all passenger vehicles. Please consult your vehicle's manual on traction equipment for more information. Other than higher clearance, the KONIG CB-12 has no other downsides.
Spikes-Spider SPXL Sport Series
The Spider-Spikes are the most innovative, feature-packed product on our list, which bears the heftiest price tag. With it’s comfortable, fast, and clean installation, and unparalleled traction, the Spikes-Spider is considered a future of traction devices. And for a good reason.
This innovative design features elements that slightly differ from the traditional tire chains. The device has four-armed traction elements that snap onto the tire for quick installation and removal. These traction elements are interconnected by a chain that sits on the threads and features additional traction bars embedded with Tungsten studs. The adjustable traction elements are made of wear-resistant polymer that remains elastic despite the severity of cold conditions they're exposed to.
The entire design ensures that the chain links never tangle during installation or removal, which cuts the handling time to under 3 minutes per wheel. Additionally, the device allows you to make small adjustments to make it suitable for different fits of SUV tires.
The Spikes-Spider SPXL is specifically designed to handle well in different situations, including steep grades and hilly areas and environments. They're unique in design and provide exceptional traction even in heavy snow areas. However, this functionality comes with a high cost, making this product the priciest one on our list.
A Comprehensive Buyer’s Guide
The market for best tire chains is quite vast, and an inexperienced driver could easily pick out the wrong product and spend more money than required on unnecessary purchases. To help you pick the best tire chain possible, we comprised this comprehensive buyer's guide about the best tire chains, different types, and features you should look out for when on the market for a new set.
What exactly are tire chains?
Tire chains or snow chains are devices fitted to vehicles' tires to provide maximum traction when driving on snowy and icy roads and terrains. They were patented in 1904, as an improvement over the ropes and vines people used to wrap around their tires to increase traction on snowy roads. Nowadays, tire chains are a standard part of every driver's toolbox; and depending on legality, it is a must-have during winter in some states.
Mostly sold in pairs, these chains are usually made of steel, though other materials with varying patterns and strengths might be used as well. Though highly useful for driving in snow and ice, using tire chains comes with some potential downsides, which we'll cover in this buyer's guide as well. For now, let's see what the different types of tire chains are.
Types of tire chains
The term "tire chains" usually encapsulates all the different types of devices that perform the same function – increasing the traction as much as possible. These typically fall into two categories, each featuring their respective pros and cons:
- Tire chains – these are the most common snow chains with metal chain links that are interconnected to form a mesh that wraps around the tire. They offer excellent traction and durability, making them perfect for daily use in snow and icy areas. They're also less likely to corrode compared to tire cables.
- Tire cables – Tire cables, or cable chains are made from pieces of steel cable that wrap around the tire to create a webbing that covers it. They're typically lighter and feature a lower profile than tire metal chains, but are also less durable and provide less traction. This makes them suitable for occasional use, but much less so for everyday driving.
Besides these two types of tire chains, you should pay special attention to the classification, size, and link pattern of the product you deem the best. Before we discuss those specific features, allow us to express our view on the pros and cons of using the best tire chains.
The Benefits and Drawbacks of tire chains
Just about any driver would greatly benefit from using a set of the best tire chains on their vehicle. Even the most affordable, budget-friendly sets offer improved traction, quicker acceleration and stops, and much safer turns. When used in snowy and icy conditions, tire chains might even have a life-saving role.
However, even the best tire chains come with certain drawbacks specific to these types of devices. These are the benefits and detriments of tire chains:
You might’ve noticed that we mentioned snow tires as a viable solution in certain conditions, which begs the question: why not simply use snow tires?
Best tire chains vs. snow tires
Choosing between installing the best tire chains or snow tires largely depends on how much snow falls in your area each year.
As we previously stated, snow tires are a viable solution in areas with mild snow and dryer winters. They provide good traction, decent control over your vehicle, and extended use: a new set of winter tires will easily last you through 3-4 winters. However, it would require you to have two sets of tires at all times, and changing them every spring and fall.
Using tire chains eliminates this requirement, as you simply install the best tire chains over your "summer" tires. This would allow you to move through a snowier area much safely than snow tires, as they provide better traction over heavy snow and ice. In the end, you can always combine the two over winder, using snow tires every day, installing the chains only when necessary.
Do keep in mind that using chains on a dry road without snow poses a risk of deforming and damaging them, and potentially damaging your tires. To avoid any unnecessary damage, please check your local laws and regulations regarding tire chains, as they often point to the better choice for winter driving in your area.
Legalities surrounding tire chains
Using tire chains necessitates that you comply with your state's snow chain laws, to understand better the precautionary measures the authorities expect the public to take. Each state has different laws, rules, and regulations regarding the use of tire chains for traction control. Some states require them in certain snowy conditions or during winter months, while others prohibit their use altogether to preserve road surfaces.
It's necessary to know if and when to use snow chains; contact your local Police Department if you have any doubt. The most appropriate time to use tire chains is during or after a snowstorm, with the one-inch thick snow already covering the ground. Anything less than an inch might cause the chain to wear out faster and damage the road.
It’s also highly recommended that you adapt your driving speed to the conditions you’re driving in. While they do provide better traction, tire chains do not add enough that you can drive as if the conditions were normal. Please avoid speeds that exceed 30mph when using tire chains, as well as harsh braking or acceleration.
These are a general rule of thumb regarding snow chains. As we stated above, some states have looser regulations regarding tire chains, while others have more strict laws regulating their use. Some states, like Hawaii, prohibit the use of snow chains entirely.
Things to consider when purchasing the best tire chains
Purchasing a set of the best tire chains for your vehicle may seem as simple as just going out and picking a product. However, things aren't that straightforward; there are many things you want to pay attention to when purchasing a set of snow chains. Here's a complete rundown of additional specifications and features you should take into consideration when buying a set of the best tire chains:
Size – The chains' size is crucial because you want to ensure a proper fit around the tires. Before purchasing the snow chains or cables for your vehicle, it's essential to check your tires' measurements, their width, height, and diameter. This information is usually imprinted on your tires' sidewall, so it shouldn't be hard to find. Also, look for clearance, as you don't want the chains touching any part of the vehicle's body.
Material – Most tire chains are made of stainless steel, but other materials may be used as well. Depending on your needs and budget, you can purchase carbon steel chains that are more durable and suitable for harsh terrain. However, they also have greater chances of damaging the road. Rubberized chains are not as aggressive towards road surfaces, but require more clearance and offer less control than metal ones.
Weight – Some chains are more substantial than others, which is better suited for difficult snow conditions. Still, they do impact fuel economy, and they're less convenient to install, store, or transport.
Chain pattern and tread type – The links and their pattern really matters. Tire chains feature diamond, diagonal, ladder, and square patterns, each designed for a specific use. Diamond-shaped chains are suitable for vehicles with ABS systems. Diagonal chains are better suited for cars with traction control and ABS, while square chains offer more durability and better traction than the diamond pattern. Ladder-shaped chains come in two varieties, for off-road driving and snow and ice only. A tread type refers to a contact point between the surface and the chain. These include nails, cables, and traditional chains. Chains usually feature enough surface area to create traction, but if you want something a little extra – look for chains with patterns cut into the links.
Installation – Easy installation is the most sought-after feature people look for. Thanks to the self-tightening ratchets and automatic chain tensioning, tire chains are exceptionally straightforward to install. Unfortunately, these features are only present in higher-end models. More affordable models rarely feature a convenient installation.
Price - Lastly, let's discuss the price. In saturated markets, price is often dictated by quality, and you can expect to pay more for a better-quality product. You can find more affordable, budget-friendly tire chains for as little as $40. The products within this price bracket usually aren't as durable and tend to require a manual installation. Semi-auto, or "assisted" fitting tire chains may cost up to $100, while auto-tensioning and self-centering products may cost above the $100 price point. Products designed for passenger vehicles, featuring a price greater than $100 are premium-grade products, or simply more substantial, heavy-duty products designed for light trucks.
Driving in winter conditions without the best tire chains poses a risk to you and other drivers on the road. If you’re looking for the set of best tire chains for a passenger vehicle, might we suggest our top pick, the Security Chain Company ZT741 Super Z? It installs quickly and provides exceptional traction on the snowy road.
If you're driving an SUV or a light truck, we suggest you go with the KONIG CB-12 100 and pay attention to the Security Chain Company SZ127 Super Z if you’re on a budget. Whatever product you choose, remember to drive safely and responsibly.