How To Install Tire Chains

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man installing tire chains in the winter
Conquer Winter Driving
Snowstorms can be extremely dangerous for motorists. Blizzard conditions make it near impossible to see the road ahead. Snow, sleet and ice can cause you to lose traction and make your vehicle slide right off the road. If you live in an area that gets a lot of snow in the winter, you are probably familiar with putting winter tires on your car to improve traction in severe weather. Your local Lithia Auto dealer would be happy to get your vehicle prepared for the winter months, checking it over, making sure your radiator fluid is ready for sub-zero temperatures, and getting a set of winter tires on your car, truck or SUV if necessary.
For those who can get by without winter tires but still occasionally run into inclement weather in the form of heavy snow, tire chains are an inexpensive way to get you where you need to go. They can be put on your vehicle in just a few minutes and can make sure you drive more safely in ice and snow. After all, nobody enjoys having their auto slide into a ditch and waiting for a tow truck to pull you out of peril. So how do you install tire chains? Lithia is here to help.

Sizing your Tire Chains

Tire chains can be purchased for most standard, winter, or all-season tires. However, some vehicles have very little room between the tire and such parts as fender wells, shocks and suspension components. To find out if the make and model of your vehicle as well as your tires can be fitted with chains, first take a look at your owner's manual to make sure there are no warnings that advise against using snow chains on your vehicle.
If using tire chains is not a problem with your car, here's how to do it:
  • Take a look at the sidewall of your tires and locate the sizing code. This usually starts with a letter "P." 
  • The first three numbers tell you the width of your tire. Find the two numbers after the dash but before the "R." These numbers are the ratio of the tire width and height. 
  • The two numbers that appear right after the "R" represent the tire size.
Write all the tire code numbers down and take it to your local auto supply, tire store, or Lithia Auto Service Center where you can purchase the right size of tire chains to fit your car. You can also buy tire chains online, but with many models to choose from, finding the right chains for your vehicle can be a bit overwhelming.
Traction Solutions
Today, there are winter traction solutions of many kinds because all tire chains are not created equal and some are better at handling certain weather and road conditions than others. Besides standard tire chains which haven't really changed much for decades, there are relatively new technologies that might handle your winter driving needs. Are you looking for a traction solution that is easy to install? The following are designed for low profile tires and passenger cars that might not be able to use standard tire chains:

Installation Safety

No matter what type of traction aid you settle on, it is important to be safe when you install your snow chains or tire socks. It's best to fit your tire chains to your tires before you actually need them. Do a practice run to make sure you know how to put them on and take them off before that day comes when a winter snow dumps and makes putting your chains on mandatory. Try installing your chains several times and get used to the process.

If highway signs advise you that tire chains are necessary up ahead, pull off the highway and find a safe place to put your chains on. There is nothing worse than trying to put on your tire chains by the side of a busy, snowy highway. Find a parking lot and pull to a stop on level ground. Once you have safely installed and tested your chains, you can get right back on the highway and be on your way.
If you are in a situation where you have to install tire chains by the side of the road, find a flat area of highway and pull off to the side as far as you can, and turn on your emergency flashers so that other drivers can see you. Make sure your car is in "park" with the parking brake engaged to keep your vehicle from rolling. If you have a flat tire kit in your trunk that includes emergency reflective triangles or road flares, use them to draw attention to the fact that you are working on your car.
Keep in mind that the only thing you will need to install your tire chains are the chains themselves. Make sure you know which axle drives your car. If your vehicle is front-wheel drive, you'll need the tire chains on the front tires. If you drive a rear-wheel drive car, you'll need the chains on the rear tires. Do you have an all-wheel drive? You guessed it, you'll need tire chains on all four tires.
How to Install Tire Chains

1. To make sure you are paying attention, we'll repeat this part again. Make sure your car is parked on level ground. Make sure your vehicle's motor is off, that the car is in "park," and that the emergency brake is on. We don't want your vehicle going anywhere while you're installing your chains.

2. Pull out your tire chains one at a time and lay the chains next to your car's wheels on the ground, making sure there are no kinks or tangles. Drape the chains over the wheel and unravel them around the tire. The chain should wrap about three-quarters of the way around your tire. Do this for each of the tires that you are installing chains on.

3. Place the ends of the chains under the tire to hold them in place and then drive forward a few feet so you can access the part of the tire that was previously on the bottom. You should only need to move forward about three feet. Turn the steering wheel slightly to allow easy access to the tire. Then, turn off the motor, put the car in "park" again and reset the emergency brake.

4. Connect the two ends of the tire chain together using its anchor system. Do this with all tires that are using chains. Check to see that the chains are evenly installed and run straight around the tire's sides. If they are misaligned or loose, fix the problem before driving off. You don't want to lose your chains because of improper fitment.

5. If the chains are properly fitted, get in the vehicle and drive forward slowly for about 100 feet. This will tell you if the chains are properly installed as well as if they need to be readjusted. Remember, don't drive with chains on unless you absolutely need them. Driving your car on dry pavement with chains on can damage your tires and also cause your vehicle to slide while braking. Also, recommended maximum speeds while driving with tire chains is 20 to 30 miles per hour. Driving faster can cause the chains to break and damage your vehicle and tires.
Let Lithia Help
If you're thinking of getting winter tires or are looking for better traction control this winter, let the trained experts at your local Lithia Auto dealer help suggest the right solution for you. You'll find the location of your local dealer here.