Snow Chains: Frequently Asked Questions
A lot of nonsense is spoken and written about what we call “conventional snow chains”. These Top 10 FAQs should clear up some of the misconceptions, as well as providing more details about the range we sell.
- I drive a 4 x 4. Do I need snow chains? Which axle should I fit them too?
- How easy are they to fit?
- What makes a good snow chain? Why are some so much more expensive than others?
- What do you mean by 4mm, 9mm, “No fit”?
- What are 'self-tensioning' devices?
- Will they damage my alloy wheel rims?
- What do these tyre sizes actually refer to?
- Which snow chains should I buy? Our Recommendations.
- How fast can I drive?
- I’m new to snow chains; they all look much the same. Why is one brand any better than any other?
You’re required by law to carry snow chains on most Alpine roads. Some people will tell you that the police are sometimes lenient with 4 x 4s, but we know from experience that they do usually enforce the law. If you haven't got snowchains you'll be sent back down the mountain, hoping desperately that you'll find a shop which is (a) open and (b) stocks the chains you need. It’s always best to take them with you! Even if it's not snowing on your way up to the resort, it may be a completely different story when you come to leave. You'll certainly appreciate the security that snow chains offer when you get to the steep bits! It's also fair to point out that many 4 x 4s, especially the very expensive ones, use tyres which give no better grip on ice and snow than ordinary summer car tyres.
The snow chains database will tell you which axle to use, but if this is not mentioned, fit chains to the front axle.
Snow chains are much easier to fit than you might think; there’s a fitting demonstration on each individual product page, and often a video clip as well. The cheaper snowchains need more effort, but not much more time. Apart from RUD's automatic chains, almost all the conventional chains that are sold in Europe have a cable which needs to be joined together before it’s pushed over the top of the wheel. This isn’t easy if there’s limited clearance between the top of the wheel and the wheel arch, and you need to kneel on the ground to push the chain around the back of the tyre. Bring something to kneel on if you don’t want wet knees!
It’s essential that you do a dry run, mainly to check that the chains are the correct size for your tyres, but also to learn how to do it. If you don’t you’ll have to learn the process in the dark and cold and in the company of the locals who will fit theirs in 60 seconds flat and disappear into the blizzard!
Snow chain manufacturers aim for the best grip at a certain price point. Chain grip is a function of the 'pitch' of the chain - a relationship between the length and width of each link - as well as the chain pattern. Snow chains also need to be case hardened, typically to approximately 15% of chain thickness. If they’re too soft they’ll wear too fast, but if too brittle they’ll break. The quality of the steel makes a very significant difference to cost. Unusual snow chain sizes also cost a lot more.
One area where RUD has an edge on other manufacturers is in the way they join their chain links, except for their Grip range (not stocked) and their Power / ‘Grip V’ 4 x 4 chains. It’s obvious that chains are most vulnerable to breakage where they’re in contact with tarmac, stone or concrete, and it’s almost inevitable that you'll have to run your snowchains on tarmac before you’re able to find a safe place to stop and remove them. The quickest method of joining chain is to use rings, leaving three vulnerable wear points, whereas you'll see that RUD's "cross grip link" system protects the two vulnerable links from wear. Details of this sort are particularly relevant for car chains; 4 x 4 chains are overall heavier duty, so you'll find that RUD's 'Grip V' 4 x 4 chains use the cheaper ring-join system.
Both KWB and RUD use rounded links for quieter running, and to minimise the potential for tyre damage. In addition, 2 sides of each RUD link are hammered flat for optimum grip. Both KWB and RUD make their car snow chains from 4mm diameter steel for safety reasons, i.e. thinner chains wear out proportionately much faster than thicker ones. Both KWB and RUD have tested their chains on every vehicle and tyre combination; if there’s insufficient clearance they’ve declared it a "No fit". 'Insufficient clearance' means different things to different cars - sometimes there isn't enough space between the inside of the tyre and the inner wing, other times there are vulnerable shock absorbers, struts, or brake pipes, and sometimes the chain prevents electronic sensing equipment from working properly.
Unless specified, the car chains we sell have links which are approximately 25mm long by 14mm wide, made from 4mm diameter alloy steels. The links stand 14mm off the tyre. Some manufacturers of traditional snow chains are getting around the problem of “No fit” by making thinner chains, calling these “9mm”. These have links which are 18mm long by 9mm high, standing only 9mm off the tyre, but at the budget end of the market (at least) they are considerably weaker than 14mm chains because they’re made of thinner steel. KWB made a range of these last season but have now withdrawn from this market; RUD never entered it. Draw your own conclusions!
Self tensioners save the hassle of having to get out of the car after half a mile or so and give the tensioning chain a further pull just to check that everything's tight. RUD’s solution (used in their Easy2Go chains) is to use an ultra-tough flexible cord system; others use spring loaded tensioners, although these are vulnerable to being jammed by ice. (Water from melted ice and snow might run back down the wires into the tensioners and refreeze.) Some argue (reasonably) that there’s no real substitute for stopping again, putting your weight on the tensioning chain, and giving it a good tug.
There’s no potential for damage if using RUD’s DISC snow chains, or any type of Spikes-Spiders or Farad SNOW chains. If the other snow chain types are correctly fitted then you should be OK; the designers certainly bear this in mind. KWB’s Tempomatic Specials are a low profile design, RUD’s Easy2Go range have a plastic chain guard which should do the job if fitted properly. RUD have a relatively very cheap chain guide accessory which should also make the difference, the protectAR, which can be used on any brand of snow chains.
Take 195/65-15 as an example. 195 is the tyre width in mm. 65 is the distance from the rim to the top of the tread (the tyre 'wall') in mm, expressed as a percentage of the width, i.e. the tyre wall is 127mm high in this example. 15 is the 'rim size' in inches (a complicated measurement).
It depends what you want to use them for, how often, and how much you want to spend. The snow chains database will tell you which models are available for your particular vehicle and tyre combination, including the snow chains (Farad SNOW, TRAK, Spikes-Spider) which are sold by tyre size only. Many car manufacturers also forbid traction control and anti-skid systems to be used with conventional snow chains – check your hand book – although these systems can usually be turned off.
Occasional ski-drive, not fussed about kneeling down to fit chains, cheap but still good quality: Go for a KWB Tempomatic Special, or if still available, a RUD Power. (RUD’s Power chains are too expensive to make at this price point, so unfortunately they’ve been discontinued. These are superb value but selling out fast.)
Don’t want to spend too much, but willing to pay a bit extra for better quality and ease of fit: This is also easy – go for RUD’s Easy 2 Go if available.
A more regular user, or don’t want to kneel to fit – a RUD Classic automatic.
As above, but want to be sure that alloys won’t get bumped by steel chain – RUD DISC.
4 x 4 drivers will find similar 4 x 4 chains listed on the snow chains database.
Many people take a more strategic look at chains, for use on snow or grass, and conclude that speed of fit and long term value is most important. In this case, check out the Spikes Spider range, especially the SPORT and, subject to availability, the heavier duty CARRIER (also made in a range of car tyre sizes). These can be resized as often as you like and, because they don’t grip the tyre, are approved for use with traction control and anti-skid systems.
The German Federal Motor Vehicle Agency regulation is a maximum 50 km/h, which will certainly seem fast if you are driving on roads where snow chains need to be used.
KWB (Kettenwerk Brückl, still based at Brückl in Austria) was established over 275 years ago, and by the turn of the 20th century was a specialist in lifting chains, including anchor chain. KWB is now part of Austria's Pewag group, and continues to design and manufacture a very wide range of chain products for sale worldwide. We specialise in their “Tempomatic Special” chains - a recent low profile design which is suitable for alloy wheels.
RUD (Rieger und Dietz GmbH, based at Aalen in Germany) invented the modern quick fit car snow chain, and have numerous patents which keep their snowchains state of the art. They are official suppliers to Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Landrover, Mercedes, Saab, Volvo, and VW, amongst others, and also supply the British Army - ample evidence that their snow chains are as good as they come. RUD has a UK subsidiary company, so we get rapid answers to any questions as well as very quick delivery of any items which we don't keep in stock.