Use of snow chains may be compulsory in some parts of Europe
Use of snow chains may be compulsory in some parts of Europe, depending on local conditions, and can give peace of mind if you have to drive on snow and ice at home.
You can only use chains where the road is protected by snow and ice and may have to buy new wheels and tyres too because chains can't be fitted where there is insufficient clearance between the tyre and the wheel arch/vehicle suspension.
Fitting chains adds to the width and diameter of the tyre. With some original equipment wheel/tyre combinations this can mean that the chains may contact bodywork, suspension or brake parts with potentially serious consequences.
Chains can interfere with the correct operation of electronic sensors on the wheel too.
Check the handbook - this should make it clear if you can use snow chains on each size of wheel offered as standard or optional fit by the car manufacturer.
If snow chains can't be fitted then the only option is to buy a second set of wheels/tyres – check the handbook or talk to the car manufacturer for advice on wheel sizes that can accommodate chains.
If you have to go to the expense of buying a second set of wheels and tyres it makes sense to fit specialist winter tyres too. These are compulsory in some mainland European countries and are increasingly popular here too.
This way you have a set of tyres better suited to winter conditions at home and abroad, to which you can fit snow chains when local signs indicate that they must be used.
Only consider using snow chains where the road surface is covered in a protective layer of compacted snow/ice.
If you try to use chains on a road that has been cleared of snow you risk damage to the road and to the vehicle.
With the UK policy of gritting and clearing major roads this means that you will almost certainly have to remove and refit chains several times during a journey.
If you have fitted chains, stop and remove them as soon as you reach a gritted/cleared road – choose a safe place, preferably on level ground and consider wearing a reflective jacket for improved visibility.
Snow chains can be awkward to fit or remove, particularly when wheel arches are packed with snow and your gloved hands are cold and wet.
Don't just throw new snow chains into the boot and forget about them. Practice fitting them at home when the weather's warm and dry and you'll be much more confident when you do have to handle them in more severe weather conditions.
The minimum is one pair on the driven wheels but two pairs are better, particularly if you're spending a lot of time driving in conditions where chains are required.
Refer to the handbook for vehicle specific advice.
Generally, traction control/anti-skid should be turned off when using snow chains. Check the vehicle handbook and the instructions for the chains as advice can vary from product to product.
Snow chains will not keep you from getting into difficulty if you drive too fast in icy or snowy conditions. Drive gently with chains fitted – keep speed down (generally, you should not exceed 30mph), slow down for bends and avoid harsh acceleration and braking.
With some designs of chain you have to stop after a short distance to check and adjust the tension – refer to the instructions for your chains.
Pull away slowly – spinning the wheels can result in damage to suspension or steering if a chain catches on a hidden tree stump or rock.
Stop immediately and remove the chains if they are damaged or broken in use.
Check chains for damage when you take them off – look for worn/broken links and connectors.
Clean and dry chains before putting them away after use to prolong their life.
If your main worry is the short stretch of your journey at the beginning and end where local roads become icy because they're not gritted or don't see enough passing traffic, then'snow socks' might be the answer. These are textile liners that wrap over the wheel and tyre to give improved grip on ice and snow.
Socks are not as effective as chains in more severe conditions. They're not considered an 'approved' alternative to chains in areas where snow chain signs are posted, but do appear to be considerably easier to fit and remove, and do offer some improvement in grip from a summer tyre – particularly where the road is flat.
Like chains, snow socks must be removed when you get to a gritted/cleared road surface – the tyre would not comply with minimum tread depth requirements and socks will wear out rapidly when driven on a tarmac surface.
(updated 15 April 2015)