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Tips For Fitting Car Chains

Part of the winter season’s bag of tricks is throwing wintery road conditions our way. Some of New Zealand’s mountains have some hair-raising access roads, so in cold conditions snow chains are an essential.

Anyone who has attempted to fit chains before knows that it can take some time to get use to and can be testing for even the most patient of people. However, you soon realise that fitting chains isn’t as hard or scary as it looks.

Use these handy tips to become a pro so you can show off your skills next time chains are needed.

Different sizes

The size of the chains needed for your car depends on the dimensions of your car tyres. So, sorry buddy, it is not just a case of being able to grab and go at the rental place or shop. Make sure you know the approximate specifications (profile, diameter, width) of your tyres before you buy so you know which ones to get. You can do this by looking at the writing on the tyres themselves, which will indicate a number such as 185/65R14.

Which chains are right for me?

There are many different options for snow chains that you can choose from, which obviously means a range in cost too. There are the older versions that require you to lay out the chains and drive halfway onto them, before wrapping them around your tyre. Another version is self-tightening chains, which stops the hassle of having to tighten them yourself every few hundred metres you drive. These are the easiest option and are also easy to fit. You don’t need to drive onto these chains, rather just fit them over the tyre, adjust accordingly and you are good to go!

If you are unsure, it is recommended to get some advice on which chains are right for your car from the experts in the shop. From experience, if you do think you are going to need chains and don’t have any, get in early to rent them as it saves having to queue up for them in the early morning rush.

Left, Right, Front and Back

Chains always go over your drive wheels so you have maximum traction. If your car is rear-wheel-drive then make sure you put them on the back tyres and vice versa for front-wheel-drive vehicles.

4WD cars can usually get away with not having chains but it is a good idea to check out the snow report for requirements anyway, in case you do get sent back down the mountain. 4WD’s always fit their chains to the front wheels as well.

 A good tip is to drive a hundred metres or so to make sure everything seems comfortable, and stop for a final tighten and make any adjustments.

Going to the snow with friends

Take the stress out of fitting chains by having someone there to help you out and make sure you haven’t overlooked anything. Chains for your car’s tyres are like wearing a belt with your jeans, often needing to be adjusted.  Having a friend to either help you drive halfway onto them if required or fit them extra tight, makes it that much easier.

A good trick for that extra bit of tension if the chains don’t already come with cords, is to connect a bungee cord across the wheel hubcap to the chains with metal clips.

Slush, snow and sludge
Unfortunately, fitting chains sometimes means getting down in the slush, snow and sludge to wrap them around your tyre. Be prepared to get dirty, so have a towel or tarpaulin on hand and the best tip – use gloves!

Another tip is to make sure you leave the parking brake on as no matter how cold your hands are, you will still be able to feel a car roll over them.

The sooner you put your chains on the better. Don’t run the risk of having to stop halfway up the track when your tyres start sliding as often it is already too late. Most mountains have chain fitting areas at the bottom of the access road and some even have a fitting service so if you are really struggling, stop in these areas and help will be on its way.  

The Hare or the Tortoise?

Fitting chains obviously adds to the diameter and width of your car tyre. This means that it can come into contact with your car’s bodywork – for the non-mechanics out there this means potential contact with the actual car, suspension or brake parts. An obvious tip therefore, but nonetheless very important, is to go slow. Your chains should come with a specification of the maximum speeds you can reach. Just because you have chains on doesn’t mean you are free to rocket up the mountain. They are used to give your tyres extra grip in already sketchy driving conditions.

If you get up the mountain without the help of chains don’t be fooled into thinking you can get back down again. Heading down the mountain requires you to be more careful than when heading up, especially after an exhilarating day of skiing or if snow has been falling throughout the day.

It is always better to be safe than sorry as no one enjoys the feeling of losing control and sliding down the access road. After you have reached the end of the access road safely, take your chains off to make sure you don’t damage them.

Practice makes perfect

An old saying but it has proven true, especially in the case of fitting chains, is practice does make perfect. Have a dry run through at home so you can work out any tricky bits and become accustomed to putting chains on your tyres. That way when you do suddenly come across the chains required sign, the blizzard conditions will be no match for your speedy chain fitting skills and you will be well on your way to hitting the slopes in no time.