Snow chains are simply a mystery to some. If you are driving around the Alps in the winter not only are they a useful tool, and in some cases the only way you can get your vehicle to where it needs to go safely, they are part of the law. Snow Tyres are non negociable in the French Alps. Drive here wothout them and you risk large fines, aswell as putting you and other road users in dnager. Insurance companies will not pay out in the event of an accident, so the repurcussions are considerable. So whether you are coming to Alps for a whole ski season, or just travelling for a weeks holiday to the snow, knowing how to fit snow chains properly and quickly is important.
Why are so many people worried about putting snow chains on? There maybe multiple reasons, such as not knowing how to do it, thinking it too hard and messy or thinking you will be ok without them. Well, they are messy and there is not getting around that, but a good pair of winter gloves and if you're really concerened about getting your jeans dirty, carrying a mat makes the mess easier to deal with. The other options on the market to replace snow chains such as snow socks, boots or other contraptions are simply not as good or reliable. We have seen many socks and plastic easy fit solutions lost or broken at the side of the road, who knows where the car ended up. But you will rarely see a propelry fitted snow chain casuing any issues.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when driving to the snow is waiting until they need snow chains before putting them on for the forst time. This usally means the car is at the side of the road, it will be snowing, cold and maybe even in the way of other road users. Alpine roads are made to deal with the snow and bays are provided to install snow chains safely, but knowing where they are or comitting to putting them on before you really need them can be tricky. So to save yourself the hassle, arguments, freezing hands and stress, practice putting your chains on before you even leave to drive to the Alps.
First, you should buy the correct chains for your vehicle. You can find chains online at most car retailers and the same rules apply here as to most things, buy cheap buy twice. That does not mean you need to buy the best, most expensive snow chains avaliable, just buy something from a reputable brand, somewhere mid range as a price point will be ok. A decent set of snow chains should cost between £50 / €60 and £120 / €140 depending on the size and type of vehicle. A car will run chains of around 7mm - 9mm diameter. Light vans and small SUV's will run 9mm - 12mm, and heeavier vehicles will run 15mm + snow chains. You should be aware of your tyre size. This can be found on the side of the tyre wall, the first number is the width of the tyre, the second is the depth of the tyre, the third is the radius. Each set of snow chains will fit a wide variety of tyres, make sure the set you buy comply with your tyre size.
So you have the right chain in your hands and you want to get it on the tyre. This guide on how to fit snow chains correctly will not give you every last detail, for that it best to watch this video. This snow chain installation guide is going to give you a simple step by step process that you can follow easily. This written guide for simple snow chain installation is backed up by a video guide you'll find HERE.
To Install your snow chains;
- Pull into a safe working area, as you will be working around the wheels for at least 5 minutes each side.
- Take the chain and hold the male and female ends in either hand, spread you arms and ensure the chain is not tangled in anyway, that all the parts and hook dangle freely and are not twisted.
- Ensure the ground around the tyres is free of debris and obstacles, including behind it. Clear any snow from the wheel arch.
- Take the male end in your right hand and place it behind the rear of the tyre, push the male end around the tyre until it is visible from the front of the tyre, the natural curve of the snow chain will send it around to the other side, where you can take it with your other hand.
- With the female end now in you right and and the male end in your left, bring the two ends up to the top of the tyre, until you can join them together. Connect the two pieces. Ensure no snow and debris is causing the connection to be comprimised.
- Towards the top of the tyre, to either side will be a small chain length on one side, and a hook on the other, you should join these two pices together now.
- Once joined together, you can push the male and female main connection behind the tyre, the new chain and hook connection you have made will keep the chain from falling behind the wheel.
- Now look behind the tyre for the long chain length with a rubber hook, pull it out so it is freely moving in you left hand.
- On the right hand side of the tyre, there will be a small hook / pulley loop, take this in your right hand.
- Look for a loop and some point on the chain, and ensure it is readily accessible at the front of they tyre.
- At this point, try and free up and loose chain around the base of the tyre, it does not matter if you cannpt make it tight, or free all of it.
- Feed the rubber hook piece through the loop, and then through the pulley / hook until the chain has enough free links to allow the rubber hook to be connected to another point, as far away as possible, from the pulley / hook.
- At this point the chain will start to look like it is fitted. It will be too loose to drive safely.
- Try once more to bring as much tension through the hook / pulley with the the chain and rubber hook.
- It is advisable at this point to repeat the process on the other wheel.
- Now get into you vehicle and move forwards and backwards afew times, about 3 - 5 metres at a time, this will pull any slack on the chains and allow you to tighten them further.
- Step out of the vheicle and repeat step 13, until the chain is as tight as possible.
- Ensure the rubber hook and chain has been pulled through both the small loop piece, and the hook / pullet, and is secruely fastened to the chain.
- You are ready to drive. It is advisable after afew minutes of driving to once again step pull over and check the chain again quickly, if this is the first or second time you have installed them.
Snow chains are amazing in the snow, but you do have to limit your speed. This is self regulating as it is not very comfortable driving on chains above 30kph but at least you will find yourself getting to your destination safely.
Once you have arrived you may want to take the chains off, or perhaps you are on the way home and have hit tarmac road again, and your teeth are starting to rattle loose from the vibrations. Removing the chains is very straightforward.
To remove the snow chains;
- Pull over to a safe area.
- Turn the steering wheel to full lock in either direction.
- Go to each wheel, now that you can see behind the tyre you can see where the main connection is. You just need it to be accessible to unhook, so if it is visible, and you can reach it, you can go ahead and unhook it. You may need to move the car backwards or forwards to find it. Do not unhook the main connection and move the vehicle, without completey removing the chain first. You may need to remove one chain at a time.
- With the main connector unhooked, you can remove the small chain length and hook that keeps the chain from falling behind the tyre.
- Now you can remove the rubber hook from the pulley and thread it back through the loop.
- At this point the chain should freely drop to the floor, however a small section will be covered by the wheel.
- Ensure all pieces of chain are not interfering with the axle or suspension components.
- Now drive backwards or forwards to reveal the chain.
- Collect the chain and put it away as neatly as possible, so it is not tangled the next time you need it.
Do I really need snow chains if I have snow tyres?
Yes. Good snow tyres are brilliant and if you are the only road user then it's unlikely, unless the road is very slippery or steep, you would need chains. However the snow density is always unpredictable, wet snow can be hard for snow tyres to gain proper traction in for instance, and snow tyres do not work well on ice. When you follow a snow plough for instance, the road directly behind the plough can be very slippy due to compacted snow. Snow tyres can be hard to get off the mark if the hill is steep, and though they drastcially reduce braking distance in the snow, they will still slide. Other road users can cause your driving to be interrupted or changed, for instance in a long line of cars climbing to or descending from a ski resort, stopping and starting again can be tricky.
Are all season tyres the same as snow tyres?
No. They are not. Even if they have the snow flake symbol which make them law abiding, they have nowhere near the same amount of grip as snow tyres. However if you do not drive in the snow often, for instance if you a driving to the alps for a ski holiday, they can be a good comprimise if partnered with chains should the snow get heavy or slippery.
What type of snow chains are the best?
In our opinion the most basic design with literal metal chain links, hooks and pulleys is the best and most reliable?
Are snow socks good?
No. They offer a limited amount of grip and have a tendancy to fall off, and can be harder to fit than chains.
Will my 4x4 be good enough in the snow?
If it has snow tyres, yes. If it does not, it will not. It does not matter how many wheels are turning and pushing, or how advanced your car or SUV is, if there is no grip to the road it will slide and lose traction.
What is the law when driving in France in the winter?
From November 2021 you must drive with tyres that have the snow flake symbol in 46 French regions, or risk a €135 fine. The rules will take effect every year from November 1st - 31st March. Simply put It is not obligatory to fit snow chains if you are running snow tyres in these regions, but if the snow chain symbol is displayed on the road signage, it is obligatory to carry them. If you are running summer tyres and not carrying snow chains, you not only run the risk of causing an accident but you may incur massive fines should you need to be rescued or are the cause of an accident. The roads in the Alps are heavily controlled by the police and they have the right to turn vehicle around if they do not comply with the regulations.
Where can I buy good snow chains?
snowchains.com is a good place to start, but you can find good snow chains at many reatil outlets both online and in store.
Top Tips for easy snow chain installation;
- Carry warm, insulated gloves that have enough movement for your fingers to complete tasks.
- Carry a small mat for the ground if you want to avoid getting your trousers wet or dirty.
- Ensure your chains are of a decent standard and fit the vehicle you are driving.
- Ensure you know how to fit your chains before you need them.
- Carry a small snow shovel, or even a trowel to enable you to clear snow and debris from around the tyres.
- Make sure you fit your chains before you need them, in a safe area.
Now you are all set with the information you need to navigate to the Alps and drive legally and safely.