It’s that time of year again when, if the weather is right (or wrong, depending on your take), your car might need some fashionably functional footwear. Or what we like to call snow chains.

Snow chains, also known as tire chains or cables, are winter weather essentials in many places. But even if you live in a place where it rarely snows, it helps to know the basics, just in case. So before you make your way through the next blizzard or head off to the mountains with your skis, here are 6 tips to keep in mind:

  1. Choose the right size chains for your tires. Not doing so could undermine performance or even damage your tires and chains.
  2. Practice installing them at home. This will make it easier and less stressful to put them on when it matters. And it’ll give you a chance to get the knack of tightening them down.
  3. Stop and fix a cross chain if it fails. Obviously, driving on broken chains can cause a loss of that much-needed traction.
  4. Don’t go over 30 mph. When you have chains on your vehicle, accelerate slowly and evenly and try to keep your speed low. And most important, don’t spin your tires.
  5. Be mindful of your driving habits. The way you drive can affect your chains, so be (extra) careful about locking the wheels when you brake, hitting curbs, or driving on bare pavement that’s not covered by snow or ice. All of this can prematurely wear down your chains (and could damage your tires too).
  6. Only use chains if you have to. If you have snow tires, chains might be unnecessary. Snow tires are designed with a deeper tread and rubber better adapted to cold weather (some even have studs). Depending on local requirements, you might be able to make do with snow tires alone.
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One last thing: make sure to install your tire chains as directed by the manufacturer. If you have a 4-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicle, you’ll likely have to buy 2 sets of tire cables or chains (instead of just a set for the drive wheels in a 2-wheel drive car).

Using snow tires with studs

Interestingly, some states have requirements on when you can use studded snow tires. For instance, New York only allows them from October 16 through April 30.

Requirements for traction devices

Before you hit the roads, it’s a good idea to check out the local requirements for traction devices. In some cases, snow tires might be acceptable. In others, the severity of storm conditions might mean you have to use snow chains or cables.

And lastly, if you pass a sign indicating that you need chains, you can expect a checkpoint shortly (usually within a mile).

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about Shawn

With more than 4 years' experience, Shawn spent his Esurance tenure helping make car insurance info as accessible, engaging, and informative as possible while simultaneously managing an abundance of complex editorial spreadsheets.