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Tire Chains - Whomping In A Winter Wonderland

Posted in Product Reviews on February 1, 2002
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Contributors: Wendy Frazier

Snow runs are almost always complicated by the fact that you just can't get enough traction to plant even the meatiest of mud lugs into the frozen surface. Tire chains will allow you more than 150-percent better traction when burning through deep snow, frozen ice, and thick mud. Our point? Be prepared. Hence the advice to take tire chains on your winter whomp.

To get you ready for snow trail traction, we linked ourselves to the specialists at tirechains.com. With the intention of giving you all the info you need to select a set of your own traction attraction, tirechains.com sent us chain swatches and coached us with indispensable tire chain advice for massive tires and iciness traction.

Centrifugal Force Meets WheelwellFocus on Sizing and Fitment Sizing Regardless of tire size, if you want the chains to work, they need to latch around the circumference of your tires. We've heard countless stories of going out the day of the run and hoping that Wal-Mart stocks tire chains for 35s. FYI-it doesn't. Neither does your local auto parts store. We checked, and the largest chain they carried fit a 33-inch tire.

Tire chain gurus emphasize prefitting before getting into a situation where you need them. Additionally, while chain manufacturers know tires, they have a hard time calculating the variances in large-sized mud terrain tires because they don't measure for meaty lug sizes. This might force you to go up a size in tire chains. Boggers, for example, are a chain fitter's nightmare. When prefitting, know that there are some inconsistencies in size. Furthermore, the better the chain fits, the less play there will be and the longer the chain will last.

FITMENT Well-fitting chains fit the circumference and the tread width of the tire. This is where tensioners, adjusters, and cams come on the scene. Mounting to the side chain on the sidewall of the tire, the tensioner and adjusters keep chains tight and in place, not only maximizing the life of the chain, but also allowing for optimum traction.

A stretching cam will tighten up the slack and tailor the chain to your tire. The heavy spring adjusters work to keep tension on the tensioner, which keeps them where they are supposed to be. When the length of the crosschain comes in full contact with the ground, you get optimum traction. If the crosschain is loose you not only encounter greater slip but have a greater risk of snapping one of the chain links. Plus, bigger tires have larger mass. Larger mass causes greater centrifugal force, which lifts the chain right off the tire. The slapping wears down the chain, not only decreasing chain life but also putting it at greater risk of breaking. Then the concern is that the broken strand may spank the wheelwell.

Massive Meats and Chain Choice Off-Road Tire Chain StylesA few tire chain styles include cable, plastic-encased steel, diamond pattern, ladder or straight link alloy, and V-bar. When it comes to tires above 33 inches, the selection narrows to a handful. And even so, large-sized tire chains are difficult to find. Tirechains.com carries square straight link, heavy-duty twisted link, and V-bar chains for aggressive, larger-sized tires, so for our purposes we focused on information on these three commonly available styles.

Expectations1 Expect to have a rougher ride, especially on pavement.2 Expect to be more careful over rough terrain because the chain could catch on a rock or tree stump and break.3 Expect a change in your pocketbook. For price comparison purposes we wanted to see the difference between the three styles of tire chains. At tirechains.com for a 33x15.50x16.50 tire the square straight link is $75.99 a pair, the round twisted costs $80.95 a pair, and the V-bar is $119.20 a pair. As always you'll have to call for your specific application.

Square Straight LinkMade From: 5.5mm case-hardened square alloy rod Description: Square straight link is square rod folded into the shape of a square link.

Traction Advantages: Each link side will bite along the whole length of the link as opposed to the high points of the twist; weight will distribute over the length of the link.

What Conditions: Any condition, but does well in snow and ice. In normal situations the square is a little thinner, and even though it is not as aggressive as the twisted or V-bar it actually puts more profile bite on the surface and thus lends itself to more even weight distribution and better traction. Straight links lie flat, putting more on the face of the tire, whereas the twisted link tends to nestle into itself as it lies on the tire.

Characteristics: The straight link doesn't ride as rough as other chains. In ice situations only the V-bar will provide more traction. Without the V, the square straight survives better off-road. (The V-bar has a greater chance of breaking a V, thus breaking the cross chain link.) Plus the square chain stays where it belongs, thus giving a longer life to the chain.

Applications: Up to 38-inch tires

V-BarMade From: 7.14mm cas-hardened alloy links with added V-bar on each link.

Traction Advantages: V-bar excels in extreme ice because it forces the points of the V along with the vehicle's weight to bite into the ice.

What Conditions: For really slippery ice traction you want a V-bar or a square link. V-bar is not necessarily conducive to mud because the mud plugs the Vs and links and you have a greater chance to break a V off the link when hitting a rock or unexpected road debris in the mud.

Characteristics: Better traction in ice. Additional wear space because you have to wear through the V-bar. Rough on paved surfaces.Significantly higher in price.

Applications: Up to 36-inch tires

Round Twisted LinkMade From: 7.14mm case-hardened alloy

Description: Round twisted link is made from round rod twisted similar to a three-dimensional figure eight.

Traction Characteristics: Link bites at peaks of twists. Links tend to nestle into one another.

What Conditions: These chains can be used for any type of situation but tend to be less effective in strength, durability, and traction.

Characteristics: The twisted link is by far the least expensive of the tire chains.

Applications: Any size, including mud service chains

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