Snow chains: what they are, what they are for and when to use them

Snow chains: what they are, what they are for and when to use them

Snow chains

From November 15th to April 15th it is necessary to have on board devices compatible with the rules established by the Highway Code, in order to be able to deal with any dangerous situations related to the presence of a frozen or snowy road surface . There is no obligation to use winter or all-season tires (M+S or those with 3PMSF-Three Peak Mountain Snow Flake approval) although it is always the most recommended solution when the temperature drops below 7-10 degrees and, at the same time , the first heavy rains are also beginning to arrive.

But what are the alternatives for the numerous motorists who have chosen not to invest in a train of winter tires (which may not be enough in certain situations anyway) but who wish still feel safe in heavy snow?

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Snow chains, what the CdS says

Winter tires are not an obligation for the Highway Code: it is not mandatory to buy and fit them, provided that you have an alternative approved by law in the car. There are different alternatives on the market and for all tastes.

For the CdS, non-slip vehicles that can be used as an alternative to winter tires are allowed, provided they have the UNI mark or equivalent (ÖNORM V5117 for chains produced abroad or ÖNORM V5119 for vehicles in categories M, N and O) higher, as well as the use of the devices already supplied is reserved, provided that they comply with the provisions of the decree of the Minister of Infrastructure and Transport of 13 March 2002 – Rules concerning snow chains intended for use on vehicles in the M1 category.

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The types

Clarify the first doubts, before buying a set of chains it is necessary to focus on some simple aspects such as: price, duration and assembly system. Y-shaped chains are the most standard model and are rarely used due to the difficulty of using them, while diamond-shaped ones are the most classic and widespread. While the Y-shaped chains are decidedly cheap with prices below 30-40 euros, the diamond-shaped ones can even exceed a hundred euros. Finally, the spider chains, the easiest ever to assemble: this is an external assembly solution, directly on the rim, which is also compatible with cars defined as "non-chainable". Here the price rises drastically and the price range is generally between 150 and 500+ euros.

For some time now, the CdS has also granted the use of snow socks but it is necessary to pay attention to the code of homologation. In the same way as chains, snow socks must also be homologated. The regulations to be taken into consideration are the same as for the chains and, although it is allowed to have them on board the vehicle, it is also mandatory that the snow socks meet certain requirements, which are summarized in the two UNI 11313 or ON v5121 regulations. If one of the two approval codes is shown on the package, you can be sure; similarly, if no acronym is present, it is advisable to purchase another product in order to avoid unpleasant penalties. Having said this, snow socks can be used on snow as long as it is compact; unfortunately, using it on a frozen surface will not make driving and relative safety much easier.


Before getting to the real test in the field, perhaps in conjunction of a thick snowfall in the cold and why not in the dark, it is always advisable to arrive ready and prepared; for this reason, it is advisable to try to assemble your chosen device in peace to face the first cold, to verify its correct adaptation to the tire and to practice assembly. In situations of need, it is advisable to position yourself outside the roadway, preferably in a dry place, possibly with the car on level ground (remember to wear the approved high-visibility jacket.

If the available chains are the traditional model, it is necessary to stop after about 50 meters to re-tension them.It is not necessary, however, if the snow chains are self-tensioning.

When driving, with a set of chains fitted, it is necessary to stay below 50 km/h , perform gentle maneuvers and limit gear changes. Excessive speed bends, risky overtaking, sudden accelerations and braking are to be avoided. If available, it is always better to enable any specific driving modes for snow, use the engine brake and, if necessary, set off in second gear to avoid skating.

When you meet clean asphalt, proceed at moderate speed and remove the chains as soon as possible so as to avoid damage to the car and the man road. Lastly, before placing the chains in the appropriate case, it is always advisable to rinse the devices without detergents so as to remove any traces of salt and debris.

The advantages of chains from snow compared to winter tyres

As mentioned, snow chains tend to perform better than winter tyres, guaranteeing greater grip on the ground in most cases. In particular, it is advisable to use the chains when:

there is deep and loose snow (fresh); there is ice - in this case "ice-breaking" chains are needed, i.e. chains capable of penetrating the ice surface, offering the tire support on the asphalt (behaving like a studded tyre).

Electric cars and chains

Honorable mention, almost obligatory, for electric cars. In this case there are no particular differences compared to the endothermic counterpart; unlike tires that can offer specific performance for electric cars, there are no disparities on chains in this regard. The only advice, which we would like to provide, is to carefully identify the axis with drive and install the devices correctly. In fact, it is not uncommon to find chains or socks positioned on the wrong axis. Finally, we remind you to carefully monitor the provisions provided in the booklet and the relative space available in the wheel arch, so as to avoid unpleasant incompatibilities.

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