Technically speaking, there is a difference between snow chains and traction devices, but everyone calls them snow chains, and knows them as such, so we don’t need telling that these aren’t the best snow chains, they’re traction devices … let’s just make it easy!
Traditionally, a snow chain is just that … a chain – the type of chain that you may use to secure something, whereas a traction device is more like a steel cord. Snow chains are still used when the going is really heavy, but they do have downsides … they wear quicker and the do more damage to the environment than the newer traction devices, so they’re really only used in extremis.
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7 Best Snow Chains for Cars, Trucks and SUVs
1. Security Chain Company SZ143 Super Z6
The kit comes with: 2 snow chains, pair of plastic gloves, pair of rubber tensioners, durable and reusable nylon bag and clear instructions.
The SZ143 are ideal for most vehicles, mainly because they need minimal clearance to work – around one quarter of an inch, or 6.33mm, making them one of the best tire chains for cars on the market where clearance is an issue.
They’re super easy to install thanks to the split outside cable – you can literally slide them around the inside of the tire and then fasten them securely. They have a built-in tensioning system, which means no need to readjust or tension once they’ve settled.
Security Chain Company say that the Z6 chains are suitable for tires between 215 – 285mm, but check the fitment and sizes before ordering – you really don’t need to struggle to fit an incorrectly sized set of snow chains.
The chain/cord runs across the tire diagonally, which should mean that you’re never in a spot without some part of the chain in contact with the snow, and as such, they offer superior grip than a number of other snow chains.
2. Konig XG-12 PRO
The top of the pricing tree, but if you’re a serious snow chain user, definitely worth the money.
These heavy duty snow chains won’t fit on vehicles where clearance is an issue – they’re approximately 12 mm (just under half an inch) in height, and Konig say that they’re for use with SUVs – no mention of sedan, sportwagon or compact – that’s purely down to sizing.
The Konig XG-12 PRO offer excellent grip – that’s due to the design (diamond pattern) but they also have additional double traction plates installed along the centerline of the tire. Surprisingly, the offer reduced noise and increased comfort – similar to the tire cords, but of course, these are full chains.
Fitting is easy, there is no need to move or lift the vehicle, the wrap around the tire, although snagging the rear hoop is awkward and you need a bit of strength in your arms to do it, also, because you’re having to reach right behind the wheel, you are going to get dirty, and you will need to crawl on the floor – but the Konig come with a plastic crawl sheet and long-sleeved gloves to help avoid it.
Even with all of that, these chains can be fitted in around a minute for each wheel, and the patented self-tensioning system works exactly as it should, the tensioner looks like it will last the course. Everything comes packed neatly in a plastic carry case.
3. Peerless 0232105
The Peerless Auto-Trac are made from a Manganese alloy steel, they should last incredibly well. Despite being snow chains (rather than traction cords), they still meet Class S clearance standards, and are easily fitted or removed … around 90 seconds per wheel.
Unlike many snow chains, they have a built-in (patented) ratcheting system for self-tightening. Having said that, it does a great job of making the process easy and trouble-free – just hook the chains on and drive – the mechanism does all the work.
The diamond pattern of the chain maximizes traction, and helps to reduce vibration, giving a relatively fuss-free ride – they’re still quite noisy, but even a tire cord will have an element of noise, so a full blown chainset is expected to be … noisier?
As with all products from Peerless, the quality is top notch, and a little aftercare after each use will see these chains lasting a very long time.
4. Konig CB-12
The CB-12 100s are the cheaper version of the Pro 245s, and use a manual tensioning – once fitted, you need to drive around 40 – 50 feet and then retension them – of course automatic tensioners are easier, but manual tensioners aren’t exactly difficult, especially when it’s just a case of unhooking the tensioner and re-hooking it.
These snow chains are simple and sturdy, fitting them takes less than five minutes, even with the extra stop, and they offer great traction. You also need a minimum of just under half an inch for clearance, so they’re best suited to the larger vehicles like an SUV, although of course some smaller vehicles may be able to have them fitted – you need to check the specifications.
These are a great alternative to the higher priced XG-12 PRO, and the quality is just the same, these definitely deserve their place in the best snow chain kits.
5. Glacier 1046
The Glacier tire chains are the second cheapest in this list, but that doesn’t necessarily mean bad things … the ladder style chains are definitely more awkward to fit than the split ones, and you do need to buy the rubber adjuster or rubber tightener separately, but they do offer a decent level of grip once fitted and adjusted properly – and that’s the key – proper fitment.
They use case hardened steel rollers on the outside of the cable cross members, and require minimal space for fitting – Class “S” limited clearance. The rollers mean that noise is kept to a minimum, as is vibration, but driving on anything other than heavy snow or ice will wear the rollers extremely quickly.
You should also avoid traveling at over 30mph (which is the norm for most snow chains) because the rollers can ‘pop’ off the cross member.
The chains come in a reusable and heavy duty nylon bag for storage, and should last for a number of years when treated correctly – a light oiling after use will extend the lifetime considerably.
6. Security Chain Company ZT735
These are pretty much the same as the Super Z6 but as the name suggests (the LT part) … they’re designed for Light Trucks and SUVs – basically they’re the SZ143 Super Z6 with larger and tougher components, all designed to handle the extra weight or demand of a bigger vehicle.
The Security Chain Co. say that these are the “fastest, easiest install of any traction product”, but the reality is, most of the chains in this list are easy to install, once you know how they install, so it really is down to what is your preferred brand or style – a tire cord / traction device or tire chains.
If you are looking for the best truck tire chains, then the ZT735 Super Z LT are the better choice than the SZ143.
7. Quality Chain 1046
Easily the cheapest set here, and that kind of shows … these should be more of an emergency ‘get you home’ setup rather than a full solution needed for heavy use, but with that said, they work well. Just remember that you need to also buy some form of adjuster / tensioner as they don’t come with anything.
The Cobra Cable uses low profile carbon steel rollers on the cross members, and you do need to drive on to them (a handy tip is to place a block of wood in the center section and drive on to the wood – lifting the vehicle which makes it so much easier), the carbon rollers and low profile means that clearance isn’t an issue, and due to the design, noise and vibration are very much reduced.
Everything comes neatly packed in a plastic carry case, and the chains are lightweight, so storing them in the vehicle for emergency use isn’t an issue. If you’re looking for emergency or low cost snow chains, these have to be worth a look.
Whether it’s a snow chain, traction cord, traction device, they all use high quality steels, but just in a different manner.
With traction devices or cords, you normally get a steel cord, wrapped in some kind of protective coating, which is then typically wrapped in a coiled steel ‘spring’ – this allows for less wear both on the tire and the road surface.
Traction cords and devices are usually much easier to install, often needing no extra vehicle movement (for instance, driving on to the chains), and have no need for extra tensioning once they’ve been driven on – they have automatic adjusters and tensioners.
Fit and Finish
The other downside to snow chains, as opposed to traction cords, is that they typically need much more space around the wheel of the vehicle, and this is a big factor when considering a purchase – will your vehicle actually allow chains or cords to be fitted?
Some traction devices need minimal clearance – as little as a quarter of an inch around the tire, and for most ‘regular’ cars, these are the sort of traction devices you’ll need, but if you’re running an off-roader, or even perhaps an SUV, you may be able to fit something bigger.
You should also be aware that these devices are quite technical, and don’t allow for much tolerance in the fitting, so you can’t just order a set for a 16 inch tire for example, you need to know the exact dimensions of the tire – width, height, aspect ratio etc. Many of the manufacturers have exact listings, but if you’re not sure, get in touch with them to find out.
Lastly, we’d say that it’s worth doing a dry run with them – you don’t want to find yourself stuck by the side of the road trying to fit snow chains or traction cords if A) you have no idea how they fit to your tire and B) they don’t actually fit!
Remember that any tire traction aid or snow chain will only allow you to travel at a maximum of 30 mph, and while it’s tempting to push that if the conditions clear up, just don’t – a damaged snow chain or tire traction cord could result in severe damage to your vehicle.
If you’re fitting snow chains, you need a set on each driven wheel or axle, so if you have four-wheel drive, you’ll need two sets – fitting just one set could result in damage to the gearbox or differential, or trigger a fault with the traction control system – the electronic control systems on newer vehicles can be great, but once they flag a problem, it could just leave you stranded anyway, regardless of traction devices.
In some states, carrying a set of snow chains is a legal requirement when the weather turns bad. And for the price of some of these snow chains, it’s worth investing in some just to leave in the trunk, even if you never use them.
Finally, a light oiling on the chains will help prevent any maintenance issues if you’re storing them for the summer months – especially the tire cords.