How to use snow chains on your 4×4
Although 4x4s are not legally required to carry snow chains in places like the Victorian High Country and Alpine National Park (unlike their two-wheel drive cousins), they remain a handy piece of gear to carry and use when venturing out in cold climate areas in winter. Aside from the traction benefits in getting under way and braking, chains on the front wheels assist in both steering and braking on icy and snow-covered bitumen and dirt roads as well as shallow or deep snow.
TYPES OF SNOW CHAINS
There are two main styles of snow chain available, a ladder pattern and diamond pattern.
Ladder pattern snow chains are often not approved for public road use and are designed for private property use. We won’t go too far into these, except to say that as you would expect, the pattern that wraps around your tire is a square ‘ladder’ style pattern, with square chain ribs across your tread. These are the older style chains, and the diamond pattern is often seen as the better alternative.
Diamond pattern is the standard on- and off-road chain used, and the vast majority are approved for use on public roads. The diamond-style chain wraps around your wheel from the inside, and cinches together around the outside of your wheel, with the diamond pattern of chains joining the inner and outer hoops over your tread.
SNOW CHAIN SIZING
Before you purchase or hire snow chains, you will need to know your tyre size to ensure a correct fit. Should they be too loose, they will cause more damage than good, and you run the risk of the chain getting caught in your chassis or undercarriage and locking a wheel; not ideal at 60km/h on ice.
If you have chains that are too tight, you’ll struggle to get them around your tyre, and even if you do, you will find large gaps in the chain that are contacting the ground. There are a few different ‘size guides’ for chains to tyres, and it pays to fit them up as you purchase or hire them to ensure they’re right.
ARE SNOW CHAINS JUST FOR SNOW?
The jury is still out on this one, but for reasons you’d probably not think. In the mud and muck that gives you a six-inch lift to your boots when you walk on it and give you three-inches tyre diameter increase, there is no arguing the fact that snow chains will assist in traction. On the other side of this argument however, is that they will tear dirt tracks and mud holes to shreds with a spin of the wheels.
Should you wish to carry and utilise them in more conventional mud/rutted tracks, ensure you tread softly. With the chains on, you will not need to bury the right foot to get through a hole, as the chains will give you the traction you need. That is also without saying that on solid ground, they will tear tyre tread lugs off rather easily, should you go spinning the tyres.
WHERE TO GET SNOW CHAINS
If you’re heading into Melbourne before hitting the High Country, Piranha Offroad has a good stock of quality chains suited to four-wheel drives. The folks there will help you choose the right chains for your adventure, and to suit your tyres.
Alternatively, many of the service stations on the way up into the Alpine National Park have chains; think Bright, Jindabyne, Berridale, Mansfield and Bairnsdale. However, dependant on the time of year, they may or may not have appropriate 4X4 chains in stock to suit your tires. As always, prior preparation is key.
SNOW CHAINS ON THE FRONT OR BACK?
It is best to fit your snow chains to the front wheels if you can. The reason for this becomes very apparent when you try to steer your vehicle without them. Just make sure you check your inner guard clearances beforehand, to ensure you do not damage your vehicle, particularly while turning and flexing simultaneously. If you have the luxury of two sets of chains, then go right ahead and fit them to all four paws, and enjoy the benefits.
CAN YOU CHANGE TYRE PRESSURE WITH SNOW CHAINS ON?
Absolutely yes, and in fact, as with any other off-road situation without chains, it is recommended. Increasing your tyre footprint by lowering your tyre pressure, even with chains, is the way to go for far better performance. Just be aware that you may need to re-adjust your chain tensioning.