Do 4 Wheel Drive Vehicles Need Snow Chains

If you live in a part of the world that experiences heavy snowfall during the winter season then you should probably read this article. Snow chains are a worthwhile investment and could save you from being stranded on the side of the road or even from a potentially life-threatening situation. This article will discuss the benefits of 4-wheel drive vehicles in the snow as well as the various snow chain types applicable for certain 4WD tire sizes.

Do 4 wheel drive trucks need snow chains? Yes, 4-wheel drives will require snow chain tires if the snow requirement stipulates that.  If you have snow tread tires on all 4 wheels you will not be required to fit snow chains unless the conditions are bad enough. In places like California and Lake Tahoe where the road safety requirement reaches level 3 then it means snow tires and a 4-wheel drive vehicle are not sufficient and snow chains or other applicable traction devices need to be fitted to all vehicles including 4-wheel drives.

So now we know, depending on the requirement level for road safety in your area, even a 4 wheel drive will need to fit snow chains if driving conditions get bad enough that not even snow tires on all 4 wheels will suffice. Next, we will look at the different types of tire chain patterns and which one is most applicable for each application. Later we look at a few examples of the recommended snow chains for a few popular 4-wheel drive vehicles and tire sizes.

Do 4 wheel drive vehicles require snow chains

Even with a 4-wheel drive, it’s sometimes necessary to fit your snow chains, so it’s always good to have snow chains available for your 4 wheel drive when conditions get extra icy and slippery. Driving in heavy snow or very slippery icy roads requires you to immediately decrease your speed by at least 5mph.

When highway signs signal it’s time to fit the chains, there will be designated areas on the side of the roads to allow you the opportunity to fit your snow chains. Always make sure you are fitting your chains in a designated area and well out of the way of traffic or in the middle of the roadway.

There will be control points to check that every vehicle is obeying the law by fitting the snow chains and these points will change from place to place since weather patterns are constantly changing.

Types of snow chains for 4WD

There are different types and patterns of tire chains available for all makes of vehicle and tire size.

The three different tire chain patterns are:

  1. Diamond shape tire chain
  2. Ladder design tire chain
  3. Square pattern chain

Before you select a tire chain for your 4-wheel drive it’s very important to consult your owner’s manual or manufacturer for a recommendation. You need to make sure the snow chain you select is suitable for the wheel clearance of your 4 wheel drive. It must comply with the proper size of your tire, as recommended by the tire chain manufacturers. Snow chains with assisted tensioning are easier to install.

In the case of 4 wheel drives,  the tire chain you select will largely depend on if you are planning on off-roading with these chains or just using them on the road in snowy conditions. This is important to know which one to use since wider tires tend to have a more difficult time getting traction in the snow.

If you have a larger truck-sized wheel such as a 20 inch or bigger, it is recommended to consult with your owner’s manual first since vehicles equipped with these large wheels are sometimes recommended by the manufacturer not to fit tire chains. However, if by law you are required to fit tire chains, you will need to fit a class C chain. These chains are slimmer and designed for vehicles with larger wheels and minimum wheel clearance. It would be a good idea to test out the tire chains first before you use them in snow and icy conditions to make sure they do not cause any damage to the vehicle.

Various Snow requirements

Let’s now look at the specific requirements of some countries and states in the US regarding the use of snow chains.

The requirements will change as the weather changes and the level will indicate how bad the driving conditions are. There are 3 basic levels:

  1. Level 1: Fit Snow Chains, traction devices or snow tires are required on the drive axle of all vehicles except four-wheel/ all-wheel-drive vehicles.
  2. Level 2: Chains or traction devices are required on all vehicles. Except for four-wheel/all-wheel-drive vehicles with snow-tread tires on all four wheels. Only 2WD vehicles
  3. Level 3: Chains or traction devices are required on all vehicles, no exceptions. Includes 4-wheel drives and AWD’s

Snow Tires vs Tire chains

When winter arrives and the roads become snowy and slippery from the ice build-up it can become a harrowing experience even for the most seasoned driver. Driving without the correct tires will only make matters worse even for the most experienced drivers. These days there are multiple helpful options available to improve the traction of your vehicle. These include but are not limited to:

  1. Stud-less snow tires
  2. Studded Snow Tires
  3. Snow Chains
  4. Snow socks

Your tires play a major role when driving on snow. I wrote an article about how tires affect an AWD vehicle which you can read here.

So there are 2 basic variations of snow tires and these are:

  1. Stud-less tires
  2. Lightweight Studs

Lightweight Stud Tires

As you might have guessed, the lightweight stud tires are equipped with tiny metal studs embedded into the tire to assist with traction on slippery snow and icy road surface. The problem with these tires is that when you drive on a dry road they cause major damage to the roadways costing millions of damage every winter.

Stud-less Tires
The stud-less variety is simply a different tread pattern and rubber compound to provide added traction on snowy roads. They only come with the inconvenience of having to fit during winter and store somewhere through the other seasons.

Snow Chains

Snow Tire chains, on the other hand, are metal chains in a specific pattern which you fit the wheels which are propelling the vehicle. In other words, if you have a 2-wheel-drive vehicle with the front wheels propelling the car, you fit the chains on the front wheels. The same goes for a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, you fit them on the rear wheels. They drastically improve the traction of the tire and offer higher levels of traction in deep snow than a snow tire. The downside to fitting snow chains is they limit you to a maximum speed of 30mph. The hassle with tire chains is you cannot simply fit them at the beginning of winter and drive with them all winter long. You are only meant to drive with them when it’s snowing.

Snow Chain Features

There are certain features to look for when purchasing your snow chains. Make sure they are constructed from heavy-duty allow and not cheap materials. If they have square links that form cross chains they offer greater traction in snow and ice. The alloy chains also offer improved braking in snow and ice.

Beware of purchasing snow chains with large links since these create a very rough ride. Opt for chains with small link sizes since these contribute to a smoother ride. The Diamond-pattern chains offer more wheel coverage but it comes at a cost of ride comfort and increased road noise.

Make sure the pattern you purchase is in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations to offer improved traction and stopping ability when driving forward and during turns. Make sure you get the chains that offer simple manual installation with assisted adjustment and integrated tensioners since these things can be a real pain to fit if you purchase the incorrect size for your wheels that cannot be adjusted properly. It’s a bonus if it’s constructed out of Manganese nickel alloy construction since these chains are rust-resistant and robust.

Practice Fit

If you have never driven with snow chains before, you’ll do well to get somebody to assist you with fitting the chains. It’s quite a process and if you have somebody behind the wheel to edge forward once they are fitted, will help greatly.

Snow Socks

These are fairly new products on the market which consists of a textile covering that fits snuggly over the tires. They are ideal for vehicles with larger tires and minimum wheel clearance. Your speed is also limited to a maximum of 30mph with the snow socks.

Next, let’s look at the recommended chains for various tire sizes.

Recommended tire chains for Toyota Tundra

If you drive a Toyota Tundra with a tire size of 275/65/R18 then you should opt for the Titan snow tire chains which have a ladder pattern and a V-bar link. The chains need to be installed on the rear wheels since the Tundra is a rear-wheel-drive truck. The ladder pattern helps with start and stopping traction in slippery snow roads. The v-bar links allow the chains to dig into the deep snow and ice to provide superior traction.

The second option is the Glazier twist link chain with a ladder pattern similar to the Titan ladder chains. The twisted links offer decent traction for winter driving, however, traction is not as good as the Titans v-bar links.

Recommended tire chains for Ford F250

The Ford F250 has a factory tire size of 245/75/R17. The V-Bar ladder pattern snow chains will also work perfectly on the Ford F250. You could also opt for the Glazier cable snow tire chains which are a cable design that incorporates spring rollers across the ladder cables. The cables offer the least traction of all the available options but deliver a smoother ride compared to the other more aggressive tire chains. These are more suited for occasional use or if you simply want to pass the chain inspection, fit these.

Knowing which option to select will largely depend on your driving situation and what you intend to do with the vehicle.

Where do you put snow chains on an all-wheel-drive vehicle?

All-wheel drive vehicles come in two forms. One, part-time AWD, and two, full-time AWD. The full-time AWD will be your Subaru foresters for example and a part-time AWD are vehicles like the Honda CRV. So what’s the difference and why is it important. Well, with a full-time AWD, as you’ve probably guessed, the wheels are being powered all the time and this is made possible by means of the viscous coupling device that compensates for the difference in rotational speeds between the front and rear driveshafts.

A part-time AWD, on the other hand, is when the power is constantly being sent to the front of the vehicle. This offers excellent fuel efficiency. When traction is lost on the front wheels, a sophisticated computerized system that reads wheels speeds and driveshaft speeds activates an electric motor that engages the rear driveshaft within seconds, and the vehicle converts to an AWD. This all happens without any driver interaction or engagement and is all automatic.

So now that we know the difference we have a better idea of which wheels to fit the snow chains. We have since learned that the snow chains need to be fitted to the wheels that are propelling the vehicle. In the case of a permanent AWD such as a Subaru Forester, that will be all 4 wheels.

In the case of a part-time AWD, if the vehicle has snow tires you can escape with only the front wheels being fitted with the snow chains since they will be propelling the vehicle most of the time. However, if you have road tires I would recommend fitting them on all 4 wheels as well. This is because once traction is lost, which is likely to happen often on snow and icy roads, you will need the extra traction once the AWD system engages and if the rear wheels don’t offer much traction due to the incorrect tires, then you will not be able to take advantage of the AWD traction and stability on a low traction surface. So in this case on all 4 wheels as well.


So we’ve established that 4-wheel drive does require snow chains, depending on the requirement level set out by the state according to the winter driving conditions. If the 4-wheel drive has winter tires, you could get away without snow chains unless snow conditions are really bad and a level 3 with the roads being extremely slippery.

We also covered what features to look out for when purchasing your snow chains as well as the differences between snow tires with studs and those without.

Whatever you are driving, make sure you obey the warnings broadcasted on the day and decrease your driving speed. Make sure you’ve tested and done a mock installation of your snow chains, so when it comes to fitting them on the day, you are prepared.

Jade C.

4-Wheel drives and off-road driving techniques has been my passion for over 20 years. Here we strive to provide the most accurate, up-to-date, information about the functionality, common faults and latest technology built into most 4 Wheel Drives.

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