Difference Between Snow Chains & Snow Cables

by Tina Amo
itstillruns article image
snowy road image by samantha grandy from Fotolia.com

It is difficult, and even dangerous, to drive a car in snow without adequate snow equipment. Common options for your car include snow tires, snow chains and snow cables. A lot of confusion surrounds the last two, and some think they're one and the same. Although snow chains and snow cables perform similar work, there are differences between them, enough to affect which one you should ultimately choose.


Snow chains and snow cables are used in areas that experience snowy winters, such as states in the Eastern region and the Midwest. In some areas, such as the steep mountain passes, roads and highways, car owners must have snow chains, snow tires or snow cables on their tires when driving. A few states are against them for fear of the damage that this equipment can cause to road surfaces.


Snow chains are made of large and heavy steel links while snow cables are made of steel aircraft cable encased in alloy traction coils. Both have cross-links that can be replaced when worn out.


Snow chains are available in the recognizable ladder pattern, while snow cables are available in the ladder pattern or a "z" chain pattern. The latter is supposed to offer the best traction due to the zigzag pattern across the length of the snow cable. Both snow chains and snow cables are available in a variety of sizes to fit the different sizes of tires for different cars.


Each type of snow equipment provides its own particular benefit. Due to their makeup, snow cables are lighter in weight than snow chains and are easier to put on and take off. They are also less expensive than snow chains. Although snow cables are effective, snow chains seem to provide more traction. Snow chains are often used for 2WD vehicles; snow cables are more often used on 4WD vehicles.


In the New York State Commercial Driving Manual, the DMV recommends that drivers learn to install their snow chains or cables before they actually need to use them. A practice installation will help you ensure that the chains or cables are the right size for your tires and will prepare you to use them when needed. Snow chains and snow cables will last longer when they are used appropriately. When the chains or cables are on the tires, accelerate slowly and then maintain a speed no faster than 30 mph. Manufacturers recommend that owners use this equipment on snow-covered roads only.


It is possible for snow chains to wrap around a vehicle's axle if they are not properly secured. Snow chains should be checked and tightened after driving a short distance.

More Articles

article divider