Do I Put Snow Chains on Front Wheels or Rear Tires?

by Karen Plant
itstillruns article image
David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images

Winter weather can create hazardous driving conditions. In some situations, you may need to equip your vehicle with tire chains or cables for added traction on snow or ice. However, incorrectly placed chains or cables will not provide you the needed traction and may give you a false sense of safety. Be certain you are ready to rig your vehicle correctly for extreme weather conditions.

Know Your Vehicle

Determine which tires propel your vehicle. Different vehicles are propelled by the two front wheels, the two rear wheels or all four wheels. If you are uncertain if your vehicle is front-wheel, rear-wheel, all-wheel or four-wheel drive, check your owner's manual or ask a dealer that carries your vehicle.

Install the chains/cables on the driving wheels of your vehicle. The wheels that propel a vehicle forward or backward are called the driving wheels.

Install chains/cables on the two front tires if you have a front-wheel drive vehicle.

Install chains/cables on the two rear tires if you have a rear-wheel drive vehicle.

Install chains/cables on one set of the drive tires if you have a four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicle—either the two front tires or the two rear tires. According to the California Department of Transportation, the rear tires are preferred, unless the vehicle manufacturer recommends front-tire installation. Check your owner’s manual for further instruction. You can install chains/cables on all four wheels if necessary.


Check you vehicle operator’s manual to determine the right type and size of chains or cables to use on your vehicle. Chains provide better traction than cables, but cables are easier to install. Your vehicle's owner's manual may specify that you use cables, not chains.

Purchase chains or cables that match your tire size. The tire size is listed in your operator’s manual and on the sides of the tires. Tire chain/cable installation procedures vary depending on the style or brand you use. Read and follow the instructions and safety precautions for the specific brand you are using.

Snow chains/cables don’t fit on all vehicles. Some vehicle models lack clearance between the tire and the suspension, and some vehicle manufacturers don’t recommend chains or any other traction device.

Practice installing the chains/cables at home, before you need to use them on winter roads.

Follow General Installation Instructions

Pull a safe distance off the road and onto a flat surface to install chains/cables. Lay the chains/cables flat on the ground with the metal hooks facing down. Remove all twists or kinks. Slowly drive your vehicle halfway onto the chain/cables. Set the emergency brake and turn on your emergency flashers.

Grab each end of the chains/cables and wrap them up and around the tire, pulling each end to the top of the tire. Reach behind the tire and connect the connector cable on the far side of the tire. Remove as much slack as possible before connecting the connector cable nearest you. Use the rubber adjusters that come with the chains/cables to give them a tight fit.

After the chains/cables are installed, drive approximately 1/4 mile, stop, and re-tighten if necessary. Accelerate and decelerate slowly to avoid spinning your wheels. Drive well below highway speeds (no faster than 30 mph) with the tire chains/cables installed. Pull over and stop if any part of a tire chain/cable fails or comes loose.

More Articles

article divider