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How To Install Tire Chains

If you live where the climate calls for snowy winters, then there's a chance you'll eventually need tire chains. Even here in California, the need for chains often surfaces in the mountain areas of places like the Sierra Nevadas and the Mountain Lake regions of Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead in San Bernardino County.

At first, installing tire chains seemed like it would be more hassle than we wanted to think about. But once we read the directions and tried it in our driveway, we learned that installation is quite easy.

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A new aspect that we show here is the availability of something other than traditional chains. That's right, these "traction cables," as they are called, are not made using standard chain. They're metal cables with steel sleeves wrapped around the cables. Installation of them is much the same as with regular chains and the lever-lock clamping setup on each cable makes installation even easier.

Made by Peerless Chain Company, these SnoTrac traction cables for light-truck applications are ideal for our long-term GMC Sierra. We got the cables at K-Mart for about 60 bucks. The photo sequence below shows the installation process and the following tire sizes are what Peerless says these cables (part number 0166955) will fit:

  • 31x10.50-15
  • 10-15LT
  • LT245/85R15
  • LT265/75R15
  • 7.50-16LT
  • P245/75R16
  • LT235/80R16
  • LT235/85R16
  • 9.50-16.5LT
  • 10-16.5LT
  • 7.00-17LT
  • P275/60R17
  • LT235/75R17.5
  1. The Peerless cables come in a convenient plastic carrying case. Unroll and lay the cables on a flat surface to make sure there are no broken cables (or links if you have chains) or other damaged components.
  2. After inspection, begin by laying the cable flat near the tire you're installing it on.
  3. Drape the cable over the top of the tire. The ends of the side cables with the keyhole latch attachments should be on the outside of the tire.
  4. With the lever lock on the outer sidewall (and on the right side of the tire as explained in step 3) make sure the cable crossmembers are straight across the tire's tread.
  5. To bring the keyhole latches and lever lock to a comfortable working height, roll the vehicle slowly forward about a foot until the keyhole latch would line up roughly with the axle. The cable will fall back on the ground as shown, but when you go to redrape the cable back onto the tire, the lever lock will be in an easier place for you to attach it and part of the cable will be underneath the tire as shown.
  6. First, the cable needs to be secured on the inner side of the tire. Pull the end of the cable with the knobs up to meet the keyhole latch. We used the second knob in from the end of the cable to secure the cable to the back side of tire.
  7. Now, begin working on the outer sidewall to fasten the lever lock. Pull the end of the side cable with the knobs to meet the lever lock. At this point, recheck to make sure the crossmember cables are centered over the tire tread.
  8. We attached the lever lock to the third knob to make sure the cable fit tightly over the tire. To close the lever lock, pull the lever 180 degrees toward the top of the tire.
  9. The installed cable looks like this. Drive the vehicle cautiously about a half-mile and recheck the installation.
  10. This close-up shows how the crossmember hook ends must face away from the tire tread when the cables are installed. You need to be sure about this or the cable hook ends could damage the tire by digging into the rubber.
  11. This close-up shows how the lever lock works as explained in steps 7 and 8. The lever lock secures by hooking the end of it to the side cable as shown.

There are also several precautionary measures you should know concerning tire chains or cables. They are as follows: