Balancing Act

DIY: How to Install Winter / Snow Tire Chains On Your Prius

It has been a while since I had to install snow tire chains on a car, but driving up to Vancouver, B.C. in late December, and doing multiple side stops along the way, I figured I grab a pair for those "just-in-case" moments (even though Vancouver is known for mild but wet winters).

This article illustrates the basic of how to choose the proper sized snow tire chains and how to mount them on your wheels. While my 2012 Prius is used to demonstrate this Do-it-yourself guide, the article provides general instructions that applies to all cars.

If you are planning to drive to an area and anticipate snowy or icy roads ahead, and you've never installed snow or winter tire chains before, it is important that you practice by performing a dry-run test before you actually embark on your potentially snow-filled journey. Why? Imagine driving along the highway only having to pull over to the side of the road, get on your knees on the slush and attempt to install snow chains for the first time in freezing, wet and icy condition without proper experience. Or worse, driving off with a set of improperly mounted winter tire chains.

Always check the automaker's manual for recommended snow chain class. For the Prius, Class S type snow chains are recommended.

Installing snow / winter tire chains basically boils down to four steps:

  1. Form fitting the chains onto the driving wheels
  2. Connecting the chain links together
  3. Tightening and adjusting the chains with an adjuster or tensioner
  4. Dry-test the fitment by driving a few yards

For this guide, I am installing a set of Glacier Chains PL-Square Link chains and tightener by Pewag. Source to buy these chains can be found at the bottom of the guide.

Glacier Chains PL-Square Link snow tire chains

Glacier Chains PL-Square Link snow tire chains

Glacier Chains Tire Chain Tightener

Glacier Chains Tire Chain Tightener

Keep in mind that this article contains general instructions and is written for educational purpose only.  Neither warranty is expressed nor implied. Always follow your automaker's and snow chain manufacturer's instruction and use common sense; double check all installation for proper fit and tension. If you're not sure, consult a professional.

Installing Winter / Snow Tire Chains

Step 1

Find out your tire size and purchase only tire chains that fit your tire specification.

Choosing Snow Chains for Your Vehicle

Choosing Snow Chains for Your Vehicle

Tire code for the 2012 Prius with 15" rim is: P195/65R15

The P refers to the tire class, or "Passenger" car.

The 195 refers the measurement of the tire's width in millimeters.

The 65 refers to the height of the tire's sidewall from rim to thread as a percentage of the tire's width.

The R refers to the tire construction type, radial.

The 15 refers to the wheel diameter in inches.

Step 2

Layout out the tire chains in front on your driving wheels and remove any twists. Make sure the chains are completely flat and ensure that all the side and cross chains are straight. Make sure the exterior end link fastener is positioned on the outside, as pictured.

Make sure exterior end link fastener is positioned on the outside.

Make sure exterior end link fastener is positioned on the outside.

Step 3

Lift the chain and drape it over the tire. Make sure the tire chain covers up the tire and is evenly distributed. The tire chain should not obstruct your tire wall, so ensure the tire chain has proper clearance. Improperly installed tire chains could damage your tires, a situation you do not want to find yourself in during inclement weather.

If your car is lowered like mine, you may need to drive slowly forward half a foot so that the end link fastener on the inner side of the wheel is accessible. If your car isn't lowered, you should be able to maneuver yourself and reach this end link, if not, simply drive forward half a foot.

Ensure the tire chain covers the tire evenly and completely.

Ensure the tire chain covers the tire evenly and completely.

Step 4

Connect the end link fastener on the inner side of the tire first. For most standard Class S tire chains, it's simply a hook that attaches to the opposite end of the chain.

Step 5

Connect the end link fastener on the exterior side of the tire. This usually involves hooking the fastener to the opposite end of the chain, followed by sliding a safety lock over the fastener.

Attaching the exterior end link fastener to the opposite end of the chain.

Attaching the exterior end link fastener to the opposite end of the chain.

A safety lock clip completes the exterior end link fastener.

A safety lock clip completes the exterior end link fastener.

Step 6

Check for slack. If you find slack like I did, move the fastener a few chain links up. Do this for both inner and exterior end links. I hooked the fastener two chains up, as pictured:

Check for slack in the chains.

Check for slack in the chains.

The worst that could happen is driving off on loose tire chains that could fall off or entangle your axles.

I could probably hook up the fastener four chains up to tighten the slack.

Step 7

If you purchased rubber tire chain adjuster, install them by placing the hooks on 5 location on the exterior chain links, equidistance from each other if possible, forming a pentagon. Repeat for the opposite driving wheel. There is still a little bit of slack in the photos, but the end result was driveable.

In a real life situation, I would minimize all slack.

Install the tire chain adjuster last.

Install the tire chain adjuster last.

Step 8

Test drive the newly installed tire chains to ensure they stay on the tire. For most Class S type snow tire chains, the speed limit is usually 30 MPH. But depending on chain construction and manufacturer's recommendation, it may vary. When in doubt, check and follow your chains' manufacturer's instruction.

Class S snow tire chains with adjuster on a lowered Prius.

Class S snow tire chains with adjuster on a lowered Prius.

Removal and Storage

To remove your chains, park completely at a safe location, such as a gas station and turn off the ignition and remove one tire chain at a time. Remove the outer tire chain adjuster if you have them on. Decouple the inner end link fastener first and ensure the inner links are completely detached, then decouple the exterior end link fastener.

Remove the tire chain from the tire and lay it flat and parallel to the tire, similar to step 2. Drive forward (or backward) slowly. If you drive with the inner fastener still attached, you run the risk of entangling the driving axle with the chain. Repeat for the opposite tire.

Remove and clean the chains from any debris, then store it in a safe compartment in your car.

Store your chains when not in use.

Store your chains when not in use.

Where to Buy

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