Are Snow Tires Better Than Chains? [There is Only 1 Winner]

Imagine yourself trying to get to your favorite ski resort after a fresh dusting of powder. Maybe you have even waited for the roads to clear. Still, without snow tires or tire chains for your car, you might not make it. So, which should you use? Are snow tires better than tire chains?

We get to one clear winner as we compare snow tires to chains.

Volvo V90 In The Snow
Volvo V90 In The Snow. Photo Credit Motor Verso (Flickr CC)

What Are Snow Tires?

Snow tires are uniquely made for winter roads and are only to be used in the wintertime. There are some key reasons to use snow tires and they are made specifically for the winter.

How Are Snow Tires Different Than All-Season Tires?

All tires are not made the same. Snow tires are different from all-season tires due to the following reasons:

  • The rubber used for the tire
  • Patterns made for the snow and ice
  • The tread depth of the tires
  • Edges made to bite into the snow and ice

Comparing a snow tire to an all-season tire and you’ll be able to feel the rubber is different from a snow tire to an all-season tire.

In the winter, an all-season tire will become brittle and doesn’t have as much traction while a snow tire maintains it’s bite, flex and traction due to the rubber formulation used. Take a snow tire to the roads in the summer and you’ll find it wears out quicker due to the heat.

While all-season tires are ok in the winter, snow tires are specifically made to provide an advantage or snowy and icy roads.

What Are Tire Chains?

The second line of defense in winter driving is tire chains. Also known as snow chains. It doesn’t matter if you are going to an east coast ski resort, west coast or just to grandma’s house, having tire chains in your trunk can be a lifesaver in winter.

Tire chains are fitted to the tires to maximize your traction when going through snow and ice. Let’s look at when you should use snow chains.

When To Use Snow Chains?

You’ll want to use snow chains on all four tires when facing some of the worst snow, ice or inclines. Ski areas like Hurricane Ridge even stipulate that you must have tire chains in your vehicle when visiting in the winter.

That is why it is smart to start with a vehicle made for winter travel to places like ski resorts, get your snow tires and then your tire chains.

The time you’ll want to use tire chains is when the road has not been plowed or salted. You’ll always want to use on a road with a layer of snow or visible ice. Using tire chains on bare roads can damage the chains, tires and road.

How Much Are Snow Tires?

Snow Tires Volvo V90 In The Winter
Snow Tires in the Snow. Photo Credit Motor Verso (Flickr CC)

Much like an all-season tire, snow tires can cost in the $200 range for each tire. That is about $800 for a full set of snow tires. Think about if this is worth it to you or now. For someone going to the ski resorts, it is almost always worth the cost.

If you don’t plan to do much winter driving at all, you can possibly forgo snow tires.

How Does That Compare to Snow Chains

A good set of snow chains costs around $80-$120 for two. You’ll need two sets for a total of four tire chains. This will be about $160 to $240. Well worth the cost if you plan to be out in the snow and ice. Plus you can easily use snow chains year after year.

What Are the Benefits of Snow Tires?

We can’t hammer it enough that snow tires are the first line of defense between safe driving and slipping around on the road. There is one main benefit to snow tires and that is better traction. They may also increase your confidence and peace of mind on the road but at the end of the day, it is all about safety and traction.

And the Drawbacks?

When looking at snow tires, there are more drawbacks than positives but they don’t outweigh the positives. Some negatives of snow tires include:

  • Having to put them on for the specific season
  • The cost
  • You can’t drive them all year round
  • They wear out quickly if not used for snowy winter conditions

What are the Benefits of Snow Chains?

Much like the snow tires, the snow chains are specifically designed for better traction. You can’t replicate the traction from a good snow chain with solely a snow tire in a snowstorm on an unplowed road. Before you jump to get snow chains, you should be aware that they have cons too!

And the Drawbacks?

The cons of snow chains are again, more than the positives but it doesn’t outweigh the positives. Snow chain’s cons are:

  • The time it takes to put them on
  • Getting ones that fit your tires
  • Having to take them off if the road is bare
  • They can break if not used properly
  • Putting them on can be a hassle

While snow chains can be a lifesaver in the winner, always consider if you really need to drive out on those roads and if it is really worth it.

Are Snow Tires Better Than Chains?

Land Rover Discovery Sport tested winter roads
Land Rover Discovery Sport Tested on Snowy Terrain. Photo Credit Land Rover MENA (Flickr CC)

Snow tires are better than snow chains since you can leave them on the vehicle at all times in the winter and reap the benefits of extra traction. Ask any skier or snowboarder with a set of snow tires and they will tell you that the tires are worth their weight in gold after a storm.

If you can do it, get some tire chains too. While they are designed to have a specific purpose and add even more traction, it never hurts to have them in the trunk and know how to put them onto your tires.

Winner: Snow Tires

Final Thoughts

Start off with snow tires and get the tire chains when you can afford them. Think ahead if you even need to be on the roads in the winter and have an idea of where you would be going. Snow tires and tire chains can both improve winter driving.

If you do a lot of winter driving, put them both into your lineup for the winter!

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