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TÜV SÜD: What everyone should know about snow chains

Munich - When country side-roads are deeply covered in snow, even the best winter tyres will reach their limits. Snow chains are the answer in this situation. The experts at TÜV SÜD provide an overview of the various models, with tips on choosing and using them.
 
Snow chains must exactly fit the sizes of the tyres! “215/60-16 is quite different from 215/50-16”, notes TÜV SÜD expert Eberhard Lang. “The applicable tyre sizes – there are usually several – must be shown precisely on the packaging.” This is particularly important when a set of chains is passed from one car to another. Some snow chain manufacturers will adjust used chains to different tyre sizes. But even where tyre sizes and chain sizes are a match, care is essential. In many cases car manufacturers do not provide official approval for chains in the larger of the tyre sizes permitted for the vehicle. If the vehicle manual is silent on this point, it is advisable to ask your car dealer. Websites of snow chain manufacturers are also useful sources of information.
 
Classic snow chains: This is the most straightforward type of snow chain for cars, and is also referred to as a ‘compact cable fitting system’. It can be applied without moving the car – a major advantage if the car is already stuck in snow. “However, the wheels should not be in too deep”, warns TÜV SÜD expert Eberhard Lang. If they are, they must be cleared of excessive snow first. Classic snow chains are very cheap and are useful to stow in the boot as a precaution. They are often difficult to fit to rear-wheel-drive cars, however: “To fit the snow chains, the driver has to reach behind the wheel to fit hooks; this is often very difficult where there is too little wheel arch clearance”, explains Lang.
 
Quick-fitting snow chains: If snow chains are likely to be used often, this type – in which a spring steel hoop snaps the chains into place behind the wheel – is recommended as being far easier to fit and requiring less wheel arch clearance. However, the car must be moved forward one-quarter of the tyre circumference in order to fit and remove the chains.
 
Quick-fit self-tensioning snow chains: An even simpler option is provided by snow chains with spring-loaded arms or plastic clips. However, numerous models require an adapter to be fitted to one or more wheel nuts, a complicated process that must be completed before the winter season – and preferably as early as the changeover to winter tyres. Quick-fit self-tensioning snow chains can be fitted to cars already stuck in snow.
 
Textiles over steel: In recent years car ‘snow socks’ and meshes made from textiles have appeared on the market. While they are significantly easier to fit than their steel counterparts, the traction and durability of metal chains are far superior.
 
Practice: Even technically skilled drivers may not succeed in fitting their snow chains at the first try – especially not in the dark and in slushy, snowy conditions. Lang recommends, “Read through the instructions carefully at home and do a trial run to ensure you are thoroughly familiar with handling the snow chains.”
 
Use: Snow chains are only happy in deep snow; ‘bare’ winter tyres offer better grip on icy roads. Only the spikes available with numerous quick-fit self-tensioning snow chains also offer a slight improvement on ice. The applicable speed limit is 50 km/h.
 
Regulations: Germany does not have any regulations governing snow chains in place; however, in Austria snow chains must comply with the Austrian ‘Ö-Norm’ standard – identified by an intertwined Ö and N symbol. Branded products comply with the standard as a matter of course.
 
Quality: Classic snow chains are the cheapest type. Acceptable quality and a minimum of convenience in fitting cannot be expected at prices below 50 euros, and quick-fit self-tensioning snow chains may run into several hundred euros. Drivers that only need chains for a holiday trip to the mountains can consider hiring a set of chains – a service offered by car clubs and some garages. Wear and tear need not be a major consideration; in TÜV SÜD’s experience good chains have a mileage of at least one thousand kilometres, and this applies even to the plastic components of quick-fit chains. “But this assumes that the chains are not driven over dry roads for long distances”, warns Eberhard Lang from TÜV SÜD. Tyres also need not fear damage provided the chains are operated correctly. And drivers seeking to avoid scratching their stylish light alloy wheels are best advised to choose quick-fit self-tensioning snow chains, in which there is no contact between the steel chains and the wheel rim.  

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