According to the US Department of Transportation, nearly 40% of all trucking accidents occur during snowfall, when road surfaces are wet and icy. Driving a semi-truck during winter increases the risks of rear-end and head-on collisions, rollovers, jackknifing, and other types of accidents.
These accidents occur mostly due to reduced traction, poor visibility, and human errors, among other factors. As a result, snow chains for semi trucks have become essential traction devices for truckers operating in snow-prone areas and winter conditions.
Most US states have imposed strict chain laws to minimize accidents. For instance, Washington’s Department of Transportation mandates all trucks over 10,000 lbs GVWR to have a specified number of chains mounted on tires in different configurations based on the number of axles.
While most truckers understand the importance of snow chains when hauling cargo during the winter, some may find it challenging putting them on their truck tires. Therefore, this article will provide a step-by-step guide on snow chain installation and recommended practices for semi trucks.
1. Inspect Your Tire Conditions
Before getting started, the first thing you need to do is ensure your tires are in good condition. To do this, you need to look at the treads and sidewalls for bumps, cracks, punctures, cuts, or any other damage that can cause the chains to come loose and damage your vehicle or its surroundings.
Once you’ve completed the inspection and made necessary repairs or changes, check and regulate the tire pressure. Ensure that the tire pressure is at its normal operating pressure for your truck.
2. Prepare Your Snow Chains
Once you’ve checked your tires, the next step is to remove the snow chains from its bag or your truck’s storage and lay it out flat on the ground. When doing so, ensure the cams and hooks are facing up so the hooks face away from the tire and not against it when fastening your chains.
3. Inspect The Chain Conditions
Next, inspect the condition of your chains, by checking for broken links and twists. Proceed to untwist the chain to prevent it from breaking while driving. If you find any broken links, replace the chain immediately.
Next, check the hooks and make sure they’re free of dirt and debris. Finally, check the cams and ensure they’re not in a tightened position. If any cams are in a tightened position, simply rotate them back to loosen them.
4. Drape The Chains Evenly Over the Tire
Once the chain inspection is complete, proceed to install it on a single tire first. Ideally, you should begin with the tire providing the best traction, which is usually the drive axle.
Start by picking up the chains from the middle point with both hands and slowly drape them evenly over the tire. Make sure the hooks and cams are facing you when you’re done. If they’re not, bring the chains back down, rotate them, and try again.
Once the chain is on, take your time to ensure it’s positioned evenly. Make sure the middle point is on the top of the tire. Once you’re done, you will notice all the hooks and cams are equidistant from the tire’s center.
5. Hook the Inside & Outside Parts of the Chains
This is arguably the most crucial step of putting chains on truck tires, and there are two ways to go about it, as explained below:
Hooking a Stationary Truck
Hooking up a snow chain on a stationary truck is safe but much more difficult than driving the truck into a convenient hooking position. For this method, we recommend using a rod or stick to ease the hooking process.
Ideally, you should start by hooking the chain on the inner part of the wheel. This is the hardest step due to limited visibility and reach. You may also need to lie on the ground to see the end of the chains and position yourself according to the hooks’ position.
From there, you can easily reach the ends of the chains using the rod or stick and pull the links towards you. We recommend hooking the chain in such that you would have two chain links free. Once you’re done with the inside, hooking the chains from the outside should be fairly easy.
Additional Tip: Leave no more than two chain links free, as this ensures that your snow chain is not too tight or loose.
Reversing the Truck Before Hooking
As mentioned above, the mobile truck method is much faster and easier than the stationary method but more hazardous. Therefore, you must adhere to strict safety procedures and ensure the truck is on flat ground before hooking the ends of the chains.
Before attempting to move the truck, you should tuck the cross chains below the back of the tire. Next, the main step is to bring the truck in reverse (about 1 foot) for sufficient clearance and hook the chains from the front of the tire.
By performing this step from the front, you are in the opposite direction from where the truck would move and have sufficient space to escape should anything happen. Similar to the above method, leave no more than two chain links free when hooking.
6. Tighten the Cams
Once you’ve managed to hook the chains, the next step is to tighten the cams. For this, you would require a cam tool for tire chains which you can easily find at a local store or online in case you don’t already have one.
Start with the bottom cams since it’s less ergonomic, and tighten the cams one at a time while slipping your fingers under the cross chains until you can fit no more than your fingertips between the tire and the cross chains.
It is important to note that over-tightening can result in premature wear and tear due to increased friction. Conversely, a loose chain can easily break and damage your truck’s fender, rim, or any other surface it comes in contact with during transit.
7. Fix a Multi-Arm Adjuster (Optional)
A multi-arm adjuster is an optional device you can attach to your snow chains to tighten and secure the chains as well as retain equal tension at each point. It also doubles as a safety device that keeps the chain attached to the tire even if a link breaks.
8. Repeat the Steps to Install Chains on Other Tires
As mentioned in the beginning, different states have different tire chain regulations. Hence, you may be required to install multiple chains based on the number of axles or re-install chains on different tires depending on the state you’re in. In either case, you can follow and repeat steps one through seven.
9. Inspect Your Chain Links
Once you’ve attached the snow chains to your truck tires, you should inspect the links to make sure they’re not loose or grazing any parts of your wheel. Double-check all the cams and hooks to ensure that your chains are secured.
If the cams are tight but the chains remain loose, you can loosen a couple of cams and unhook the chains to add a couple of links if required. This may take some time initially, but you’ll get used to this fairly quickly.
We would also recommend that you drive your truck slowly for about 100-200 yards and inspect if your chains are fully secured.
Best Practices For Installing & Driving With Truck Snow Chains
Along with learning how to put chains on truck tires, there are also certain practices to maximize safety and prolong the lifespan of your chains and tires. Below are some of the most recommended practices in the industry that we’ve summarized for you:
- Drive Slowly – Drive at moderate speeds when operating a cargo truck with snow chains. Most states that experience heavy snowfall don’t allow truckers or any other vehicles to drive faster than 30 mph when using snow chains. Keeping a truck under 30 mph reduces the risk of accidents significantly as it reduces braking time and enables better overall control, even in extreme weather with low visibility. Driving any faster could also cause the chains to break and lead to more wear on your tires.
- Loop the Ends of Your Chains – Snow chains need to be tightly attached to tires to minimize any unnecessary contact with other surfaces, such as fenders or rims. So, once you hook up your chain to your tires, you must ensure no extra chain end links are hanging. To do this, you need to push the hook through the last chain link to form a loop when hooking the desired link.
- Rotate Your Chains Daily – Another great practice you can adopt is rotating your chains daily between left and right tires. Doing so will limit the wear and tear on the chain’s edges during trips by having different contact points on every use, prolonging your chain’s lifespan.
- Ensure Hooks Are Facing Outward – Hooks on snow chains can graze your tires and damage the treads if installed inwards. Prolonged damage may also result in flat and dislodged chains, which could be dangerous if you’re hauling cargo in high-traffic conditions.
- Untwist Your Chains – Twisting is the leading cause of snow chains breaking during transit. Therefore, make sure to check for twists before installing them onto your tires and before starting each trip.