Smart Driving

Max Kvidera | October 01, 2011

Chain up

Help protect your tires by knowing when and how to use chains during winter

Chaining up is one chore that often requires you to work in the worst weather. If you run through Western mountain passes or on Northern routes in winter, you’ll probably be confronted with installing chains.

Chaining up in clear, dry weather may not be an option when driving in Western mountain ranges.

To prepare yourself for chaining in wintry conditions, carry a few pieces of equipment to keep yourself safe, recommends Eric Sullwold, business development manager for chain manufacturer Pewag Inc. Get a reflective vest that can be seen in whiteout conditions or at night. Carry a sturdy flashlight or battery-powered lantern. Also, pack a good pair of gloves, coveralls and a rain jacket or parka to protect you from wind and snow.

Ideally, pick a place far off the roadway, such as a chaining area or rest area that is well-lit and has adequate space. Look for level ground to keep from sliding on ice. Truckers often will procrastinate and think they can make it to the next pullout before chaining. Find a safe area and do it as soon as you can when conditions worsen, Sullwold says.

When applying chains, most truckers simply drape them over the top of the tire. Make sure the latch is on the outside of the tire and the connecting C-hook is on the inside, away from the tire.

Move the truck forward or backward slightly to get as much of the chain under the tire as possible. ­Fasten the two ends, connecting the C-hook first, and then the latch side. When you slide the link on and pull it down to fasten the latch, it will tighten the chain more.

Many chains have tightening cams along the side chain. The cam is a half-moon-shaped disk you tighten with a key that cinches the chain tighter. You might choose a rubber tightener, which is a rubber O-ring with metal hooks that connects to the outside chain to snug it up, says Keith Jull, sales manager at Security Chain Co.

If you have a V-bar chain, make sure the V-bar is pointing away from the tire. The same applies to studded chains. Otherwise, the studs will dig into the tread.

After installing the chains, drive your rig a distance to allow centrifugal force to center the chain on the tire. You may not have much space, so you may have to re-tension the chains at the next pullout or chaining area.

Re-tensioning adjusts the tightness to get a better fit. If the chain is too loose, it will hit the pavement ahead of the tire and cause premature wear or break a link, Sullwold says, or it can roll around the tire and wear the tread. Rarely will you get the chains too tight, though this too could cause damage to the tire’s tread, sidewall or shoulder.

When removing chains, find a safe place away from traffic. Sullwold recommends hanging them on your truck or trailer in a way that will make it easy to install them the next time.

Common errors

The most common problem truckers have with chains is installing them upside down, Sullwold says. Cross-chain hooks in a faulty installation of this type can wear into the tire sidewall, which can damage the casing. “Always mount your chains with the hook portion facing away from the sidewall,” he says.

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