Get a GRIP in the Snow: Easy Tire Chains & Some Helpful Hints! by Bill Burke
Snow 4-wheeling is great, chilling fun, and coldly challenging. In the wintry Colorado back country (and many other parts of the world) where the first snow usually falls in October, then stays til late June, early July, where sometimes high mountain passes like Pearl Pass and Webster Pass stay closed til mid-September, it can be finger-numbing and downright dangerous.
We’ve all seen the TV commercials for the winter sales of the fancy new 4WD bounding across snow fields, blasting fresh powder all over the camera! It looks like such fun! One problem with this scenario is that you have to watch out for tree stumps and rocks hidden by the deep, fresh powder. Blast across some meadows and your tire could get shoved under your rig, bending the rim and flattening the tire. OUCH!
Be careful when the momentum factor carries you away. Too fast, and the rig will slide off the trail. The ice under the snow will ensure that. You can be “clipping” down a trail in deep powder, come into a turn, try to negotiate the turn and the rig continues straight. Here is where tire chains come in handy. This article is going to talk about what I feel are some of the most important pieces of equipment to help get you and your rig ready for the winter trail, tire chains in general, and the GRIP 4X4 chains specifically.
In 1996, I attended the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) show in Las Vegas and looked at the various types of tire chains offered by different manufacturers. After seeing many diverse types of chain construction, I decided that the style of the GRIP 4X4 by RUD-Chain, Inc. seemed to be the most efficient for installation. One of the most important features I was looking for was that, in a sticky situation, they needed to be quick and easy to install. RUD provided me with chains for both my Defender 90 and my Range Rover to test for my purposes.
I usually use chains whenever I do any back country driving in the snow–4 tires, 4 chains. I’ve even written articles in the past on how to install tire chains, when to use them, and how to keep them from twisting up. But, now I’ve found a much better way!
The GRIP 4X4 chains are the easiest I’ve ever put on! They have a plastic encased steel cable on the inside of the tire that helps locate the cross bar links, and helps keep the chain from hitting the springs or radius rod when turning the front wheels. They also have chain links that connect the cross bar links. This would be considered a modified diamond pattern. These run parallel with the tire and help keep the vehicle from sliding sideways like standard ladder style chains.
Although it is a good idea to roll down the road about 50 feet and make sure the chains are properly tensioned, in a tight spot like I had on the trail they worked just fine without doing this.
It’s as simple as sliding the chain behind the tire, bringing the inner cable connector up to the top and making the connection for the inner link, then connecting the outer link, straightening the chain on the tire, pulling the tensioning chain through the locking mechanism, pulling tight, then hooking it to an appropriate link to keep the chain tensioned.
I was in my Range Rover and a little abusive to the chains during an excursion up Left Hand Canyon in Boulder, Colorado on a very snowy and cold Saturday in January. It was quite miserable weather, prime conditions and a great trail to test a set of chains–they worked really well on the open-diff Range Rover. Sometimes running open-diffs in snow and ice conditions is better than using lockers, as lockers tend to slide you sideways. Although, with the GRIP 4X4’s design, side slip is minimized. Another feature I like is the GRIP 4X4’s are reversible, so the chains last longer, unlike standard ladder-type chains that cannot be reversed.
Chains can also be used for worn or non-aggressive tread tires when the trail turns to mud or loose rock. They can make your rig into a little tractor! If you can only afford one set, and you’re going to be in 4WD on a trail, I recommend putting them on the front axle since you have steering, braking, and traction. However, be careful on long descents since you’re getting such good traction with the front end, and the rear is not chained, it may swing around on you. So it might be better for those descents to chain up the rear. That’s why I like RUD chains because they are so easy to move around.
Other suggestions for using chains include:
1. Use caution with spinning the tires, as the chains may catch on unseen stumps, rocks, and roots, and you could brake an axle or a hub.
2. Check the trail ahead in deep snow for hidden obstacles.
3. Inspect chains before and after each outing. Look for worn links and stretched connectors.
4. Spray chains with some WD40 after each use. Make sure the chains don’t rust. Don’t leave them in a pile!
5. Be careful when steering with the front end articulated. Keep the chains from contacting vehicle components.
6. Remember, chains will allow you to dig to the trail through deep snow and ice. Watch for high-centering in those conditions. Sometimes, through very deep, hard-packed snow, I have used soft, high flotation tires to go across the top of deep drifts in lieu of chains. Then I’ve aired up to put the chains back on.
7. Do not use bare hands on cold, icy chains. Use heavy-duty neoprene/rubber gloves or good leather work gloves to put chains on.
8. Drive very slow and deliberate with chains on to gain proper traction and control on the icy trail.
9. Occasionally, I’ll use higher RPM’s in lower gears to keep the chains “churning.” This breaks the ice in hard-pack snow so the vehicle can gain traction on the trail.
Whether you use your rig to navigate wintry streets to get groceries and the kids to school, or winch to that great ice fishing spot, you need to be prepared for any incident. Winter is nothing to be trifled with. Have the proper equipment and a plan on how to use it, if necessary. You can have all the gear in the world, but it’s no good if you don’t know how to use it and you don’t have a plan! Get proper training in vehicle operation. Take some emergency training through your local Red Cross office. Be aware of your limitations and those of your vehicle.
No matter what kind of rig you own, from stock showroom vehicle to the most radical of off-road machines, you must always check it out before heading to the hills. You can prepare a checklist to be sure you have seasonal items that maybe wouldn’t make it into your kit other times of the year. I built a shelf in my garage to hold the off-season items. That way, it goes in the vehicle and when I’m done, it goes right back on the shelf in its place. I think it was Confucius who said: “A place for everything and everything in its place,” or maybe it was my drill sergeant.
It sure is a winter wonderland out there…quiet, peaceful and scenic. The best part about winter 4-wheeling is the lack of bugs and people competing for campsites! Be prepared, stay safe, and don’t be a stick-in-the-mud (or snow)!