In areas where snow and ice are common on roads during the winter season (and sometimes the fall and spring seasons), driving conditions occasionally deteriorate to the point where average car tires are not enough to maintain safety for drivers. Snow tires and snow chains exist to improve traction and driving capability on snowy or icy roads.

There is, however, some confusion for drivers on the differences between snow chains and snow tires and if and when it’s recommended or mandated to have them in place. The following is a brief guide to answer those questions.

Snow Tires vs Snow Chains

Snow tires come in two varieties: studless and with lightweight studs. Lightweight studs are metal studs embedded in the tread to grip the snow and ice. Studless tires use different rubber compounds and tread patterns instead of metal to enhance traction. They are more convenient than snow chains, as you put them on for the winter and don’t have to take them off till spring. It’s generally recommended to buy 4 snow tires as opposed to just having 2.

Average cost: $150-$200 per tire

Snow chains consist of webs of chain or sometimes cable that you put on your drive wheels (usually the front wheels) once you arrive in snow country. They improve traction about as well as studded tires on ice and they’re generally more effective on snow than any type of snow tire. They could be seen as inconvenient as you put them on and take them off throughout the winter depending on road conditions. They are banned or discouraged in some locations due to their potential to deteriorate road surfaces.

Average cost: $50-$100 per set

Are Tires or Chains Necessary

The necessity of snow chains or snow tires really depends on where you live and where you do your driving. There is a handy table found at that explains the differences in snow chain and snow tires laws and recommendations for each state.  Below is a more detailed explanation of the laws and recommendations for the states Craig Swapp & Associates serves.

  • Utah – Between November 1st and March 31st, if signs are posted, vehicles must have chains or snow tires.
  • Idaho – It’s permissible to use tire chains when conditions require it, and the state transportation department may determine at any time certain roads require snow chains for travel.
  • Washington – Signs marked “chains required” will be posted. On certain roads, chains must be carried from November 1st to March 31st.

The reality is that snow chains and snow tires make winter driving safer. Every winter season our firm takes cases involving accidents that were caused by vehicles ill equipped to handle winter driving. It’s always cheaper to purchase good snow tires or snow chains instead of having to replace a totaled car or covering the injuries and damages caused by an accident.

A common belief is that vehicles with 4-wheel drive capability (4WD) don’t need snow tires or snow chains in order to safely drive on snow and ice. While there is no doubt that 4WD capability is helpful in adverse winter road conditions, studies show that snow chains and snow tires were more effective than 4WD and that 4WD capable vehicles greatly benefited from the added traction snow chains and snow tries provide.

Safety First

When in doubt if whether you need snow chains or snow tires, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and get them. At Craig Swapp & Associates we are always just a call away if you have questions about winter driving or if you or a loved one have been injured in an accident. Get in touch with us at 1-800-404-9000 or by filling out the online form at the bottom of this page.

Written By: Ryan Swapp     Legal Review By: Craig Swapp