Snow chains are laced chains which fit around tyres to improve grip on ice or snow covered roads. Your only problem after fitting them is likely to be over confidence. They are a legal requirement in most ski resorts, certainly in the Alps. They must be used on all four wheels when conditions demand, or when advised by signs. If you are heading for the ski slopes this season you need a set of snow chains.
Snow chains are sized to fit tyres. See the markings on your tyre sidewall in this format: 185/70 R14. There may be other markings – from speed and load ratings to what conditions the tyre is suited for – but only the info as above is needed to buy the right snow chains.
Key: 185 – The width of the tyre in millimetres. 70 – The ratio of tyre sidewall to its width as a %. R – The construction method. R = radial. 14 – The diameter of the wheel in inches.
Snow chains can be used on summer or all weather tyres. You do not need to jack up the wheels. It is quite straightforward with practice. See these videos for the general idea. Fancy sets do not need tensioning.
Most sets cost between £50-£100 (they can cost £600+ each). Halfords gives free fitting advice and also has a sizing tool based on your car registration. See www.snowchains.com and www.snowchainsandsocks.co.uk for mail order.
NOTE: They can be quite bulky. Some makes come in extra small packaging.
For the brave, consider buying snowchains where the locals do. Bog standard ‘chains are a staple in the ski regions (French: Chaî nes neige, Spanish: Cadenas para la nieve, German: Schneeketten). The prices are not hugely different. Importantly, they are also sold singly or in pairs if you need replacements.
Tell your insurance company if you intend to drive with snow chains. Tyre socks are NOT legal in continental Europe as a replacement for chains. You can be fined for driving on clear road surfaces with snow chains. The maximum speed limit is normally 31mph (50kph).
In conditions where snow chains are necessary, temperatures are likely to be below operating temperature for UK supplied diesel. This is particularly important for spare fuel cans. Local diesel will work at -20° C (compared to -15° C in the UK). Petrol freezes at such a low temperature frozen fuel would be the least of your problems. For more see this advice from the AA.