Snow chains or winter tires? Which option is better?

In a country where snow is not usually something common, except in high mountain areas, snow chains are usually the chosen option for driving in winter. However, winter tires can be an interesting alternative when the necessary circumstances exist for their use.

Except in those cases in which polar cold waves, explosive cyclogenesis and snow storms do their thing, Spain is not a country in which it is usually necessary to resort to additional elements with which to maintain our mobility during winter, Except for those high mountain areas where the presence of cold and ice is more common. A context very different from that of other countries such as Germany, Austria, Slovakia or Finland, to name a few, in which it is even mandatory to use these winter tires for a few months a year or in the face of ice and snow storm warnings. Something that leads drivers in these countries to have two sets of tires at home, one dedicated to winter and the other to summer.

All this approach can lead to the question of whether it is really worth “going European” and fitting these winter tires. A question that we are going to answer with the necessary analysis of both options and their corresponding recommendations for use.

What are winter tires

But before we start, it is important to know what we are talking about when it comes to winter tires. In general, the tires that we see in stores and that are mounted on our cars are called summer tires, or more correctly said, for all seasons or for the whole year. Some tires that are used to circulate in summer, rainy, cold or with a little snow or ice (very little the truth).

In contrast, winter tires are those that have been specifically designed to be used when the cold rages. Not only for the issue of riding on ice or snow, but also when riding in low temperatures. Something that is achieved through a specific construction, in which the rubber works better at lower temperatures than summer tires. Therefore, its adherence is greater even in sub-zero temperatures.

In addition to the compound used, these tires also have specific treads, with a greater number of ribs to hold the ground, as well as a greater depth in the studs, in order to ensure adequate grip even when there is a lot of snow on the road. In fact, winter tires lose their effectiveness when they are less than 4 millimeters deep in their tread, although the rest can wear out in summer without problems.

Chains, an alternative for a tight use

Compared to the expense of having a second set of tires, in a country where snow is not common, chains are a good alternative to maintain our winter mobility. An advantage that has gained integers after the arrival of textile and semi-automatic chains, with which the problems and inconveniences during the assembly of the same are reduced.

However, this system still has drawbacks. One of them is that, no matter how comfortable the assembly is, we have to continue going outside into the cold to mount the chains, get our hands wet, free the wheel arch from the snow inside and spend a good time mounting. Without forgetting that the maximum speed at which we are going to be able to circulate is 50 kilometers per hour, and we must also be careful not to ride without snow, which can destroy some chains such as textiles. Which leads us to have to stop the car again when the ground is clear of snow, remove the chains and store them. Something that can be acceptable if we only do it a couple of times a year, but not so much if we have to do it frequently.

What decision to make

At this point, it is likely that you already have more or less clear what is the decision to make, but to make it easier, we are going to summarize the two main assumptions that we face.

In case you live in an area where snow and ice are frequent, such as in high mountain areas and especially in the north of the country, the idea of ​​fitting winter tires is the best option. Not least because these tires avoid mounting the chains every time it snows, but they also have the additional advantage of offering us greater safety during the rest of our trips in low temperatures. 

The compound of these tires gives us a better grip in all weather conditions, which is useful for cold, snow and also for rain. Because these tires and their tread are also capable of evacuating a greater amount of water in the event of heavy rain. As an additional advantage, once the tires drop below 4 millimeters of tread, they can continue to be used in summer, to improve their design as if it were a conventional tire.

At the other extreme, snow chains would be the right option for when we want to have an extra security when moving, but normally we do not travel through areas with snow. There is no point in spending on winter tires if we are not going to use them intensively. What is important, when looking for the best snow chains for our car, is that we choose ones adapted to our preferences, especially when it comes to mounting. This aspect is the most problematic of the conventional chains, although it can be solved in a simple way thanks to the wide range of chains currently on sale, such as textiles or semi-automatic ones.


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