About Automatic Tire Chains and Automatic Snow Chains for Trucks

Automatic tire chains — or automatic snow chains — are devices that Vicki became aware of in March 2012 at the Mid-America Trucking Show.

Automatic Tire ChainsIt is debatable — even based on our own definition — whether these products may be considered “tools and equipment” or “truck parts.”

Certain states require trucks to carry tire chains at certain times of the year. The automatic variety may be substituted for the manually installed kind, but you need to do your due diligence to make sure that the brand you choose is approved for use everywhere you plan to travel.

The concept behind the automated devices is simple:

Instead of manually installing snow chains around a tire, a driver flips a switch inside the cab to activate a solenoid, which positions a “chain wheel” to contact the inside truck tire.

When the truck is rolling, the chain wheel rotates to “fling” lengths of chains under the tires for traction.

For truckers who spend time manually installing snow chains on their trucks in the winter, this product can help not only save time and save money, but also save lives and injuries.

Where Truckers Chain Up

Truckers who traverse I-70 in Colorado may be very familiar with these sights.

Close-up of tire chain up station sign along I-70 in Colorado.

Tire chain station along I-70 in Colorado.Pictured here is a “30 Minute Chain Up” area along the side of I-70 in Colorado.

If this is not the exact location where we once manually installed a set of snow chains on a truck, it is very similar.

Close-up of tire chain up station sign along I-70 in Colorado.

Tire chain station pull off along I-70 in Colorado.Pictured here is a “Chain Station” where truck drivers can manually install snow chains on a truck.

This differs from the chain up area shown above in that it is “protected,” off the side of the road.

We put “protected” in quotes because if conditions are bad enough, truckers can still get hurt. See below.

How Automatic Tire Chains Can Save Time

Depending on the complexity of the snow chain being installed and the unfamiliarity of the trucker with the chains, it could take a substantial amount of time to install tire chains on enough tires on a truck in order to gain traction to keep moving.

Every minute that a truck is stopped for chain installation or removal is a minute that the truck isn’t rolling toward a pick-up or delivery — and hence isn’t making any money.

Truckers whose trucks don’t carry chains year-round may have to take time to pick up and drop off bags of chains at snow chain banks, losing even more time. If they have to go out of route to go by the chain banks, that’s an additional cost of time and money.

How Automatic Tire Chains Can Save Money

Besides the “time is money” angle described above, there are other costs associated with manually installed chains.

  • Someone either at the trucking company or the driver of the truck should take the time annually (or more often) to inspect tire chains and replace defective chains. Dragging chains out of bags or yanking them off their hooks takes time.
  • Some trucks may lose improperly installed chains on the road.

How Automatic Tire Chains Can Save Lives and Prevent Injuries

In December 2009, two commercial truck drivers installing snow chains were hit by a third trucker in the Ontario, Oregon area. One of the truckers who was hit died at the scene. Had the truckers installing truck chains not had to stop to install them, it is likely they would not have been hit and one of the truckers would not have died.(1)

A 2007 article reported on another trucker’s death, this time when the trucker was removing chains from his truck tires.

In 2009, while removing snow chains, a lady trucker’s arm was crushed when her truck was rear-ended.(2)

What They Look Like and How They Work

Vicki prepared this video to show automatic tire chains or automatic snow chains up close and in action.

See if a set-up like this wouldn’t be right to provide automatic traction control for your truck.

For full assurance of the devices you plan to obtain, get answers to the questions posed in the video.

Not on Our Trucks

When we drove for U.S. Xpress, their policy was that if the roads were so bad that snow chains were required, the driver was to park and not risk travel.

We wonder what would have happened had automatic snow chains been installed on the trucks.

Some trucking companies (and owner-operators) may be concerned about the damage that snow chains can do to their trucks or tires.

We would be interested in knowing if there is more or less damage associated with automated chainwheel-attached chains than manually installed ones.

Can Automatic Snow Chains Ever “Fail”?

By virtue of the fact that the truck’s wheels must be turning at a speed high enough to “fling” the lengths of chain under the tires, automatic tire chains are not able to do their work at lower speeds.

Furthermore, some tire chains with smooth edges — whether automatic or manually installed — are not able to “bite” into ice. Bear that in mind when buying your devices.

truck drivers money saving tip iconMoney saving tip: Just because tire chains are automated does not mean that they don’t need maintenance. Follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule.

Truckers with these devices on their trucks need to make sure that they work before they need them. Regularly check to make sure that all of the chains are in place and are sufficiently long enough to position themselves under the tires for traction when needed. Test the activation switch to make sure that all of the solenoids work and that the devices come in contact with the inside tires.

Do not activate chains when they are not needed.

Be aware that these devices are “snow chains” and not “ice chains.” Since the use of automatic snow chains does not make one or one’s rig invincible, be extremely careful when traveling in icy conditions.

Unless you are authorized to do so, do not attempt to use automatic tire chains on roads that have been closed because of snow storms, blizzards or white out conditions. Never attempt to go around barricades once lowered across the road.

Return from About Automatic Tire Chains and Automatic Snow Chains for Trucks to our Truck Parts page or our Truck Drivers Money Saving Tips home page.


1. www.ktvb.com/search/accident%20involving%20pedestrian%20closes%20lanes%20on%20I-84/ (no longer online)

2. blog.seattletimes.nwsource.com/crime/2009/03/06/truck_drivers_arms_crushed_whi/ (no longer online)