Tire chain application on 2WD

My old van was 4WD, and had quite narrow tires on it. With chains on all four points, this thing was virually unstoppable.

The new one is only 2WD (until I get around to converting it), and is much larger, and hence has a larger tire contact patch (off-road tires). It has been a while since I drove a 2WD, and I’m still re-learning the handling characteristics - particularly with respect to ascending and descending steep hills, where steering traction is a bit more critical.

Is there any advantage whatsoever to installing chains on the front (non-driven) wheels to increase steering ability, or would that be superfluous since these wheels develop no torque?


      • Yes, chains on non-driving wheels do help steering, as long as you’re not braking hard–then they just slide wherever they would have slid anyway.
  • What van are you driving that you would “convert” to 4-wheel drive? For any new vehicle, it is far less expensive to just buy it that way originally…

I suppose it could help in cornering and braking, whereas torque issues are issues of acceleration.

Traditionally, chains are used on the drive wheels only to give bite to the wheels under power…to get you moving.

I’d go with the owner’s manual on this. Too much of a safety issue…you might hurt handling with chains on the wheels that do the steering.

For me the expense, hassle and potential damage to the car would keep me from chaining up non drive wheels.

I have chained a front wheel drive car. The vibration causes the steering wheel to jump. You have to hold on tight and slow way down.

E350 1-ton diesel. No factory 4WD available. North Shore Off-Road said that it is ideally suited to conversion, but as you indicated, damned expensive to do.

Come to think of it, it may be cheaper to buy and tow a used snowmobile and sled/trailer, and switch to that when the van walls out.

Chains on all four points definitely sound like a good idea - I just hope they are worth the price. Good square cross-section link-style chains that fit my tire size are not cheap.


Qburn - vibration? Chains are not intended for use at highway speeds, or in slush or snow shallow enough to allow the chain to contact the road. Front wheel drive has two advantages in this respect: the weight of the engine is over the drive wheels, increasing traction without the addition of supplemental weight, and the steering wheels can apply torque, improving handling.

Vibration as you describe sounds like a result of applying more torque than the available traction can accomodate, resulting in the wheel slipping briefly before re-aquiring a grip on the road. If you drive a lot in light snow or slush, a better bet might be good snow tires, possibly studded if permitted in your state/province, and not chains. In either case, you should expect to have to slow down. By damage to the car, I assume you mean tire wear? Another good reason to keep it slow and not use chains unless you need them.

Sorry for any confusion… You mention ‘North Shore’. Is that Tahoe? I’m from the flat lands and you see plenty of people like me up there for skiing in the winter. ;). In any event, in No Cal. driving conditions from the the valley to the mountains vary greatly on any given winter day, as does the driving experience of the drivers one encounters.

As you know, sometimes there are hard pack driving conditions, ice or black ice. Regular tread won’t bite into the snow & ice, and would certainly slip off of it. If the CHP posts restrictions, 2wd cars w/out snowtires have to chain up. The vibration I experienced was at SLOW speeds, either slowing to a stop or accelerating from a stop. At speeds above 5mph, there was much less vibration. The vibration was not a result of slipping, but from the chains encounter with the hard pack & ice. As you point out, 35 mph is about max for a car with chains.

By damage I meant this(and you most certainly would NOT be one of these people!): Some folks aren’t mindful when they throw a link. I’ve seen people driving with chains banging into the wheel wells and side panels as well as chains wrapped around wheels, axles, etc.

BTW I’m now driving a 4wd suburban w/ HD truck tires. I sold the other car a while ago. Thanks for your input.