Reader Question: Chains and 4x4s?

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Here’s the latest reader question,along with my reply!

Dan asks: What is your opinion on getting tire chains for a 4×4? I know it’s probably overkill most places and I haven’t been stuck yet – but did have a difficult time on a slanted stone parking log with a layer of ice under snow. On occasion we can get over a foot of snow and we get plowed out later in the storms. Never put the current truck to the test of what is the max snow I can get through uphill.

My answer: Tires can make all the difference, for openers.

I get to drive all kinds of stuff, including  new 4x4s and crossovers with AWD and some of them aren’t much better in the snow – plowed snow – than a FWD car with good (for snow) tires, because they were fitted from the factory with sport tires or all-season tires without much tenacity in the cold season.

But when you’re facing heavy, unplowed snow chains can be a necessity, even if you’ve got a set of M/S or all-terrain tires. They are not uncommonly required in areas subject to such conditions (my sister has to put them on her vehicle when she drives up the mountain in CA to ski).

As far as how much snow can you ford, that’s to a great extent a function of how much clearance you’ve got.  If your vehicle bottoms out on the snow you’ll lose traction, chains or tires or 4WD notwithstanding because you’ll lose contact with the road.

PS: Some of the hardiest heavy snow vehicles I’ve driven are . . . Subarus. The Outback versions have about 9 inches of clearance, comparable to most 4WD trucks and their AWD systems are tremendously capable, even though they don’t have a transfer case and Low range gearing. Put some aggressive A/T tires on one and you’re all-but-unstoppable!

. . . .

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  1. I’ve only had to use chains a few times but you don’t need them until you need them. I agree it’s worth having a set on hand.
    Having a limited slip (rear at least) is a big help too.

    My nephew’s ’11 Forester won’t clear my hoist without lifting up on the car a little. Ground clearance not so much.


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