How Do Tire Cables Compare to Tire Chains?

Tire chains, which are used for driving in snow, are links of heavy steel, while tire cables, designed for the same purpose, use steel aircraft cable inside alloy traction coils. Cables are lighter, easier to install and usually less expensive than chains, but chains may provide better traction.

Chains grip better on icy roads because the heavy links dig into the ice, while cables may slip over it. For the same reason, chains make more noise on dry roads than cables. Drivers of two-wheel drive vehicles tend to use chains, while drivers of four-wheel vehicles frequently choose cables. Cables are the only option for some cars and trucks that have little clearance between the tires and other parts of the vehicle.

Drivers comparing chains versus cables should consider braking performance, handling performance, durability, ease of installation and whether the vehicle is equipped with an anti-lock braking system or all-wheel drive. In a comparison chart on, diagonal pattern cables and diamond pattern link chains rate among the best for passenger cars, pickups and SUVs across these criteria. Products vary in effectiveness based on expected use: on or off road, on flat or steep grades, on back roads or side streets, and whether in deep snow, ice or mud.

Some car manufacturers advise against the use of either chains or cables with their vehicles, and state laws vary regarding the use of chains.