How to Install ATV Tire Chains?

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Some people don’t know how to install atv tire chains and some are afraid to try because of the steps that seem difficult to follow. However, if you want it, you will take the time to understand it. If you know the steps and you have the tools with you, then you would find it easy.

This comprehensive guide was written to help all those who want to install tire chains on their ATV. For those who have already tried doing it, you might find some tips and tricks that will help you on your next attempt.

The information provided here came from my experience way back 15 years before when I used to work with tractors on the farm during the cold season. Even when it is not winter, I have been installing chains on my ATV, so you can say that I have enough knowledge of it.

What Do I Need to Prepare for the ATV Tire Chain Installation?

  • Size matters for your tire chains

First, you must ensure that the size of your chains is appropriate for your tire size. You may find the size of your tire inscribed on its side. Since there are various chain sizes, you must know which one will fit yours so that it would fit perfectly. Lots of tire chain sizes are available online or in local stores, so you do not have to worry about not finding what you need.

  • Acquiring the necessary tools

Here are the tools that are necessary for you to do proper  nstallation:

  • an air compressor that also can inflate tire (not required)
  • valve stem removal tool (not required but highly suggested)
  • wrench or pliers
  • angle grinder and if the chains would need to be modified for a snug fit, chain cutter
  • zip-ties or shackles
  • Adequate clearance 

Since not all the ATVs were designed to accommodate tire chains, you need to check whether you have adequate clearance or not. By appropriate, I mean a minimum space measuring two inches on any side of the wheel. If you do not have this space, then your tires would not rotate when chains are attached to them. You would be having problems with your front wheels since they are the ones that do the turning. Not only that, but you should also check if there is enough space between the sidewall of your tire and other parts that may be broken when you perform turns and other movements with your wheels.

  • Wheel spacers can help you.

Your chains must be snug fit when you attach them to your tires but given that you do not have that much space, you might consider acquiring wheel spacers. This will help narrow the gap between the chain and the tires, helping you avoid any form of untoward incident.

Remember that when the tire chains are not correctly fitted, they would just damage the essential components of your tire, such as the brake lines, exhaust, fenders, and others. You would notice this when you frequently accelerate. This can cause the chains to be detached from the tire, so you need adequate clearance. These wheel spacers can help in pushing the wheel to the outer side so that there will be more space on the inner aspect.

There are specific tools that you can use, such as metallic one-piece spacers or spacer bolts, which are cheaper. However, not considering the price, wheel spaces are still the best choice. These come in various sizes, ranging from ½ to 3 inches. This is a massive deal, although you would only need around 2 inches to make the chains fit. Having too much space is also not good because it will only exert strain that is not required by your ATV. 

Step-by-Step Guide of ATV Tire Chain Installation

  1. The first step is to have your ATV parked along a smooth pavement.

Parking your ATV on flat and smooth pavement is essential because you will be pushing the ATV on a short distance. Hence, it would be easier if you will be working on something smooth such as your garage or in front of your house. It will also help if you will ensure a clean environment so you would not have to worry about dirt that can meet your clothes and your body.

If this kind of setting does not apply to you, you can still do it, although it would be a bit more complicated and messier. Just make sure that the brakes are on so that your ATV will not move even the slightest bit.

  1. Collapse your tires appropriately

Proper ATV tire chain installation would require you to deflate your tires a bit. This would help ensure that the chains are correctly fitted. Once you have installed the chains, you can return the same amount of air to your tire. A difference of around 3-4 PSI should not matter. You can even collapse your tire entirely so that you can be sure that the chains are tightly fit.

To do this fast, you can make use of a valve stem removal tool which can be bought in local stores. Purchasing this tool is optional. If you do not have enough budget, you can perform this step manually by pressing over the tiny pin located inside your tire valve.

Warning! This step is crucial, and there are certain risks involved. Make sure that you do this right because if not, the tire can be damaged and explode. Only chains that were designed for ATVs can handle this kind of pressure, so do not try this on other types of chains. Also, if you are not adept at doing this, you may opt not to do this and find some different ways to ensure that your tire chains are snug fit. One possible alternative is the use of chain tensioners.

  1. Position the chains at the back or in front of your tire

The chain should be disentangled and laid out at the end of the rear tire. Do the same for the front tire chains but lay them flat in front. The small metallic protrusions, known as studs, should face upwards. The chain should be disentangled and laid out at the back of the rear tire. Do the same for the front tire chains but lay them flat in front. The small metallic protrusions, known as studs, should face upwards.

Depending on the model that you will purchase, you can either find two boomer fasteners on opposite sides of the chain or one boomer fastener and one C-hook on the other. Either way, the “curve” of the boom fastener should be placed in such a way that it is facing like the direction of the tire. This will ensure that they would not come off when you are driving through thick snow or mud.

You might have a problem seen boomer fasteners would require more space than your C-hooks. If this is the case, just position the chain so that the fasteners are on the outer part of the tires even though it would force the “curve” to face opposite the tire orientation.

The zip-ties that you bought may be used to secure the fastener. If you have two boomer fasteners on opposite sides of the chain, the boomers should face forward so that the installation can be done with ease. If you got chains that have diamonds as the pattern, the shackles found on its end should be removed for now.

  1. Manually lift the chain over the tire

It would be easier to drag the chains either from the front or from the back of the tire. You can also do it from the side. This step would depend on how you want to do it.

  1. Hang the chain to cover the tire center

The chain needs to include the center of the tire. You can do this by raising the chain sideways so that amount of chain draped on one side will be like that of the opposite side.

To avoid blowing up the tire, the studs and the pointed ends of the chains should be oriented upwards and opposite the direction of the tire. If there are twists and tangles, fix them up so that the chains will come into contact smoothly with the tire. Make sure that all sharp ends do not meet the tire.

As a prerequisite for the next step, the front side of the chain should be at the level of the surface. This should be placed under the tire before you roll the ATV slightly forward.

  1. Start moving the ATV in such a way that the tire presses over the chain

Let the ATV move slightly forward by releasing the brakes. It would matter where you are installing your chains. If you are installing on the tires at the back of the ATV, the bike should be pushed forward manually. Otherwise, if you are doing the front tires, push the bike in the opposite direction. This is a matter of accessibility.

You can also do a sort of test drive if you must. However, you might not be able to check the position of the chains well. Do not manipulate the chains too much to avoid getting them out of place. They should be positioned in the center. Continue pushing the ATV until such a time that 15 inches of the chain is already at the back portion of the tire. The opposite end should be draped loosely on the 2 o’clock position.

  1. Attach the fasteners of the side chains

For this one, you must ensure that both sides of the chain have similar lengths. If the inner or the outer portion has a shorter period, then expect that the opposite end will be tighter. As such, the chain will be pulled to that side. Hold the 15-inch chain and slowly raise it against the loose chain on the 2 o’clock position. The side chains should be attached entirely around the tire. Again, depending on the model, you will either get a boomer or a C-hook fastener on one end and links that are freely hanging on the other side.

If you got a C-hook, this should be easy because you just attach it directly to the link of the side chain.

If you got a boomer fastener, here is how you can do it:

  • First, determine the side chain link where you want to put the fastener. It should go through this link until you reach the bottom part.
  • You must then turn the fastener at a 180-degree angle towards the direction of the side chain.
  • It will get secured properly once the keeper link gets hooked.
  • Pro tip: when there is not enough space, try to twist the side chain so that it will the boomer will get pushed towards the tire

You should begin with the fastener on the inner portion. Make sure that the chain is snug fit but keep an eye on it so that it stays at the center. The links that would be missed out should be oriented away from the tire and should be free from tangles. Once finished, go on with the outer portion. This should have a similar number of links as you had with the inner part. If you are working with ladder chains, ignore step number 8.

  1. Attach the tail ends

If you are working with chains that have diamond structures, notice that there are still two ends that are hanging freely on one side. On the opposite side, you will find two metallic rings. Hold the loose end and try to stitch them up through their respective rings until the chain is fitting correctly. Grab one of these ends over the direction of the side chain.

Check again if the studs are oriented outwards. There should be no twists and tangles so that you will have a safe and relaxing ride. Also, this would ensure that the tire and chains will be free from damages.

The same amount of tightness should be applied before attaching the side chain to the tail end. For this, you can use one of the shackles that you kept from step number 3. Use your hands manually to pull the chains tightly.

Take note of how many tail links there are already from the one that you have attached. This should be the same with the tail end that you are about to connect as well. Most product kits would already include shackles. If you do not have one, you can get them at a relatively low price in your favorite auto shop. Just make sure that it has the same measurements as your chain links. The average thickness is about 4-6 mm.

Once done, continue doing steps 3-8 on the other tires.

  1. Inflate your tires again with the right amount of pressure

If you are done with all the tires, put the right amount of air pressure back into your tire. Make sure to check the amount of air entering your tire using a pressure gauge. As your tires get inflated, you will notice that the chains will also bind tighter to the tire. They should fit correctly before you even incorporate the proper tire pressure.

Do not put too much air because this will cause the chains to fit very tight to your tires. Also, this is a reminder not to tighten the chains excessively because you are still going to put back air to your tires. If it is too tight, the chains might get broken, and the tires may blow up because it cannot handle the pressure anymore.

If you see the notice that the chains are too tight before you can even put back 75% of the air, then stop what you are doing. You must readjust the chains by one link and later try again.

  1. Test if your installation worked

It is time to test if you did the installation right. A slow and steady test drive should tell you if there are errors such as loose-fitting ends, twists, or tangles.

Afterward, try to check if you are still good even when you accelerate or make some turns. Do not exceed five mph while doing the test drive. Remember that these chains were meant for slow speed only. You only need to do some few accelerations, brakes and turns to confirm if you have done everything right. The critical thing to check is whether the chains are still in place or even at the center after a slow drive.

If the tightness is not enough, you can easily adjust by hooking another link to the tighteners. However, you also need to repeat the process of deflating and inflating again. Do not stop until you achieve your desired tightness. Once everything is set, tighten all the shackles with your wrench or pliers.

  1. Fasten the free ends of the chain

All the loose ends should be secured to prevent them from damaging the other parts of your tire. If you used tensioners, they could miss out on a portion of the chain. This part can be attached to the arm of the fastener.

If you used a fastener with a C-hook, the chain links that are hanging freely should also be secured using a zip-tie or a shackle. If you are uncomfortable with these loose ends, you may use your angle grinder to obliterate them. However, the downside of this is that you will find it more challenging to install a new tire in the future. Also, since the chains will get shorter, it will not be able to accommodate bigger tires should you decide to change yours in the future.

After doing all this, you are finished!

  1. Highly suggested but not required: chain adjusters/tensioners

If you are knowledgeable on how to put pressure on your tire or if you are not comfortable doing it, worry not because you have other options. Although these are not the best methods, they would still work and have almost the same effect. For one, you may use tensioners to keep the chains in their proper place. These should not be installed unless you have already done a test drive and have readjusted accordingly. They should also be placed on both the inner and outer portions so that the chain will be kept at the center.

Another alternative is using chain adjusters that have hooks on them. These tools are like rubber bands that have a star design. These will be attached to the side chains. People who used these recommend having 4-6 springs loaded. If you cannot find these in the local shop, you can improvise by using a bungee cord. Just place it in such a way that a star is formed to achieve similar results. 

What should I do if my chains do not fit?

Some people are not aware of their tire size and end up buying chains that are too long. Sometimes, the chain also becomes longer once they get stretched after being used for a couple of months. This is especially true for chains that have been painted. These are common problems that can be solved quickly. You need to bring them back to their original length. Fortunately, you already have the tool for it: an angle grinder or bolt cutter.

  • Begin by measuring the length that you need to cut. You can do this by encircling your tire with the chains.
  • If you own a chain with a ladder configuration, you can easily remove the length that you desire.
  • Cut off the chains with your angle grinder. If you are not comfortable with this, you can also widen the hooks by using a hammer screwdriver and pry bar. It is much better if you own a chair repair pliers because it is the perfect tool for the job.
  • The length of the side chains should also be shortened, depending on the need.

For those who have chains that have a diamond pattern, you must remove at least one total diamond to achieve your desired length.

  • Remove those that I have marked red.
  • Try to check whether the chain fits already before you altogether remove them.

Frequently asked questions

  • What does ATV tire chains do?

Tire chains were designed to add gripping power to your tires should you decide to go on off-road trips. They can also be used during the winter when the roads are packed with snow. They provide superior traction that you would not get with just your ordinary ATV tires.]

  • How durable are these chains?

Most tire chains are very durable, so you will be able to use them for a long time. It would just depend on how you are going to use it. The most common determinants of durability include the way that you install them, the speed by which you use your ATV, the hardness of the surface, and many more. As can be expected, properly installed tires will last longer than those whose chains are not a snug fit. Also, avoid using them on smooth pavements such as concrete roads.

  • How do I adjust the tightness of my chains?

It is effortless to tighten your chains if you have adjusters. These are attached on both sides (inner and outer) of the wheel to keep the chain in the center. It is also recommended to deflate your tires before installation so you can achieve the tightness that you want. However, this deserves enough knowledge before you can perform it correctly.

  • Can I still fix an ATV tire chain that has been damaged?

Yes, you can. Just use a pin connector if you have a link that is broken. This would not affect the strength and durability of your chains.

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