Car with tire chains © iStock

Dear Driving for Dollars,

I’m going to be taking a road trip across some areas that might be snowy, and I’m thinking I need tire chains to help me continue on my journey. How do I know when to use them?

— Rhonda

Dear Rhonda,

It’s smart to be thinking ahead for your trip. Getting stuck on a road in the middle of nowhere is no fun, especially if you’re in unfamiliar territory.

The easy way to know when you need tire chains is that you sometimes will see a sign that says something like “chains required,” generally followed by a checkpoint within a mile where someone confirms that, depending on the weather, you either have tire chains installed properly or you have them in your possession.

Make sure the chains are the right size

It’s a smart idea to do some legwork on tire chains before you head out on your trip, advises Tire Rack.

First, make sure you buy only SAE Class “S” chains, which work for low-clearance vehicles such as passenger cars and many front-wheel-drive vehicles. Also, make sure that you buy chains that are the right size for your tires when they are properly inflated. You might want to buy a “tire chain helper,” a small ramp that makes it easier to put the chains on when the road surface is slippery.

Next, learn how to put the chains on by following the directions in your car’s owners manual.

Re-tighten your chains

You don’t want the first time you install them to be when you are on your trip and the weather’s terrible. At the very least, that could be extremely uncomfortable. And at the worst, you could find yourself stuck if you can’t get them installed properly.

Once you do use your tire chains when the road conditions require it, don’t forget that you’ll need to re-tighten them after you’ve driven the car a short distance (15 to 20 feet). Finally, make sure you remove them as soon as the road conditions are clear, since you could cause damage to your tires by driving a distance on solid pavement.

Are you switching cars this winter? Check your credit score at myBankrate before going to the dealership.

Make sure you are ready for winter driving with 6 ways to prep your car for winter weather.

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If you have a car question, email it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.

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