Mountain Snow Tire Chains, Tire Cables, Spider Spikes, Etc

Spike Spider

Thanks to those of you who submitted questions after I posted, What about those chain restrictions? This is the second part of that series on traction control devices aka tire chains, tire cables, spike spiders, and similar devices.

You’ll notice the official term is “traction control device” (per CalTrans) but heck who uses that term anyway?

While I am at it, have you ever attempted to reach CalTrans directly? Tough. I did hear back after I emailed them but didn’t get any answers by press time but I imagine District 8 may get back to me regarding the chain installer question.

AND, remember when I said how the outgoing road conditions message is always outdated? When I called on the afternoon of January 10th, they still had the January 7th early morning outgoing recording…even though there is big difference in the road conditions versus a few days ago.

Where can you get tire chains in Big Bear, California?
Most of the local gas stations and car parts locations can help you with those. I hope you would buy them online before you get up here (see the links below to order) but if GG was the local you asked about who might sell tire chains in town…

Where to get tire chains or tire cables in Big Bear, California

Nick’s Auto Care (Valero Station)
Pine Knot Avenue @ Big Bear Blvd
Big Bear Lake
(909) 866-4770

Car Quest
326 W Big Bear Blvd
Big Bear City
(909) 584-2442

Napa Auto Parts
41506 Big Bear Blvd
Big Bear Lake
(909) 866-7533

Of course, you can always go to Kmart to buy your tire cables or chains—but they don’t help you and the quality of their chains can be questionable. So I have to ask, is your life worth cheaper tire chains? In case you are confused, the correct answer is “No.”

Chains must be installed on the drive wheels. Make sure you know if your vehicle is front or rear wheel drive. If you are going to put them on, do it correctly. If you are not sure how, click here for a pretty good summary of how to install tire chains.

Spike Spiders
There is another product popular with some locals. Originally from Switzerland, the Spike Spiders have a two year warranty and they are installed on the wheel hub—and then when you need the extra traction, you just snap the spikes on.

I also stumbled upon another product called Flex Trax but I have not heard much about them. If you are a regular visitor or local that has experience with these tire “Go Claws” leave a comment about them below. You can get instruction on how to install the Go Claws here.

Since I already have chains, I have not purchased the Spike Spiders or any other product lately. The price difference is significant because the Spike Spiders run a few hundred dollars. For my truck, the Sport model would cost me $425 versus the $80 my chains cost several years ago. So, based on the price I think the Spike Spiders are better for locals with higher end vehicles and for the people who drive up and down the mountain frequently during snowy road conditions. This product is not something I think the occasional visitor up for a mountain vacation would drop 300-400 dollars on.

So here is the summary on these traction control devices:

Tire Chains or Tire Cables

  • Tire chains and tire cables are the choice of most drivers who visit the mountains because they are the most economical.
  • Installation can take up to 15 minutes or more.
  • Installing tire chains and tire cables can be messy because you are usually getting your hands (and sometimes body) into the ice, snow, and mud. This is because you have to kneel on the ground and often must reach around your wet, soiled tires and under carriage. If the wind is blowing—better have some gloves on!
  • They can break and damage your paint job or under carriage if you drive too fast or too long on the dry pavement.
  • Tire chains and tire cables tangle during storage.
  • You can adjust these traction devices with tightening bands if they are not snug.

Spike Spiders

  • This item is more expensive than tire chains or cables–unless you live in an area where you will use them frequently.
  • Spike Spiders are easier to install once set up—only takes a minute or so.
  • You don’t have to get into the ice, snow, mud to make sure they are on right.
  • Unfortunately, they sometimes fall off.
  • They don’t break and damage your under carriage.

Who installs tire chains and tire cables in the San Bernardino Mountains?
Hmm, good question. I don’t know because it is pretty simple to do and so I install my own. However some of the gas stations might. You would do best if you tried using one of the chain installers hired by CalTrans before you head up. What I find funny is that they don’t endorse these people and urge anyone using their services to get their names and badge numbers. Guess they don’t want the liability themselves.

Additional chain control requirement codes during road restrictions—see part one for the list of more common designations.

C: Road Closed

T: Truck Hold – During major storms when traffic flow is heavy, CalTrans may hold tractor-trailer combinations at specific points below the snow line.

TS: Truck Screening – All semi-trucks will be checked to make sure they have a full set of tire chains before being allowed to travel into areas where chains will be required.

VS: Vehicle Screening – All vehicles will be checked to make sure they have a full set of tire chains before being allowed to travel into areas where chains will be required.

MT: Metering Traffic – Implemented when necessary to control the number of vehicles that feed into the snow area. This congestion control procedure gives CalTrans a better chance of keeping the freeway open.

Finally, I just have to include winter mountain vacationing driving tips.

  • Always carry chains. Make sure they are the proper size for your tires and are in working order.
  • Be sure to have a flashlight and chain repair links on hand.
  • Pack an ice scraper or commercial de-icer, a broom for brushing snow off your car, a shovel to free you car if it is “snowed in”, sand or burlap for traction if your wheels should become mired in snow and an old towel to clean your hands.
  • Make sure your brakes, windshield wipers, defroster, heater and exhaust system are in top condition.
  • Check your antifreeze and be ready for colder temperatures.
  • Use special solvent to your windshield washer reservoir to prevent ice from forming. Keep windshield and windows clear. If you can access a turnout, pull over to use a snow brush or scraper. Use the car defroster and a clean cloth to keep the windows free of fog.
  • Check your tires. Make sure they are properly inflated and the tread is in good condition.
  • Keep your gas tank full. It may be necessary to change routes or turn back during a bad storm or you may be caught in an unexpected traffic delay.
  • Travel with water, food, warm blankets and extra clothing in your vehicle. A lengthy delay will make you glad you have them.
  • Weather conditions may warrant detours so make sure you have an updated map with alternate routes.
  • Pre-load cellular phones with road information and emergency phone numbers.
  • Store an extra car key in you pocket (or store it somewhere outside on the vehicle) because many motorists lock themselves out of their cars at ski areas and when putting on traction control devices.
  • Drive slowly and allow enough time to reach your destination safely.
  • Remember to avoid sudden stops and quick direction changes.
  • Be extra observant for risks. Black ice is often present in shaded areas where runoff is common.
  • If stalled, stay with your vehicle and conserve fuel while maintaining warmth.

If you need a tow on the mountain roads in Big Bear valley try:
Tri-City in Big Bear City
(909) 585-4411

Club Towing in Big Bear City
(909) 584-8693

Again, I urge you to buy winter tire chains or tire cables before you head up to your Big Bear vacation or Lake Arrowhead retreat–plus if you buy here you support the Fawnskin Flyer!

SECURITY CHAIN® CHAIN TIGHTENERS Security Chain® Chain Tighteners Why do you need these? Because, you won’t always get the chains tightly on every time. These snug them down so you don’t have them fall off while driving!

SECURITY CHAIN® CABLE TIRE CHAINS Security Chain® Cable Tire Chains These babies are the most popular for the average visitor.

SECURITY CHAIN® SHUR GRIP® SUPER Security Chain® Shur Grip® Super Z Light Design Tire Cables

SECURITY CHAIN® QUIK-GRIP TWIST-LINK TIRE CHAINS Security Chain® Quick Grip Twist Link Tire Chains

SECURITY CHAIN® QUIK-GRIP BAR-REINFORCED TWIST-LINK TIRE CHAINS Security Chain® Quick Grip Bar-Reinforced Twist-Link Tire Chains GG’s favorite chains for her truck!

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10 Responses to “Mountain Snow Tire Chains, Tire Cables, Spider Spikes, Etc

  • 1
    GG (Gossip Girl)
    January 15th, 2008 08:27

    Here is a clip of the Spike Spider Video so you can see how they work!

  • 2
    GG (Gossip Girl)
    January 15th, 2008 08:50

    Okay, this video is a bit much but shows how to install snow tire chains using a product called the Chain Buddy…fast forward to 2:30 on the video to get a general idea on how to put chains on.

    Personally, I place the tires on the ground and then roll onto them and pull the chains over the tire to connect with the other end.

    I’ll post another video with the usual conditions people put chains on–spend the money on a human chain installer on your way up!

  • 3
    GG (Gossip Girl)
    January 15th, 2008 08:55

    Here is a guy who got his chains on and then decided to film where he had to put them on. In most cases, it will be snowing and very cold!

  • 4
    February 2nd, 2008 12:24

    I have an SUV which is equipped w/ A4WD. Therefore, being a layman in this area, I don’t know…do I need two sets of chains? I don’t drive w/ the front or the back, I guess I am driving w/ the front AND the back.

  • 5
    GG (Gossip Girl)
    February 2nd, 2008 15:15

    @Kelly: You probably missed the other post I wrote mentioning that you need to check with your manufacturers recommendations. I’ve seen a variety of options–and even chains on all four times of 4x4s.

    Call your manufacturer or check your owner’s manual to be sure.

  • 6
    December 14th, 2008 14:34

    Thanks for the Flex-Trax recommendation. I had never heard or seen these. They seem to be the only thing out there that will work with my car tire clearance. Since I am working at a ski resort I have to have something for my 2004 Saturn Vue AWD.

    I have ordered them and cannot wait until they get here… we just got our first snow!

    Thanks again!

  • 7
    GG (Gossip Girl)
    December 14th, 2008 17:49

    🙂 Thanks I am glad you found them please come back and visit again.

  • 8
    fred zupp
    May 2nd, 2009 17:33

    how can i extend snow cables to fit my present car? do they make a kit or can you extend them about 3 inches?

  • 9
    GG (Gossip Girl)
    May 5th, 2009 08:48

    @ Fred: I believe you need to purchase the correct size cables for your new tires or vehicle. Otherwise check the cable manufacturer’s product list.

  • 10
    San Diego Highwayman
    July 28th, 2009 04:32

    Yup, they’ve gotta be the correct size Fred, and that can be difficult to achieve since tire sizes vary by manufacturer–even though the numbers on the sidewall are the same!

    That being the case, if you order a set and purchase by your tire size and then assume they’re gonna fit you could be in for a BIG disappointment and/or a lot of damage–especialy if you don’t try them on before you go where you are gone to NEED them.


    KEY: Test fit BEFORE you go!

    Too small is a no-go automatically.

    Too large [ loose & sloppy ] is going to spell trouble [ falling off and-or damage to your vehicle ].

    Visit my site to get perfectly fitted snow traction for your vehicle–every time with SNOWCHAINS101 included.

    I personally fit every set to your tires while you watch AND participate.

    San Diego Highwayman