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Preparing for the inevitable in mountain driving.

Preparing for the inevitable in mountain driving

Sprawled out next to the car, numb, wet and frustrated--there you are again, trying to put on chains in the driving snow. It's never fun, but it's a much easier job if you're well prepared.

First, the sure your chains are in good usable shape. If you have changed cars or replaced tires recently, don't take fit for granted: in the comfort of your garage, try putting the chains on.

If you need to buy new ones, you might want to call your state highway department and ask its requirements. California and Washington have strict rules as to which traction devices are acceptable; plastic chains and clip-on chains are illegal. All other Western states allow any device "providing more traction than regular tires.'

Even four-wheel-drive vehicles may be required to have chains in severe weather. Those with very low clearance between tire and wheel well may need cable chains.

These three kinds are legal everywhere and work for four-wheel-drives as well:

Regular link chains are sold in department stores, auto supply stores, and many gas stations. Results from several independent studies show that link chains give 100 percent more traction than unchained ordinary tires. But they won't fit some front-wheel drive cars, and, if a link breaks, the flailing chain could severely damage your car.

The more durable cable chains provide 70 percent greater traction than ordinary passenger tires. Many makers of front-wheel-drive cars recommend them because they fit low-clearance wheel wells. They also do less damage if they break. Look for them at most auto supply stores and ski shops.

The expensive new diamond-pattern link chains offer good traction and durability, and are the least likely to damage your car if a link breaks. They're easiest to install: all connecting pieces are in front of the tire--you don't have to reach blindly behind--and the chain wraps around your tire without the need to move the car. Availability is limited so far; ask at well-stocked ski shops.

Always carry chains when driving through the mountains at this time of year. Even under clear skies and with sunny weather forecast, you may find ice and snow on the road.

When it comes time to install your chains, sometimes there's an easy way out. As soon as a snowstorm strikes, "chain monkeys' take up their stations at many popular California mountain passes; they charge $5 to $10, occasionally more, to do the dirty work for you. Still, you need to be prepared in case you're caught without such convenient help. Keep a rain jacket, a tarp or waterproof pad, and a pair of thin gloves in your trunk, along with replacement pieces for your chains, some lengths of 14-gauge steel wire, and pliers.

Remember, too, that chains are an emergency device. Regardless of how well they work, driving in snow can be dangerous.

Photo: It's a miserable job, but someone's got to do it. He's struggling to cinch up the connecting links as tightly as possible
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Dec 1, 1986
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