How To Build And Install RC Tire Chains: A Step By Step Guide

Many hobbyists do not consider RC tire chains worth using.

In my experience—it is true—your mileage may vary.

However, the simple truth is that RC tire chains can be more useful than expected and, in fact, make your RC car a lot more capable on snow.

If done right, you can not only make your RC vehicle a lot more powerful and stable on snow terrain, but it is also an enjoyable and interesting project that doesn’t take too much time or effort.

Are RC Tire Chains Worth Making?

Some of you may wonder, “Wait, but do RC tire chains really help that much with the traction?”

Here’s the thing.

One of the problems that you will encounter with many RC car tires is that they can do great in the summer, but they may not do so well in the winter—even if they have good treads. 

Because of the lower temperatures, tires tend to harden up and become rock solid. This negatively affects their traction, making the whole RC vehicle a lot more slippery in the winter.

This is normal and part of how tires work.

Putting chains on your RC car tires can prevent the tires from spinning and be particularly helpful when going up steep angles. The chains also can help in preventing skidding.

That being said, if you are bashing or racing on thick powder, freshly fallen, or lightly packed snow, you can end up bottoming out, in which case, whether you have chains installed on your RC car tires may not matter at all.

Overall you can expect to see a notable improvement in the forward and backward traction. But when it comes to sidehilling, the chains may not really improve the traction of the RC vehicle.

The Type of Terrain

That being said, you don’t have to use RC tire chains only on snow, so you don’t need to wait for winter to come around to try them out.

You can use RC tire chains on ice and mud; they can perform well even on grass and dirt.

Overall, snow, ice, and mud are the best types of terrain on which you can use RC tire chains.

However, it is worth mentioning that you should not use RC tire chains on other types of terrain like asphalt, tarmac, concrete, wood, carpet, or sand.

Driving your RC car on hard surfaces like asphalt, concrete, carpet, or wood can damage not just the chains but the surface, too.

In theory, RC tire chains should also work on sand. However, in reality, things are a little different. On sand, the RC car tire chains will not provide any significant traction. In fact, it is more likely for the RC car to get dug in and buried in the sand.

Ready-Made vs. Home-Made RC Tire Chains

Typically we can separate RC tire chains into two main categories, (1) the one you can purchase directly from your LHS or online, and home-made.

The ready-made RC tire chains will be designed to provide traction without affecting the RC car negatively.

However, you can always make your own RC tire chains. On average, they will be cheaper but keep in mind that if the chains are not made correctly, they can not only offer little to no benefits but even damage your RC car.

On average, making RC tire chains from scratch can cost between $10 to $30, while pre-made RC tire chains can often cost upwards of $30.

That being said, you don’t necessarily need to make or buy or make tire chains for your RC vehicle as there are other options. Some people report experiencing decent levels of success with using spikes or paddles on snow as well. So if you already have a set of these lying around, you can give them a go to see how they will behave on snow.

What You Need to Build RC Tire Chains

The neat thing about RC tire chains is that you can turn this into an afternoon project.

What you will need to build your own RC tire chains are two needle-nose pliers (or a pair of needle-nose pliers and a pair of regular pliers) and a jack chain.

If you are using chains that have their links soldered, you may need a pair of side-cutting pliers to cut open the links.

Needle-nose pliers are commonly found in all hardware stores and very inexpensive. (They can be found for as little as $5.)

What Kind of a Chain Do You Need?

Generally, jack chains are used for hanging lightweight objects from lighting fixtures to signs and even flower pots. You can find a number of different jack chains; they can be made from solid stainless steel, aluminum, or brass. In addition to that, they can also be copper or zinc plated or black powder-coated.

It is recommended to use stainless steel jack chains for your RC tire chains. The finishing of powder-coated chains and chains with zinc and copper plating could come off eventually, and while you can also use them, you can expect to see some rust build up over time.

What Size Should the Chain Be?

Typically jack chains are available in sizes from #6 to #18—and the bigger the number, the smaller the size of the links.

The size of the chain you need will vary depending on the size of your tires.

Typically hobbyists use Jack chain sizes #12 to #16. You can go with #12 jack chains for bigger tires, while for smaller ones, you may need to consider using #16 instead.

How Long Should the Chains Be?

To find out how long of a Jack chain you will need, you need to consider three things:

  1. The length of the cross chains: Typically, cross chains are between 4 to 7 links long.
  2. The number of cross chains: The number of cross chains most people use is usually between 5 to 15.
  3. The length of the two side chains: The length of side chains will vary between 10 to 24 links.

In terms of overall length, you may need anywhere between 20 to 30 feet long Jack chain for all four RC tires depending on their size. 

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For example, for 2.2 sized RC tires, you may need about 5 feet of jack chain for each tire. This gives us at least 20 feet of chain to do all four RC tires. And for 1.9 sized RC tires, you may need less Jack chain.

Usually, you will end up with some chain left unused. It is always good to have some extra chain, especially since it is possible to break some of the chains’ links during the installation process.

And while the numbers mentioned above will work for most people, some will still have to play around with the number of links until they find what will work best for them and their RC car tires.

You can check out a wide selection of jack chains on Amazon by clicking here.

How to Build RC Tire Chains

Determine the Type and Size of Chains You Need

The first step is to determine what type, length, and size of chains you will be using.

The right type, length, and size will depend on the type of RC tires you will work with.

Making the first set of chains is the hardest as this is when you will have to do all the measuring and adjusting. Once you have the correct setup down, all you need to do for the other three tire chains is simply follow the same pattern.

Determine the Length of the Side Chains

Usually, the side chains can vary in length between 10 to 24 links depending on the tires and chain’s size.

The length of the cross chains is very important as it affects how effective the chains will be.

If the loop is too big (meaning the side chains are too long and the cross chains are too small), the chains may not stay well centered. The chains will get displaced a lot more frequently, and you will need to adjust them often.

And if the loop is too small, the chains can come off the tires.

For smaller tires, you can use smaller chains. However, smaller chains are also a little more time-consuming and tedious to work with.

Although, normally, you can keep the side chains at the same length, sometimes you may need to have one of the side chains slightly longer.

The longer side chain is usually the one going towards the inside of the RC vehicle. The reason for this is that you may need to have more clearance for the support arms and the steering links, depending on your RC model.

There are several guidelines you can follow in determining the length of the side chains.

Generally, you want the side chains to wrap around most of the way on the sidewall. The side chain loop should be no less than halfway down from the tread.

You can put a piece of string, lay it around the diameter of your choice, and cut it at the right length. Then you can use that piece of string as a guide of how long each side chain should be.

Of course, you can also do this using the chain instead.

This is, of course, the simplest way to go about it. 

However, you can also use a simple math formula to find the circumference of the side chain—by multiplying the diameter of where you would like your side chain to be placed by Pi (3.14159), which will give you the side chains’ length.

For example, if the diameter where you’d like the side chain to wrap is 2.7 inches, multiply that by 3.14159 you get 8.48 inches. In other words, the side chains should be 8.48 inches in length.

Of course, you may not be able to have your side chain at exactly 8.48, depending on how long each chain link is. This is why it is recommended to round up or down to the nearest full chain link.

Write everything down because you will be using the same number of chain links for the other three tires.

Determine the Length and Number of Cross Chains

Usually, between 5 to 15 cross chains are used depending on personal preference, tire size, terrain, and chain size.

It is advisable to experiment with the number of cross chains you will be using.

For deep snow, you may want to have a higher number of cross chains. On that type of terrain, it is best to use at least 10 cross chains. That way, as the wheel rolls, when one of the cross chains gets off the ground, another one will come in contact with it, maintaining the traction.

If you have lots of snow but also dry areas where there are rocks or asphalt and less snow, you may want to go with fewer cross chains. That way, a bigger part of the tire will be in contact with the ground, which will allow the rubber to get a good grip on the areas with less snow.

When it comes to length, cross chains are generally between 4 to 7 links long, depending on the tire and chain’s size.

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To determine the side chains’ length, you can again use the string method or directly lay out a piece of chain on the tire while keeping in mind where the side chains should fall.

Or you can again calculate it.

Take the diameter you used to calculate the length of the side chains in the previous step and subtract it from the tire’s outer diameter. Multiply that number by two (for both sides of the tire and if you are using the same diameter for all side chains) and add the tire’s width. This will give you the length of the cross chains.

Round up or down to the closest full chain link if necessary.

Cut the Chain Into Pieces

After determining the side chains’ exact length and the cross chains, cut the chain into the exact number of side chains and cross chains you will need.

You can do that by using a set of pliers, bending the end links on each chain piece. Bending the jack chains is very easy to do.

I recommended pre-bending all the side chains and the cross chains. That way, it will be easier for you to hook them all up and close them in one go.

Lay Out the Chains on a Flat Surface

Lay the cut pieces of chain out on a flat surface.

Make sure that the cross chains are evenly spaced out. 

For example, you want to have a cross chain running every 2 or 3 links on the side chain.

All you have to do to ensure the cross chains are evenly spread out is calculate the number of loops on the side chain. If you have a 14 links long side-chain, this means you have 28 loops. 

So you want to have a number of cross chains that 28 is divisible by. 

In this case, you can choose to go with 7 side chains, and dividing 28 by 7 gives us 4. In other words, you will place one cross-chain every 4 loops on the side chain.

Assemble the Chains

At this point, you want to attach the cross chains to the side chains.

After doing that, you are ready to install the RC tire chains on the wheels.

How to Install RC Tire Chains

Assemble the RC Tire Chains

Following the instructions above, build your RC tire chains. Ensure that the cross chains are spaced out evenly, and the length of the side chains and cross chains is appropriate for the type and size of RC tires you are using.

Wrap the Chain Around the Tire

Lay the chain on the table and place the tire on top of it and wrap the chain around the tire.

You should still have two links open on each side chain, which you can now connect and tie together.

Alternatively, you can also use quick link locks. Quick link locks are making the whole process of assembling and disassembling the chains super easy.

Some owners use two zip ties to hold the two ends of the chain together. 

However, keep in mind that—although zip ties do work— it is not recommended to use zip ties to hold the chains together. Cold causes plastic to become brittle, and depending on the ambient temperatures where you live, the zip ties can break, causing the RC tire chains to come off the tires.

Ensure the Chains Fit Nicely

At this point, you should be able to see if the chains fit well. If they are too tight or too loose, adjust accordingly.

Adjust and Tighten the RC Tire Chains

The chain will probably not be evenly spaced out, so take a few minutes to center the side chains and the cross chains.

If you happen to have a wider gap at the spot where the side chains meet, you can add another cross chain to fill up that gap.

The chain should always feel snug and tight. If necessary, tighten the RC tire chains. If the chains are too loose, they may come off or even get tangled in the suspension or the chassis. This can easily damage both the chains and the RC vehicle. (It is also a health hazard as flying pieces could potentially hit the people nearby.)

You can use a rubber band, a thin gauge rubber-coated wire, or a short chain that runs across the RC tire and over the rim to hold the tire chain in place. That way, you will ensure the chains are not loose.

How to Make RC Tire Chains for Dually Tires

So far, you have learned about single tire RC cars. However, not all RC vehicles have single tires. Some have dual tires, and the good news is that you can easily make RC tire chains for dually tires.

The way to mod your RC tire chains for dually tires is by simply adding another side chain to the whole setup. 

Start making your RC tire chains, as discussed above. Then you add another side chain and another set of cross chains. In total, you will have three side chains.

It is not recommended to use 2 side chains and simply double the length of the cross chains as this will leave a gap between the two tires, and the chains will be a lot looser.

For example, imagine you need 12 cross chains and 2 side chains for a single RC tire. If we convert that to a dually tire, you will need 24 cross chains and 3 side chains.

By using three side chains, you will have one side chain fit in between the two tires, which will keep the chains snug and tight at all times.

In fact, this is precisely what you will observe on some real-sized vehicles that have dual tires.

RC Tire Chains Patterns

So far, you have learned how to make a simple tire chain pattern, which is known as a ladder pattern. The ladder pattern used by the majority of hobbyists is the most popular pattern and is often used on real-sized vehicles, too.

However, if you want, you can also try making different patterns. There are diagonal, diamond, and square tire chain patterns.

In some instances, it may be possible that these patterns can help to keep the RC tire chains tight and snug, improving the RC vehicle’s performance and traction on some terrains. However, it is unlikely that you will notice any drastic change in the RC vehicle’s behaviour.

Overall it is recommended to stick to the ladder pattern as it is the easiest to do while providing arguably the same results as the other patterns.

Can You Make RC Tire Chains Lighter?

One of the downsides to RC tire chains is that they can be heavy. This can make the tires—and as a result, the whole RC vehicle—so heavy that it can start sinking in the snow. 

Fortunately, there are a few ways you can make them lighter.

If you want to make them lighter, you can try to replace the side chains with a small wire rope, which can be tied together with a wire rope crimper using a crimper tool.

Another way to make your RC car tire chains lighter is by using a smaller size jack chain for the side chains.

How Long Does It Take to Make RC Tire Chains?

The entire project takes about 2 to 4 hours to complete for all four wheels.

On that note, it is worth making a small rig that you can use to build and store your RC tire chains—all you need is a small plank of wood and 4 nails or screws.

Make your first RC tire chain and lay it down on a small piece of wood. The plank of wood should be slightly larger than the whole RC tire chain setup when carefully laid out on it. Put four small nails where each end of the side chain is.

That way, the nails will keep the chains stretched and spaced out, which will help you keep the chains from twisting too much while you work on them, and when you store them.

It will take much of the guessing out of the way when you start making the rest of the RC tire chains, as you will immediately have a visual of how long each chain should be.

Do All Four RC Tires Need Chains?

On real-sized vehicles, it is required to put tire chains on the wheels that move the vehicle. So on front-wheel-drive cars, you put the chains on the front wheels, and on rear-wheel-drive cars, you place them on the rear tires. And all-wheel-drive vehicles usually have chains placed on all four wheels.

If we go off that rule, then if you have a 2WD RC car, you can try to put RC tire chains on the wheels that move the RC car, and if your RC vehicle is 4×4, you can use four RC tire chains.

However, ideally, you want to put chains on all four RC tires regardless if the RC vehicle is 2WD or 4WD. By using four RC tire chains, you will get the best traction, performance, and control.

Can You Modify RC Tire Chains?

For those that like to experiment, a good idea may be to try and weave something through the cross chains to see if you can get a similar effect to paddle tires.

This can be a fun little side-project, but the actual results will vary wildly.

You can also have studs placed on the RC tire. 

However, placing studs or other things on your RC tires can be dangerous as these things can fly out of the tire—especially if you drive your RC car at higher speeds.

That being said, studs can perform well on ice.

Paul Good

This awesome hobby has something for everyone, whether you like to build your RC from scratch and keep modifying till you've got it to just how you want it, to track racing. You might be out with a boat, or perfecting your skills with a plane. Are you taking some cool pics with your drone? I'm sure my site will help you on your journey.

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