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Trucking Essentials
Snow chains? No problem
“Snow chains required” – that's one sign that most drivers, whether in a car or in a truck, don't like to see. For us, however, it's not a big deal. Just flip a switch on the dash and – shazam! – we have chains operating.

By Bob and Linda Caffee, OOIDA members

How does this happen, you ask? We had Onspot automatic tire chains installed on the drive axle. We no longer have to get out to handle the frozen, heavy chains, getting wet and cold. I think tire chains were not designed with the installer in mind, or the conditions of installation. Ease is not a high priority.

What prompted us to get automatic chains? A few reasons. One is ease of operation; just flip a switch and they are in operation or back in neutral. Another is peace of mind. As a team operation, neither of us needs to worry about the road conditions because we are able to use the chains in a flash, aiding us to stay safely in our lane of traffic and under control.

We like to run the western United States where the dreaded sign could be displayed at anytime. I have heard other drivers say that if chains are required, they are going to park and wait it out. That is OK, but sometimes you must chain up just to get to a safe parking spot – and if you’re going to chain to get there, you might just as well keep going depending on conditions. Automatic chains make this process much easier and safer.

At other times the chain sign is on when the pavement is dry. With automatic chains, you can keep driving until you get to the icy/snow packed spot, deploy the chains and turn them off once safely past. There is no stopping to install or remove standard tire chain sets. Automatic chains are DOT-approved for use in all states with chain control areas.

Is there a time when they can be used other than when required? Yes, once when we pulled into a parking lot that was a solid sheet of ice, the heat of the tires melted the ice into a nice tire-shaped cup, and we were stuck. But, wait, we had automatic tire chains, so with the flip of the switch, the chains deployed and we drove out of our spot. We also helped a few others out of the same situation, using our ability to get around with the chains.

While traveling through Wyoming this winter, we needed a rest area. While the interstate was clear and dry, the ramp looked as though it had not been plowed. It was snow-packed and slick. We got in safely, but coming out and going up the ramp the chains were deployed to get us back to the interstate without a spinout.

We drive a 2012 Freightliner Cascadia with wide-base singles on a single drive axle with a liftable pusher axle. When we back in to a dock, our drive axle is where most trailer axles would be. Because most shippers/receivers don’t clear snow and ice all the way to the dock doors, that leaves us to get stuck right there. This is not a problem anymore. We just flip the switch and are on our way.

The operation is simple. Lengths of chain are mounted to a rubber-covered wheel. An air cylinder pushes a swing arm – with the chain wheel attached to the end – around the sidewall of the tire to make the chain wheel.

This contact causes the chain wheel to spin the same speed as the tire. The centrifugal force throws the lengths of chain under the tire, giving traction. The air cylinder is spring-loaded for return to neutral position.

There can be a system at each wheel that would need to have chains deployed, including dead, liftable or trailer axles.

The system mounting plate is attached to the underside of the axle using the U-bolts that hold the axle in place. The actuating cylinder and swing arm bracket is bolted to that. After that the chain wheel is installed and adjusted for proper ride and operation. Air lines, dash switch and the solenoid are next to be mounted, hooked to power and air, and tested for proper adjustment and operation.

The installation took about three hours, and a typical installation is six hours at the Onspot factory in North Vernon, IN. We took a tour of the manufacturing process from incoming steel, machining processes, through assembly and on to installation on our truck. It was an excellent tour and time well spent.

The chains can be deployed safely while moving and run at the same speeds as full tire chains, 35 mph or less.

The life expectancy of the chains is about 2,000 miles, depending on how much dry road they are run on. They are simple to change. With one bolt holding the chain wheel, just remove the worn-out wheel and install the new one.

We have been very pleased with the ease of operation and customer service at Onspot Co. The Onspot system has been manufactured in the U.S. since 1992. The chains are available at more than 1,400 dealers throughout the United States and Canada and can be installed at the time the truck is built or as a retrofit of an existing vehicle. LL