Maintaining chains
A chain expert shares the secrets to keeping chains ready for when you need them

By Charlie Morasch, contributing writer

Chuck Sutton started his tire business out of the back of his pickup truck 30 years ago.

Flash forward a generation, and Portland-based Sutton’s Tire has grown and added “& Chain” to its title. Chains have become a key part of Sutton’s Tire & Chain after Chuck’s son Ron joined his sister, Kim, and his brother, Greg, as co-owners of the family business about 14 years ago.

The tire shop serves companies large and small that must be prepared for a variety of road conditions up and down the left coast.

“We’re in a pretty good niche market,” Ron told Land Line Magazine. “You have to carry chains from October to May here. We started selling chains because we were selling tires and figured out how to buy chains. Now the chains have grown into a pretty good business for us.”

Along with that growth in business, the company has expanded its expertise.

To help you prep for chain season, we asked for a few pointers from a shop that has seen chains and tires damaged in every way and from every angle.

# 1

Inspect all chains.

It may seem like a no-brainer, but looking over every link is the first secret, Ron said.

“Make sure there are no damaged or broken chains or anything. Make sure they’re also untangled, and that you have the proper complement of chains – chains for the duals you need, singles, and the right sizing.”

Ron’s employees put zip ties on the chains once they’re inspected to keep them from becoming tangled and to mark them as done.

# 2

When putting chains on, make sure they’re on tight. Then keep your ears open.

“Run the truck for a few miles, stop and see if you can retighten them,” Ron said.     

“If you hear a banging noise, don’t turn up the radio louder. Get out and take a look.”

Tightening chains on wide-base tires is tougher than on wide-base singles, Ron said. When chains aren’t tight enough, they often slap the ground and break.

“The cross chain is so wide on those wide-base chains it’s hard to get them tight,” Ron said. “A couple of our companies who come to us switched from four tightening cam to six-cam for that reason. For wide-based, I’d have that and a rubber bungee setup on them too because they need to be tight.”

# 3

Make sure they are installed correctly

Chains need to move slightly, Ron says. Chains installed upside down, or too tightly, make the chain’s hooks dig into the side of the tire.

“The chain can kind of dig into the tire a little bit,” Ron said. “Every once in a while you’ll see some sidewall damage. And sometimes, believe it or not, that’s caused from being overly tight.”

Though rubber is typically resilient, Ron illustrates with a story about the beating that an incorrect chain install can cause.

“I tell this story: Most tires have 520 revolutions per mile. If that chain is banging every time you run a mile down the road, I say ‘go ahead and beat your barbecue grill 520 times and see what it looks like.’”

# 4

Chains need year-round attention

Ron suggests looking at chains at all times of the year – particularly in late spring and summer when they’re not always an immediate need.

During downtime at Sutton’s shop, Ron Sutton has employees who still need their weekly hours go through chain inventory and inspect and repair customers’ chains.

“It’s good spare-time work for my guys,” Ron said, adding that the process can be done year-round and can work in any shop – from a large motor carrier to an owner-operator.