How To Make Tire Chains for RC Cars

By Terry Dunn

I've seen examples of tire chains on RC trucks before, so I decided to create my own version.

Snow is still quite a novelty to me. Until recently, I've only lived in Florida or Texas. Now I'm in Buffalo, New York, where the average yearly snowfall is 95 inches. The transition has been relatively painless so far (knocking on wood), but there is definitely some adaptation required for my RC activities! This article highlights a recent example. I was originally intending to do a straightforward review of the Kyosho Outlaw Rampage RC truck. Snow was hampering my test drives, so I improvised.

Why Snow Chains?

There was only a little bit of snow on the ground the first time I took the Outlaw out for a spin (quite literally). In fact, it was the same outing where I photographed the Ultima RB6.6 at the park. While the Ultima's Goose Bumps tires hooked up really well in the snow, the Outlaw's stock treads were nearly useless. The truck would constantly spin out or get stuck. I definitely needed to find better traction one way or another.

I'm sure that there are off-the-shelf tires that would fit the Outlaw's wheels and provide better traction in snow. However, I thought it would be more fun to try a DIY approach. I've seen examples of tire chains on RC trucks before. So I decided to create my own version. It is a simple and inexpensive project that actually works quite well.

Those of you in warmer climates may be wondering just what the heck tire chains are. It's all new to me too. Apparently, there are many different types of tire chains (aka snow chains), but all stick to a common theme. As the name implies, they are chains that you attach to your car or truck tires. The profile of the chain acts like a paddle to give you extra traction in really bad winter conditions. Tire chains are obviously intended for temporary use and only when necessary.

How I Did It

The other examples of RC tire chains I've seen use chain purchased from a hardware store. While they seemed to work really well, all of them looked oversized to me. I decided to search for smaller chain that would work and look good. I found what I was looking for in Amazon's jewelry department. I purchased 4.5 meters of stainless steel necklace chain for $12. Each link in the chain is an oval measuring 6mm x 8mm.

I found that building tire chains requires a little bit of trial and error. I had to estimate the lengths of chain I would need and then make adjustments. So start with one tire and get the chains perfected before sizing chains for the other tires.

I used stainless steel jewelry chain for this project. Rubber bands help simplify the task of estimating the necessary chain lengths.

My first step was to determine the length of the chains that would form rings around the tire's sidewalls. I first tried to simply lay the chain down on the tire. That method quickly proved to be unmanageable. I had much better luck when I used rubber bands to help hold the chain in place while measuring. I used a Sharpie to mark the final link of each segment. With a pair of pliers in each hand, I bent the split end of the marked link to separate it from the rest of the chain. Be sure to bend the link back into shape so that it does not fall off.

Two sidewall chains are required for each tire. The other sidewall chain segment was created using the original as a template. The chains were much easier to measure and mark when I pinned them to a piece of scrap foam. Once I had the sidewalls chains, I decided how many chain segments I would use across the tire treads. Ideally, this number will be an integer factor of the number of links in your sidewall chains. My sidewall chains were 45 links long. So using nine tread chains meant that one would be connected to a sidewall chain every five links.

I estimated the necessary length of the tread chains and created nine samples. I also used the Sharpie to mark every fifth length of the sidewall chains. The Sharpie marks can be difficult to see on the shiny stainless steel links. I'm sure there is a better way.

Pinning the chain to a piece of foam makes it much easier to measure and mark.

With a sidewall chain pinned to foam, I connected a tread chain on every marked link. The easiest method I found is to bend an end link of each tread chain. You then join it with the sidewall chain and close the bent link. Be sure to close the split end completely so that it does not detach while driving.

After all nine tread chains were attached to the first sidewall chain, I connected the opposite ends of the tread chains to the other sidewall chain. The resulting arrangement should resemble a ladder. Installing the chains on the tire is a simple matter of placing the ladder structure around the tire and connecting the ends of the sidewall chains.

The assembled tire chain should resemble a ladder. Pliers are the only required tool.

Making Adjustments

My first tire chain was a little too large. It was a loose fit all around. I made adjustments by shortening the tread chains. My final configuration used alternating tread chains of ten and eleven links. This gave the final assembly a snug (but not tight) fit on the tire.

Once installed, the chains should be a snug fit on the tire.

The 4.5 meters of chain I bought is just enough to outfit all four tires on the Outlaw Rampage. But this is a 2-wheel-drive truck. I wasn't sure whether I should create chains for all the tires or just the powered rear tires. So I did a little poking around online. The general consensus I found regarding "real" cars is that adding chains to unpowered tires allows them to better contribute when braking. My RC truck doesn't have brakes on the front wheels, so they didn't get tire chains either.

Testing the Chains

A couple weeks passed before I was ready to try the tire chains on my Outlaw Rampage. A lot of snow had fallen during that time. My previous tracks at the park were now covered with about a foot of powdery snow. I didn't even bother trying to drive in that! I ended up taking the truck to my RC club flying field. There, I found a wide variety of conditions to try out. The driveway and parking lot had a mixture relatively hard-packed snow with progressively looser stuff around the perimeter.

The addition of tire chains made the Outlaw Rampage a practical winter vehicle. It was previously undriveable on snow.

The difference in traction provided by the chains was immediately apparent. I no longer had to baby the throttle just to get the truck moving forward. I could actually be somewhat aggressive with power and steering. As you would expect, the hardest-packed snow provided the least amount of traction. Areas with .5" to 1" (13mm to 25mm) of loose snow on top were best. The truck handled well and threw up some cool, white rooster tails.

I couldn't resist trying to drive through the deeper snow. I could get through some deep areas with a running start. But mostly, I just got the Outlaw stuck. It still performed better than I expected though. Not only is this a 2WD truck, but it has a gear differential. This results in the motor power going to the tire with the least traction. I'm considering locking (or stiffening) the differential to see if that helps in deeper snow.

While the tire chains are not a magic bullet, they did make this truck winter-capable. The Outlaw Rampage went from undriveable to sure-footed.

More about the Outlaw Rampage

The Outlaw Rampage ($230) is designed to emulate a full-size truck inside and out. The plastic chassis has suspension components that are much like those found on off-road racing trucks. There is independent wishbone suspension up front. The solid rear axle uses trailing link suspension. An oil-filled plastic shock is mounted on each corner.

The Outlaw is a ready-to-run package that includes the factory-built truck, a 2.4GHz radio system, 6-cell NiMH battery and a wall-charger. The only items you have to provide are four AA cells for the radio transmitter. You'll definitely want to upgrade the charger. With a 300mA charge rate, it takes six hours to fill the included 1800mAh battery.

The Outlaw Rampage's suspension design resembles that of a full-scale racing truck. But this model is a basher, not a racer.

A 15-turn brushed motor powers the truck. It is connected to an Orion waterproof ESC that is compatible with NiMH or LiPo batteries. The battery is held in place with a unique swiveling latch. I've had no trouble fitting any of my 6-cell NiMH or 2-cell LiPo batteries in the truck.

The Lexan body comes pre-painted. There are a few external decals, but most of the color scheme is painted on. Out of the box, the body has a grill with four rectangular headlights. Kyosho also includes an alternate grill with two round headlights. Swapping grills is a simple matter involving two screws. After running with the stock headlights for a while, I've now switched to the round lights.

Both headlight styles can be outfitted with 5mm LED lights. Kyosho sells inexpensive light kits that bolt into place. You can also buy bucket lights that attach to the front bumper. I had several 5mm white LEDs in my parts stash. So I wired up two LEDS in parallel. My wire harness has a male servo connector. This attaches to a 6" (152mm) servo extension that I plugged into an open port on the receiver. This provides the LEDs with a 5-volt power source. A 100-ohm resistor on the positive lead of each LED limits the current to about 20 milliamps per light.

I made only two minor modifications to this truck. The first is my usual mod of removing the ESC motor connectors and soldering the wires together. My other tweak was to remove a bolt-on shroud for the ESC's battery connector. The shroud is a neat idea, but it only restrains the connector when pushing the battery's mating connector in place. When trying to separate the connectors, the housing prevents you from gripping both parts. You're forced to pull on the wires, which strains the solder joints.

LEDs can be inserted into either of the headlight options. I made a simple harness with two 5mm LEDs and 100-ohm resistors.

Although the Outlaw Rampage has racer-inspired suspension, this isn't a truck for racing. It is definitely a basher. The stock motor provides moderate, but respectable speeds. I assume that the included tires work well on snow-free paved surfaces. But I obviously have not had a chance to try them out. Ask me again in spring--late spring.

One thing I've noticed about this truck is that it has a lot of body roll in turns. Some of that behavior can be tuned out with suspension adjustments. If I were inclined to do so, I'd start with heavier rear shock springs and go from there. The body roll hasn't really been an issue for me while driving in the snow. So I'm not worried about it for now.

Overall, the Outlaw Rampage is a really cool basher truck. It has a tough, muscular appearance out of the box. I think that image is enhanced with the tire chains. While making the chains was a necessity for testing this truck, it was a fun and helpful detour. Not only will the Outlaw get plenty of run time this winter, I am now considering making tire chains for a few of my other RC vehicles!

I like the tough, muscular appearance of the Outlaw Rampage.

More to Come

I have no intention of slowing down my RC flying or driving just because of a little snow. Okay…a lot of snow. I've been learning a lot of cold-weather RC strategies during my first Buffalo winter. So, be ready for more winter-related RC articles in the coming months.

Terry is a freelance writer living in Buffalo, NY. Visit his website at and follow him on Twitter and Facebook. You can also hear Terry talk about RC hobbies as one of the hosts of the RC Roundtable podcast.