Chains are literally chain links placed around the wheels to bite through snow and ice and provide improved traction. Before travelling to the snow, check your vehicle handbook to determine if chains can be fitted to your vehicle. Some newer vehicles with low profile tyres or small clearances in the wheel arches cannot fit chains as they will damage the suspension, brakes or wheels.
In Australia, snow chains can either be purchased or hired. Unless you are a regular visitor it is probably most economical to hire chains - you will find several outlets in major capital cities, and almost every petrol station in the alpine areas along with many other businesses will hire chains.
There are two basic types of chains, Ladder and Diamond Pattern. The RTA in NSW recommend using diamond pattern chains as these provide more points of contact with the road and better lateral grip.
When hiring, make sure the provider demonstrates how to fit the chains, and preferably practice yourself before reaching the alpine environment - it is easier to work out any problems in a relatively warm and dry area than in freezing conditions in the middle of nowhere.
Which vehicles are required to carry chains, the dates and regions vary by state. See the New South Wales or Victorian Regulations section below for more information.
Snow Socks or 'Auto Socks' are not considered chains by either Vic Roads (Victoria) or the RTA (New South Wales).
In severe conditions chains may need to be fitted to the drive wheels of your vehicle due to snow or ice on the road. Sometimes you will be informed by rangers, police or resort staff of this requirement, either in person or by a sign on the side of the road. Other times you will need to make the decision on your own. You should only put chains on if there is snow or ice on the road or if directed by an appropriate authority. Often if there is only a light dusting of snow they will not be required but you should drive with extreme caution. If travelling out of the snow, remember to remove the chains as soon as it is safe to do so. Leaving chains on when they are not required damages the road, slows you down and can damage your car.
Chains are always fitted to the 'drive' wheels:
- If you are in a Front Wheel drive vehicle the chains are fitted to the front wheels of the car.
- If you are in a Rear Wheel Drive vehicle the chains should be fitted to the rear wheels of the car.
- If you are in a 4WD or AWD vehicle chains may need to be fitted to the front, rear or all 4 wheels. If you are unsure which wheels to fit the chains to, check the owners manual for your vehicle or with the manufacturer. With some types of transmissions chains must be fitted to all 4 wheels.
- If hiring chains check that they fit your vehicle prior to leaving the shop to ensure that you have the right size chains. It can be very inconvenient to have to turn around once you realise later that your chains don’t fit and you cannot continue your journey.
- Slow Down! When driving with snow chains speed should be kept to a minimum. You should not travel any more than 20-30 kph with snow chains on as it can damage both your car and the road.
- When fitting chains pull completely off the road to the left. Do not stop in a traffic lane where you will endanger yourself and block traffic. Use a chain fitting bay if one is available.
- Chains should not create banging noises when driving, you should just hear a rumble. If you hear a banging noise the chains are loose and hitting part of the car. Stop and tighten the chains or tie up any loose ends - failure to do this could damage your bodywork or suspension. I always carry a small roll of wire and pliers with a cutting edge, very handy for taking care of those loose ends. I've seen hundreds of dollars worth of damage done with loose fitted chains, avoidable damage.
- BYO small repair kit. Along with pliers, a spare link and/or small shackle can be very useful in the event of chain breakage. Some car hire companies have been known to hand out poor quality chains with their vehicles.
New South Wales Regulations
In New South Wales, if you are driving a Two Wheel Drive (2WD) vehicle, you must carry properly fitting snow chains from June to October long weekends on the following roads:
- Kosciuszko Road beyond Sawpit Creek (Park Entry)
- the Island Bend/Guthega Road for its full length
- the Alpine Way between Thredbo and Tom Groggin
Chains may also be required in certain weather conditions on the Alpine Way between Jindabyne and Thredbo and the Snowy Mountains Highway - for this reason the RTA recommends that chains be carried in these areas during winter. In addition, you should check road conditions before you travel.
Four Wheel Drive (4WD) and All Wheel Drive (AWD) vehicles are not required by law to carry snow chains but due to the high incidence of 4WD vehicle accidents in Kosciuszko National Park, the RTA now recommends they do - especially if drivers have little experience driving in snow/ice risk sections.More information can be found in the RTA publication "Vehicle Standards Information - Driving in Snow and Ice Conditions". 
NSW Police and the RTA conduct random chain inspections throughout the season (usually on sunny, clear days) on the road to Perisher and all eligable cars are checked for compliance. You will receive a fine in excess of $300 if found not to be carrying chains.
In Victoria all vehicles must carry chains in the alpine areas of the major ski resorts of Hotham, Falls Creek, Mt Buffalo and Mt Baw Baw. Victoria Police are currently developing new regulations relating to fitting chains. This section will be updated when more information is available. Mt Buller has special arrangements in place that require 4WD vehicles to carry chains only on certain days. 2WD vehicles and all overnight visitors must carry chains at all times. Lake Mountain only requires chains to be carried by 2WD vehicles on certain days and never for AWD or 4WD vehicles.
There is no legal requirement to carry chains on New Zealand highways. High passes on main highways may be affected by snow at any time during winter (e.g. Lindis Pass or Porter's Pass in the South Island, or the Desert Road in the North Island) and occasionally lower altitude roads also. When there is snow on the road, you may be required to fit chains at a checkpoint - or else the road may be closed entirely, requiring a delay or long detour. Check highway conditions at the AA website before setting out. See http://maps.aa.co.nz/traffic/roadwatch
Most skifield access roads are unsealed and private, maintained by the ski area who set their own regulations for when chains must be carried or fitted. Usually chains are only required to be fitted after fresh snowfalls, but common sense dictates that they be carried at all times, and fitted if you are at all uncertain. Even if the law of the land is not specific, the laws of physics are unforgiving. In some places the consequences of an uncontrolled slide off a skifield road can be (and have been) fatal.
Alpine Driving - Preparation and Information