Snow Chains For Mercedes Sprinter 4×4

Snow is falling and snowshoeing is calling! We recently traveled to both Big Bear and Yosemite National Park in California to get out into some fresh powder. While it was all fun and games when we finally got on the trail, prepping for and traveling on wintry roads to get to the trail can be a little hair-raising, particularly during a major snow storm. We are going to walk you through our experience selecting snow chains for our Mercedes Sprinter 4×4, what we learned about Mercedes tire chain disclosure, our experience with the van’s performance with the factory mud/snow tires plus 4×4, and what conditions prompted us to install our chains.

Snowshoeing in Big Bear, California

Spoiler alert: We ultimately purchased Peerless Auto-Trac chains. Keep reading to find out how we arrived at the decision to purchase these chains.

Tire Chain Disclosure

This might look familiar to those that recently purchased a Mercedes Sprinter van:

This is a tire chain disclosure that we signed (along with a what seems like a million other papers) at the time we purchased our Mercedes Sprinter 4×4. When we started the hunt for snow chains, a faint memory resurfaced from the day we bought Bruce. Flipping through our glove box we stumbled across that yellow piece of paper with big bold letters: “THIS VEHICLE MAY NOT BE OPERATED WITH TIRE CHAINS….” What?! How can a 4×4 Mercedes Sprinter not allow snow chains?

This disclosure took the wind right out of our sails. We planned to just pick chains that would fit our tire size and head to the mountains. Instead, we started a long journey trying to figure out what was behind this disclosure, and how we could get to the mountains with a set of chains. For those of you wondering why we need traction devices at all with mud/snow tires and 4×4, it’s still required by law that vehicles wear or carry traction devices like chains, when driving into areas with chain restrictions. You can read more about that on the Caltrans website.

As you can see, the disclosure encouraged us to reference the owner’s manual, so we checked it first. Unfortunately the owner’s manual provides conflicting information. Page 246 describes that “for reasons of safety we only recommend using snow chains or traction aids that are approved for the Sprinter. The snow chains or traction aids must be of class U. Information on snow chains is available at any qualified specialist workshop.” Later it reads that “information about snow chains for all-wheel-drive vehicles can be obtained from an authorized Sprinter Dealer.” Since our van is a 4×4, we decided to contact the dealer to get recommendations.

Ash and Mar with chains installed checking out Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite

We contacted six Mercedes dealers before getting the information we needed. Most of the dealers we talked to did not have recommendations for tire chains as the manual had indicated, even dealers in areas that receive considerable amounts of snow in California were at a loss. Fortunately we finally found a dealer willing to do some research. After several days of hunting for information, they weren’t able to explain why we signed the chain disclosure, but they confirmed the 4×4 Sprinter can operate with snow chains on the rear axle, and also offered an option for snow chains that Mercedes recommends for the Sprinter. The product they offered with was from a German manufacturer. Unfortunately they were extremely expensive (>$700/pair)!

After all of the phone calls, emails, and reviewing the specifications of the chains that Mercedes recommended, we opted to select an alternative brand of chains that was similar to what Mercedes recommended.

We have factory tires, size LT 245/75 R 16. We moved forward selecting chains with the thought process that the tires on the Sprinter were no different than other SUV or light truck tires, and the set we selected was an appropriate fit for the wheel well clearance. As mentioned earlier, we went with Peerless Auto-Trac chains. These are Class S, diamond-style chains with auto-tightening feature.

Ash installing chains

We selected these chains based on the following thought process:

  • Chains–although cables have the reputation for being easier to install, chains seem to offer better traction. If conditions are bad enough that we opting to install traction devices on our mud/snow tires and 4×4, we want to get the best traction possible. Plus we’ve found if you purchase the right type of chains, they are pretty easy to install.
  • Class S chains–designed for vehicles with more restricted clearances in the wheel wells. Although our manual said we could have still selected Class U chains, we figured a lower profile chain would offer less risk for damage to the wheel well.
  • Diamond-Style–offers more traction during cornering on packed snow or pavement since the chains always have contact with the ground. Plus they don’t tend to get tangled like the ladder style.
  • Auto-Tightening–it’s as simple as it sounds, they tighten as you drive and we found they are pretty easy to install. We’ve used manual tightening chains before and those require a more energy to crank them down to get them snug.

If you are looking for the right chains for your tires, consult your owner’s manual and check your tire size first. We also found that you can’t trust the little tag on the chains to include all tire sizes that the chains actually fit. The manufacturers often only list a few tire sizes on that tag. You need to either check the manufacturer’s website or one of the books in an auto parts store for the full listing of tires that the chains will fit.

Mercedes Sprinter 4×4 Snow Handling With and Without Chains

We were pleasantly surprised to learn that our factory tires were mud and snow tires. According to the California Department of Transportation, mud and snow tires combined with 4×4 are acceptable for R2 chain controls.

Snow-tread tires can be identified by examining the sidewall of the tire where the letters MS, M/S, M+S or the words MUD AND SNOW have been stamped into the sidewalls.

Bruce performed better than we expected using just our mud and snow tires and the 4×4. We trialed this set up under R2 chain restrictions in both Big Bear and Yosemite. We found we we had good traction on snow-packed roads, during blizzard conditions, on hills, and even getting in and out of parking spots that had mounds of snow. Of note, we were traveling at or below the recommended speed limits set by the park for the snowy conditions, and driving cautiously.

After three days of touring Yosemite with just our tires and 4×4, we opted to install the chains when the temperatures dropped well-below freezing and the roads were extremely icy. The roads were still under an R2 restriction, but we experienced a minor loss of traction on one icy portion of a road and figured we would be better safe than sorry. Once we installed the chains, we did not experience any slipping as we climbed out the winding, hilly route south towards Wawona.

If we routinely traveled up to mountainous, snowy destinations, we would probably invest in some more robust snow tires for extra traction. At this point, we’ve opted to keep the factory M+S tires and have the chains ready for slippery conditions since most of our driving is in warm, sunny SoCal.

We never imagined that getting Bruce outfitted with chains would take so much investigation, but we are glad we took time to find a set of chains that worked for our van and that performed we we needed them.

Enjoying Yosemite National Park in the snow

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