Mountain Driving Guide: Tire Chains & Road Conditions

Putting on tire chains on the way to Truckee

Winter driving conditions and tire chains can be some of the trickiest things for California travelers. Here are some safety tips for making it up to your Truckee vacation rental.

Always check with your host to make sure you get special tips for their neighborhood, like where to park, when their driveway plow service comes by and if their roads are usually cleared soon after a snowfall or the next day.

1. Check Weather and Road Conditions

The best way to get there safe is to check ahead and prepare for the driving conditions you’ll be in for.

  • For weather and storm advisories
  • For road conditions
    • Caltrans– Type in the highway you’ll be traveling, e.g., the 80 or the 50
    • com– Has weather, Caltrans updates and links to resort live cams
  • For resort conditions
    • On the Snow– For how many runs are open at area resorts

2. Be Ready with Tire Chains

  • Carry chains with you
    • They cost less if you buy them locally at an auto parts store, like O’Reilly, Autozone, Pep Boys, etc. They range from $60 to $120 and up, depending on your car.
    • In some conditions CHP will require you to have chains with you, even if you are in a 4-wheel drive vehicle. So better safe than sorry.
  • Watch out for chain control areas
    • Signs on the highway will tell you you’re approaching a chain control area. It will probably be extremely busy and backed up way down the highway, so watch out for other cars and 18-wheelers that are pulling over to the side to put their chains on, too. Most people go right to the side when they start to see people pulling over, so if you continue forward, there’s often space closer to the front and the chain workers aren’t as busy.
    • If you’re in a 4-wheel drive or once you get your chains on, you’ll then drive through the check-point so CHP can verify you’re good to go.
    • Sometimes they have just the checkpoint to make sure you’re carrying tire chains with you because it might snow before you reach the pass. And sometimes if the roads are really bad, CHP will just stop traffic and you’ll be parked…for hours…until they reopen the highway. They usually close the road before they require 4-wheel drives to put chains on.
  • Know how to install chains, or hire someone who does
    • It usually costs $30-50 to have chain installers put them on or $15 to get them taken off…worth it!
    • There may be a front and a back side that have different attachments. The “easier” attachment or hook goes on the back side of the tire (towards the engine). With cables, one side is smooth, and that side should go down against the tire.
    • Wrap the cables or chains over the tire. Driven 2′ or 3′ over them and turn the wheel to 5 o’clock to make it easier to hook them up. Clasp the back, and then wrestle the front side facing you and get them as tight as you can (they loosen up when you drive).
  • Take your chains off after you’re over the pass or through the snow
    • Once you go over the pass or the snow eases up, pull over at a safe spot and take them off. There may be another chain control area and workers to help you.

3. Use these Tips on How to Manage Your Car in Snow

This video has great tips for how to drive in the snow and how to clear snow from your car when you set out for the day.

  • Park smart
    When you arrive at your vacation rental, make sure you park where your host has directed you. Ideally that should be in a driveway or parking lot. Beware if you park on the street, because street parking is not allowed overnight during the winter in most areas, because the plows come by to clear the streets. If you’ve never had to dig your car out after it’s been buried under 15’ of snow…you don’t want to!
  • Pop your wipers up
    Look around you in the parking lot and you’ll see lots of cars with the wipers sticking up. That’s so they don’t get frozen to the windshield while you’re on the slopes, and to make it easier for you to clear the snow off your windshield before you get back in to drive.

Remember…go slow…and get there safe!

Article provided by Mel @tripmogul, vacation rental superhost and travel blogger at Donner Bliss Vacation Rental.


About Mel, Superhost & travel blogger @tripmogul

Mel has been a superhost, host coach and blogger for three years. Based in the Bay Area, she spends her weekends in Truckee and Pacific Grove, sharing her home and tips with California explorers. Mel is the independent homeowner representative for the Town of Truckee, Chamber of Commerce lodging promotion committee. On any given day you can find her volunteering at one of her kids’ schools, speaking at a Council meeting or on a trail, snowboard or paddleboard.

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