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Snow tires for ski trips?

I live in San Francisco, and this year I’ve got a ski lodge at Tahoe. I’ve got a '99 Lexus GS300, which is RWD. I’m trying to decide if I need to invest in snow tires.



I have a set of chains, which are often required by the highway patrol in snowy conditions regardless of whether you have snow tires. Is it worth getting a set of snow tires as well? I’ll certainly never need them when I’m not in the mountains.

From what I have seen, it can get real bad up there in a hurry. Use some good quality chains that will not tear up your tires. Practice putting them on once.

You might try to find some rims that you could mount up some snow tires on and not have to switch all the time. But good chains should work.

The BEST idea is to watch the weather and drive in good conditions. My brother was up there once and it took an extra three days to get out…

Do you have experience driving in winter conditions ?IMO, if you don’t, you need all the help you can get…get snow tires. Otherwise, you’ll discover you need chains after you go off the road…Keep the chains too when it gets REALLY bad.

Driving into the Sierras in the winter in a RWD car? You must really like to live dangerously.

Get out that credit card and buy a set of 4 winter tires on their own steel wheels. If conditions get REALLY bad, you could always throw the chains on your drive wheels, but if it got that bad, you probably should not be driving anyway.

Years ago we rented a ski house in Vermont. I had a RWD car with no snow tires, but I did have a set of chains. I erroneously convinced myself I wouldn’t need snow tires if I had chains.

In practice I found myself getting stuck often. Not because the chains didn’t work, but because of human nature.

I learned quickly that chains are a pain to install, especially if it’s late Friday night, it’s cold outside, you’re tired, you don’t want to get your good clothes dirty or wet, and you’re almost at your ski lodge. Those were the cases where a good set of snow tires would have worked fine - leaving the chains only for the worst (unplowed) hilly roads.

Chains are also a pain when you have to install them for some stretch of deep snowy roads, then have to remove them for a stretch of cleaner roads where you want to drive more than 20 mph, then have to reinstall them for another stretch of deep snowy roads, etc.

Installing the chains at first was fun and exciting. I felt a sense of pride seeing how I could confidently make it through deep snow. However that novelty quickly wore off, I got tired of installing them every time I should have.

As others have noted, invest in a good set of snow tires. Keep your chains in the trunk for when you really need them.

How many times a year are you going?

It’s been a while since I’ve been there, but the CHP will turn you back if you don’t chain-up in any case, no matter your tires. If you’re going a couple of times a month, and don’t drive that much in the City (snow tires wear faster), get 4 snow tires on a set of rims, and change out for the season. Or don’t, if you live dangerously. Don’t believe the claim “all season radial”.

If they’re requiring chains, there will be entrepeneurs roadside who will do it for you for a price. Good advice to put them on yourself once when it’s warm and dry. If you’re going to do it, bring something to lie on like a foam pad, and a flashlight on a stand. It’s going to be Friday night, right? Change out of your business clothes.

Many of us drove in the snow with RWD for years without accident, even in a pick-up truck, noted for poor snow traction. Chains work amazingly well as long as you don’t make any sudden moves, and don’t break your front traction by trying to turn too sharply. Oh, and you don’t drive faster than conditions warrant, which applies to all cars, though many AWD drivers don’t understand.

All cars stop the same, as all cars have four-wheel brakes. Snow tires do help.

The main danger is other drivers.

Here’s more from CA DOT cited in a different thread:

"Chain Requirements:
R1: Chains, traction devices or snow tires are required on the drive axle of all vehicles except four wheel/ all wheel drive vehicles.
R2: Chains or traction devices are required on all vehicles except four wheel/ all wheel drive vehicles with snow-tread tires on all four wheels.
(NOTE: Four wheel/all wheel drive vehicles must carry traction devices in chain control areas.)
R3: Chains or traction devices are required on all vehicles, no exceptions.
“Chain Controls:
You must stop and put on chains when highway signs indicate chains are required. You can be cited by the California Highway Patrol and fined if you don’t. You will usually have about a mile between “Chains Required” signs and the checkpoint to install your chains”

R3: Turn around and go home. It’s not worth it…