Whether you plan to use studded snow tires or install chains when the snow flies, the goal is the same: you want a safe trip on the road during the icy and snowy conditions. Your best and safest bet is to have your vehicle equipped with studded tires as well as carrying the chains because they are not usually considered tire traction devices suited for heavy storms.
California and Nevada have many high elevation mountain ranges that receive snow on a regular basis. The law limits use from Oct. 1 to April 30 in Nevada and Nov. 1 to April 30 in California each year. During this time, studded tires are permitted in any location within the states.
Drivers use these tires all over the U.S. in snowy regions to drive more safely on streets and highways and help with traction during the winter month. Snow tires have metal studs that protrude beyond the tread while chains are devices fitted to the tires of vehicles to provide maximum traction when driving through variable conditions.
Studded tires tend to damage road surfaces since the studs dig into the road and damage the pavement. Drivers can consider snow tires or using chains when the roads aren’t clear. As of December 2010, a tire with retractable studs is being sold in some markets. These tires have two layers and wireless technology allows drivers to retract the studs when the roads are good. Both California and Nevada have amended their rules to allow these tires 12 months of the year as long as the studs have been retracted during good road conditions.
Snow chains are attached to the drive wheels of a vehicle and are sold in pairs and must be purchased to match a particular tire size (tire diameter and tread width). Driving with chains will reduce fuel efficiency and can reduce the speed of the automobile to approximately 30 mph. Go here for a diagram on chain placement. Word for the wise: It’s better to practice, several times, putting on tire chains, before you hit the road. The reason being is that there’s nothing worse than struggling to put on chains when it’s cold, snowy and wet outside. The quicker you master the art of safely putting on chains, the better.
Link cable chains are preferred because they have hardened twisted links that cross chains with a cable side chain. The link cross chains provide more traction and durability compared to the cable tire chain rollers. Cable chains are allowed for passenger cars and light trucks under virtually all conditions. Cables are not as effective as link-type chain under severe conditions at higher elevations and steep grades for “big-rigs” and may not be permitted depending on local conditions as determined by Caltrans. Whenever chain controls are posted over Donner Pass on Interstate 80, heavy trucks are usually required to have link-type chain on at least the main drive axle.
Chains are most often required in the higher mountain passes of northern California, such as Interstate 5 north of Redding, Interstate 80 over Donner Pass between Sacramento and Reno, Nevada, and US Highway 50 over Echo Summit between Lake Tahoe and Sacramento. Highway 395 between Carson City to Bridgeport and on to Mammoth and through the Eastern Sierra also gets hit with heavy amounts of snow and chains and snow tires are advised for winter travel. Chains may be required at any time at these higher elevations when conditions warrant.
Motorists are advised to check the Caltrans web site or call 800-427-7623for current road conditions. For Nevada click here for road conditions or call 511 within the state, (877) 687 6237; (877) NVROADS.