How to reliably rent an AWD vehicle when flying to the Tahoe area?
October 23, 2009 3:27 PM   Subscribe

I'll be regularly flying in to ski near N. Lake Tahoe this winter. Which airport should I fly into and which rental agency should I use to be most assured of getting an AWD vehicle?

I drove my trusty AWD-equipped car from the Bay Area to Tahoe many many times last season, but now the both the car and myself are in PDX. How do I get to Truckee and the slopes when chain control is in effect? Should I fly to Reno? Sacramento? Will any rental agency make a guaranteed reservation on a Subaru or other appropriate vehicle?

I suppose I could buy some tire chains and lug them along in my luggage, but what size? Is there a size that's going to fit most/all of the common small rental cars?
posted by brain to Travel & Transportation (3 answers total)
Flying to Reno would be easier, but it won't eliminate the threat of chain controls. You'd still face them on Mt. Rose Highway or I-80. It's more expensive to fly there, usually -- though closer, obviously.

4WD vehicles are readily available at the Sacramento airport. (And I assume at Reno's too, though I've never rented from there.) A lot of the agencies at Sacramento also have ski racks available.

If it were me, I'd fly to Reno if I could afford it, or to SMF if the cost savings were significant. I'd hold off buying chains until I got the car and knew that I'd need them. Then I'd buy chains for that car. And next time, I'd request the same kind of car from the rental agency, so I'd know that I had chains that fit.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:37 PM on October 23, 2009

Best answer: If you get a real 4WD truck, they will usually let you through without chains, depending on how bad it is (R1-R3). I used to get through chain control in my Subaru, but I lived there and tended not to go near the passes during stormtime. Tire chains come in sizes specific to your tires themselves, I have never heard of a universal size you would be able to use on different cars, but the guys at chain control might be able to cut them to size (for a fee of course!). This page, although somewhat old, has some good information. The airports at Truckee and SLT, as far as I know, do not service commercial passengers, it is strictly small aircraft. As stated above, that leaves you with the options of Reno and Sacramento. Reno is definitely your best bet as it is much closer, and they should have no shortage of appropriate rentals. Donner pass, coming up from Sacramento, is up over 7000ft, higher than I80 coming from Reno, so I would guess that you also have a better chance of getting through from Reno than from Sac in the event of a tough storm.
posted by sophist at 6:44 PM on October 23, 2009

Fly into Reno, if 80 is closed, you can always try going down 395 through Carson and up 50. if the weather is so bad that you can't get through either way, then you are probably going to be screwed coming up from Sacramento anyhow.
posted by crunchywelch at 1:27 AM on October 24, 2009

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