Renting snow chains?
September 17, 2023 12:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm hoping to rent a vehicle to visit a part of Oregon this winter that requires chains after Nov. 1st. Is it possible to rent chains, or will I need to plan on buying a set?

I used to own a car (and also a pickup truck) that I used chains on in snowy road conditions, so I'm familiar with the chain-up and chain-down process. I'd really like to rent chains if possible. Because I'd be using a rental car/truck, I may not get the same tire size every time and so buying feels like a waste!

Alternatively, I could try to squeeze this trip in during October... But at some point I'd really like to go during the winter when it's snowing.
posted by cnidaria to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Now I'm reading that under Oregon rules: "If you drive a vehicle with 4-wheel or all-wheel drive and use approved snow tires, you are exempt from applying chains to your vehicle, so long as your vehicle weighs under 10,000 pounds."

So... what exactly qualifies as "snow tires"? Are those studded tires only, or is it a broader category? Are there rental companies that offer snow tires? I'd be renting the vehicle in Seattle, in case that is relevant.
posted by cnidaria at 12:05 PM on September 17

Here's a link that talks about Oregon's requirements

"Traction Tires" are studded tires, retractable studded tires, or other tires that meet the tire industry definition as suitable for use in severe snow conditions.

It appears that many rental agencies prohibit using chains on their cars due to the risk of damage. For example, Enterprise. But typically, they will provide winter tires during winter months. I imagine the majority of car rentals in Washington and Oregon would offer winter tires or all weather tires during winter months, but the best way to find out is to specifically call the location you intend to rent from.

I didn't do a lot of searching, but the only tire chain rentals I could find in either Washington state or Oregon was for Mount Rainer State Park. At $27 for a 1-day rental, that's not going to be much of a savings compared to buying, even if you had to buy new chains for each trip. Assuming your car rental allows the use of chains, what you could do instead is rent the car, go buy chains from a local auto store that permits returns, and if you don't end up using the chains, return them before returning the car.
posted by cruelfood at 12:25 PM on September 17

The bar for "approved snow tires" is very low in Washington, probably similar in Oregon. Most all-season tires will meet the requirement with an AWD vehicle. That's not too say that they're anywhere near as good as real snow tires, or tires with studs.

In WA there are times when chains are required on all vehicles, but that's usually during an active large snowstorm. I imagine Oregon is similar. You might be able to get by with AWD with good tires if you have flexibility for your travel times.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 1:01 PM on September 17

Best answer: Is this a part of Oregon that gets a lot of snow come November or is it just above 1000 ft? I don't know anyone who's been ticketed for not having chains or traction tires in all my years here. If it's just at altitude, you could do what a lot of us do which is buy chains from Les Scwab and return them if you don't use them. If it's really snow travel you should get a car with AWD. I've seen Subarus for rent locally, that's probably a good choice.

But typically, they will provide winter tires during winter months.
I wouldn't bet on any rental company putting real snow tires on any of their cars, not if you're renting anywhere in the Portland area. The 8 inches of snow we get in January isn't going to make putting snow/traction tires on every rental car in the area a sound financial decision. Renting in Bend or La Grande is another thing.
posted by fiercekitten at 1:24 PM on September 17 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You may not what to be terribly specific with where you're headed but it's pretty unlikely you'd need chains just about anywhere here.

For reference, I've never put chains on my wifes AWD SUV despite skiing through the winter up here in PDX and the surrounding country.

In general, if you need to put chains on for much or Oregon you _absolutely_ do not want to be driving. If you're going to be staying up in Government Camp or the equivalent you can always buy chains that are appropriate for the tire size of the vehicle and return them unopened and unused.

If you _are_ going to be spending time up at one of the few places that have elevation or crossing the passes on a regular basis, or going through the gorge when we get freezes, well then yeah you're gonna want chains.

Typically snow tires have the 3 peak icon on them - they are not that common and unlikely to be on any vehicle you might practically rent.
posted by iamabot at 1:37 PM on September 17 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Does the place you're visiting always require chains, or just "when conditions warrant" or something similar?

There may be other tire shops that do this as well, but Les Schwab allows you to buy chains and then return them in the spring (or maybe earlier?) for a full refund if you don't use them. With luck, this could be a cheaper alternative to renting chains.
posted by Hatashran at 3:52 PM on September 17

You might check, but I don't think rental car companies usually (or maybe they never never) allow you to install chains on their rental cars.
posted by SageTrail at 4:53 PM on September 17 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To clarify in case it's helpful -- I'd be near Detroit, OR, at roughly 2000'.

I do want to find a way to have my perfect wintry escape, but yes, preferably without icy death.

(iamabot -- I used to live in PDX, and had to drive during the Portland snowstorms+aftermath of 2014 and 2017 with my Honda Fit with chains on the tires. That shit was wild! I definitely try to avoid driving in truly desperate Oregon snowpocalypse conditions if I can avoid it, and I don't mess with I-84 ice in the Gorge, either.)
posted by cnidaria at 9:13 PM on September 17

There are places that rent snow chains - I remember renting chains from someplace just outside the park so we could drive our rental car up to Mt. Rainier a few years ago. We never put them on, but had to have them in the car to be legal.
posted by jferg at 1:29 PM on September 18

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