Winter Driving: Everything You Need to Know About Snow Chains

Oct 23, 2021

Mammoth Lakes receives some of the heaviest snowfalls anywhere in California. But day after day, no matter how much, how heavy, or how rapidly the snow falls, we count on our snow removal crew to efficiently return our streets to driveable condition. During the winter, this crew works diligently to keep Mammoth Lakes streets and roads snow-free and clear to ensure safe driving for our residents and visitors. You can help their efforts by observing a few simple rules and by being snow smart.

When Do You Need Snow Chains In Mammoth Lakes?

Vehicles traveling in the Eastern Sierra during winter months are advised to carry chains at all times, however during winter storms carrying chains is mandatory, no matter if you are currently required to use chains for your vehicle.

How do you know when you are required to use your snow chains? CalTrans and law enforcement will put signage up to indicate the different restriction levels on a particular road or highway. Make sure you know which restriction level your vehicle falls into, and plan to use your snow chains when that level is indicated. 

Snow Chain Restriction Levels

  • R1 – Chains are required on all vehicles except passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks under 6,000 pounds gross weight and equipped with snow tires on at least two drive wheels. Chains must be carried by vehicles using snow tires. All vehicles towing trailers must have chains on one drive axle. Trailers with brakes must have chains on at least one axle.
  • R2 – Chains or traction devices are required on all vehicles except four-wheel- or all-wheel-drive vehicles with snow tires on all four wheels.
  • R3  – Chains or traction devices are required on all vehicles, no exceptions.

More Snow Chain Tips & Information

Conditions can change quickly during winter storms, which means even if you aren’t required to use chains for the current restriction level, you may need them just an hour later on the same road. Law enforcement may set up checkpoints to ensure vehicles are carrying chains (even if the regulation level does not call for chains for your vehicle yet). If you do not have your chains with you, you will not be able to continue your trip.

Once chain restrictions are placed on a road, the speed limit will also drop to 25 to 30 mph. Changes in speed limit will be posted on roads and highways along with the snow chain restriction information.

How to Install Snow Chains on Your Vehicle

Knowing how to install your snow chains before you need them is crucial. Often, you’ll be faced with harsh conditions when you need to install your chains, so it’s best if you’ve had a chance to practice ahead of time so you aren’t installing them for the first time mid-storm.

When you’re installing your chains, pull into the next available turnout. Make sure you are fully off the road; do not stop in the traffic lanes to install or adjust your chains. Similarly, when you remove chains from your vehicle, be sure to pull fully off the road past the signs indicating the end of chain controls.

If you are uncomfortable installing chains on your vehicle, you can also use the services of a chain installer (look for them on the side of the road at the beginning of a chain restriction area).

NOTE: Chain installers are NOT allowed to sell or rent chains, so you’ll need to make sure you have chains that fit your vehicle before arriving at a chain restriction area.

Where to Purchase Chains in Mammoth Lakes

If you’re driving to Mammoth Lakes in the winter, you should purchase chains to fit your vehicle before making the trip in case you hit winter weather along the way. But unexpected storms do pop up, so if you are already in town and need to purchase snow chains while you are here, check these local retailers:

  • DIY Home Center
  • Norco Service Center — Goodyear
  • Mammoth Shell Mart
  • Center Street Shell
  • Mammoth Chevron
  • Napa Auto Parts

NOTE: Retailers try to keep all sizes of chains stocked, however, you may need to visit more than one retailer to find the appropriate size chains for your vehicle.

Meghan Miranda

Meghan has been living and playing in Mammoth Lakes since 2016. She enjoys any outdoor activities that her dogs can tag along for. See more of Meghan's adventures on her blog Meg Moves Mountains.

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