/ French / Italian Alps - Snow chains front and rear?

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CurlyStevo - on 19 Dec 2012
I'm thinking of driving a front wheel drive car to the French & Italian Alps for a week this winter. Snow chains or winter tyres will be required. If I choose to go down the snow chains route will a pair suffice or do I need chains front and rear?

dave frost - on 19 Dec 2012
In reply to CurlyStevo: You will need winter tyres and at least 1 set of snow chains. I don't think the snow tyres are really an option.

If you go with summer tyres you'll do a lot of driving with chains on, and you can only do 30 MPH in that case.

We got snow tyres and chains for all 4 tyres. We have a recently converted camper and didnt think the £60 for the extra set was much if it made things a bit safer. I know people who only get winter tyres and chains for the wheels that havwe the power on them, but i dont think they go to the alps.

Rob Exile Ward on 19 Dec 2012
In reply to CurlyStevo: As far as I'm aware front are all you need - that's all I've ever used anyway on 5+ trips.

And don't forget to practice before you need them! By the side of an autoroute in a blizzard in the dark is no time to discover they're fiddly things.
Rob Exile Ward on 19 Dec 2012
In reply to dave frost: We'll have to agree to differ. They're pretty efficient at clearing roads in the Alps in my experience.
Doug on 19 Dec 2012
In reply to CurlyStevo: As far as I know, one pair is all you need (& is all I've ever carried)
dave frost - on 19 Dec 2012
In reply to Rob Exile Ward: True, theyre amazing compared with this country, but normally it seems that its the main roads and car parks.

We may have gone a bit overboard but thought it better that than have problems.

aligibb - on 19 Dec 2012
In reply to CurlyStevo:

from 5 winters of driving a clio in the Alps..

4 winter tyres, chains for the 2 tyres at the front. I've never had to put chains on with the winter tyres but you need to have them esp for driveways etc. I suspect I'll need both this year as my tyres arn't as new as before.
Theres alot to be said for narrow tyres and a smaller engine that doesn't over spin the wheels, Keep the revs low and use gears as much as poss!
yorkshireman - on 19 Dec 2012
In reply to CurlyStevo:
> If I choose to go down the snow chains route will a pair suffice or do I need chains front and rear?

I live in the Alps a small village at 1200m, so we get a lot of the conditions you're going to encounter. The French are excellent at keeping the roads cleared, but sometimes the weather can be just too much. I changed to winter tyres in November, just like everyone else round here. I'll keep them on until April.

Two weeks ago we had tonnes of snow, and the snowplough came through and cleared it, but there was still a couple of inches of hard packed slush snow on all the roads, and you get that all the time in ski resorts. In my front-wheel drive car with winter tyres, this was fine (if you're careful), but my wife had hired a car for work the week before, and it didn't have winter tyres. The difference was incredible - it was twitchy and slidy on the same surfaces.

So, get winter tyres anyway. They're not just for snow, but handy in the UK in the cold and the wet. They don't work out more expensive as you're simply saving your summer tyres while youre not using them.

I only use snow chains for the front, as they're really only for getting out of trouble and crossing sketchy patches, and I can count on one hand the number of times I used them last winter.

You will very rarely have to use them, but if you're trying to drive to your hotel in a ski resort at 10pm and the Gendarmes aren't letting non-chained drivers through, you will regret not having them for the sake of 40EUR.

Bruce Hooker - on 19 Dec 2012
In reply to CurlyStevo:

If it's just for a visit, one drive up, one drive down, just a pair of chains is all you need, that's what most people do and most of the time the chains stay in the boot, but if you plan to spend time there, live there or generally explore the area then Steve's advice makes sense.

It also depends a lot how happy you are driving on snow - on the same bit of road some people will sail up and others will grind to a halt in spinning of wheels, same for staying on the road. As said, do a couple of trial runs putting them on as when you do need to do it in earnest it always seems to be snowing, the kids are crying and the traffic is trundling by throwing slush up... the pleasures of skiing.
Luca Signorelli - on 20 Dec 2012
In reply to CurlyStevo:

For Italy you need winter tyres OR a pair for your front wheels. Not both. I use winter tyres, no chains and never had problems anywhere
CurlyStevo - on 20 Dec 2012
Thanks everyone.

It wouldn't be practical for me to buy winter tyres as I have no where to store them and it's a huge expense, when in southern england they are very rarely needed. They also tend to be less economical in summer so not practical for all year route use.

The other option for me of course is to fly to Geneva and hire a car with snow tyres fitted. I'm pretty sure most euro countries either require snow chains OR winter tyres but not both.
yorkshireman - on 20 Dec 2012
In reply to CurlyStevo:
> Thanks everyone.
> The other option for me of course is to fly to Geneva and hire a car with snow tyres fitted. I'm pretty sure most euro countries either require snow chains OR winter tyres but not both.

France doesn't, but its advisable. Therefore if you hire a car from the French sector at Geneva airport, it won't come with winter tyres or chains unless you specifically buy the pack.

Hire from the Swiss side and they're mandatory so they come as standard (plus you get the motorway vignette so can get out of GVA much easier). More expensive though.

Its your choice how you want to prioritise your spending of course, but places like Kwik-Fit will do a 'tyre hotel' where they store your tyres you're not using for a nominal fee. I think when I got winter tyres fitted in the UK to a VW Passat Estate, the whole set came in at around £300, so not a huge expense (considering we're talking about making the most dangerous thing you will ever do - drive - safer), and they will last twice as long as normal set since I'm only using them half the year.

Anyway, worst case, keep an eye on the forecast, and if there's going to be any newsnow you should be fairly safe as everything will be cleared. If it looks iffy, nip into Feu Vert (like Halfords in France, on all retail parks) and by a set of chains for £40
dave frost - on 20 Dec 2012
In reply to CurlyStevo: They're bloody expensive! damn right.

I would be very careful when hiring a car to make sure they have snow tyres as i doubt they would be fitted by default - if i remember rightly this was an optional upgrade when renting through someone like europcar - which means you may pay a little bit more.

Your right i don't think they're required by law but it's those annoying small situations which can make life hard when on holiday that just become so much simpler when your well prepared. Plus in the UK we're not used driving in snow. It's why everything grinds to a halt when we get about 2cm

CurlyStevo - on 20 Dec 2012
In reply to dave frost:
Yeah I lived in scotland winter climbing 6 years so I've done my fair share of driving in snow

Yeah I already checked some of the major car hire companies yesterday and noticed that winter tyres are sometimes an added extra.
neilnt - on 20 Dec 2012
In reply to CurlyStevo:

Living in Austria as I do there is a fair amount of driving around on snow in the winter. For this I have a set of winter (S+M) tyres and one pair of chains for the front wheels as required.

I say "as required" as after heavy snowfall some roads become "chains required for all non 4WD cars". Some times the police will be out to enforce this as well (fine you for being stupid). Most important if you have an accident on a road that has been designated "chains required" then the insurance will not pay up at all (and you get a fine).

In Austria they have also changed the law last year, so that in winter, when there is snow on the road, only cars with winter tyres are allowed on the roads. Again no insurance and a fine would result in ingnoring this. Not sure what the law is in Italy and France though.

A lot of the winter the roads have no snow on them and if you are only driving to lower resorts (below 800m) you could get away without either. I am sure that 90% of all the Dutch and Northern German Tourists have summer tyres and get away with it.

If you are going to risk it with summer tyres then I would, at the very least, get some snowchains. If I was going to rent a car then a 4WD would be a good idea (with S+M tires) and chains as these are needed to go down hills.

Hope this helps and is not too confusing,

Neil NT

gethin_allen on 20 Dec 2012
In reply to CurlyStevo:
Front chains and common sense is all you really need if all you plan on doing is driving in and out. Been to the alps skiing loads and loads in various campervans and only had to fit the chains twice, although one of the vans had "town and country" tyres designed to help you get off campsites easily.
kermit_uk - on 22 Dec 2012
In reply to CurlyStevo:

I have driven to the alps ever winter to go snowboarding for the past 6 years.

4 times in an audi A6 front wheel drive and last 2 times in a BMW 5 series (it was a 530 diesel M Sport so 300bhp and very wide low profile tyres).

In 6 years we have had to put the chains on once I think. All the main roads across france are fine there was a sketchy section last year coming out of calais but it was freakishly cold (-19 in calais) the only time we put the chains on was coming up to hotel car in front stopped on a hill and we couldn't get going again if it wasn't for them stopping we would never have used them. We used them on the audi never on the BMW and last year there was huge amounts of snow.

It is a legal requirement to carry chains on mountain roads in france during winter month. There are chain laybys at the bottom off the mountain road and cops will pull over random cars to check and fine you if you are potentially going to put yourself in a position where you will impeed the flow of traffic. Those snow socks don;t count either.

I would get a set of chains, you only need one set for the front wheels (put them on the rear if rear wheel drive) Make sure you have good tyres but you don't need winter tyres as they won't help in bad snow as they are not snow tyres so you'll still need chains and unless you live over there you won't get the use out of them.

I did see aldi or lidl where selling cheap chains for £20 chances are if you are going to a biggish resort they are fantastic at clearing the roads and you won't need to use them for long if at all.

Andysomething - on 22 Dec 2012
In reply to kermit_uk: Chains are a must if you don't have winter tyres. The consequences of not having them could range from stressful to show stopping. Cost of chains about £60. Cost of bodywork repair always more. Cost of roadside wreck?

Even when I've travelled to a resort I know to be dry and cleared I always have chains in the event of a sudden unexpected dump on arrival or departure.

The gendarmes in France may stop you and turn you round if the road ahead requires the right equipment and you don't have it.

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