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Winter tyres and snow chains

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Hi All

Driving to La Plagne in January 2021. Car is a BMW Touring X-Drive. It will have winter tyres fitted.

If we were to arrive at the bottom of the final approach road and it was snowing would the Gendarmes allow us to proceed based off the fact that I have four wheel drive and winter tyres or would they also insist on chains being carried / fitted?

Cheers
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X-drive suv with a proper winter tyres and I was waived through while others were stopped. In Blizzard conditions and with signs of special equipment activated
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@Griggs, in 14 years of living in Geneva and Chamonix I have been waved through twice, in an AWD with winters. And never stopped (nor felt unsafe).
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This isn't really the key question: the key question is "Even with winter tyres and xDrive, will I ever still need chains to drive safely or reach my destination?" - To which the answer is 'Yes, sooner or later'. Which obviously begs the supplementary question "OK, but what are the odds?". At which point I'd refer you to the Snowheads archives, which are full to the brim with threads discussing exactly that.

All I can say is that my previous car was a 330d xDrive Touring which I took to the Alps every winter, and for which I bought a set of conventional chains.

In any event, make sure you're familiar with the correct BMW traction setting for snow: which is to press the 'Car with wriggly lines' button for a few seconds until TRACTION appears on the instrument panel. When you're back on tarmac, press again and TRACTION will disappear. You can do this while the car is in motion. Give it a go at low speed on a straight road some time before you go, just to make sure. This is also the setting if you go onto sand or gravel.
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Isn't the carrying of chains still a legal requirement anyway?
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@LaForet, errrr, 'Yes, sooner or later'.

Actually, no.

Not in 14 years. User manual for my car (versions of which I have had for 14 years) is very confused as to chains. Normally not acceptable at all (not entirely sure why, CVT gearbox? traction control?) unless under duress and Swiss French version says only on front, never on rear, Canadian French version says only on rear never on front*. I guess the Japanese->French translator had had a good lunch.

@spyderjon, technically it's "panneau b26" which means "chains required but snow tyres accepted".

On a 2wd with winters I have, on two occasions, had to add chains.

* I may have mixed these up, but hey, details.
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Griggs wrote:


would the Gendarmes allow us to proceed based off the fact that I have four wheel drive and winter tyres or would they also insist on chains being carried / fitted?



It varies. Sometimes they will let a FWD / RWD car up the hill with just snowies; sometimes they can insist on chains even on a 4x4 with snowies. I have personal experience or testimony of both. Be aware that they are generally local French bobbies and know the specifics of the terrain as affected by varying winter conditions - including pinch points where even a 4x4 with snow tyres can get stuck.

The general consensus both in terms of debate and what you see on the mountain roads in the winter is that 80% of folk who live there will have: a front-drive car; snow tyres on all 4 wheels; some chains in the back just in case (that get used about once every 10 years). The other 19% might have rear drive or 4 x 4. The final 1% are bonkers.
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Quote:

including pinch points where even a 4x4 with snow tyres can get stuck


@bobski62, 14 years ... never happened ... seen many on M&S tyres in ditches however ...
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@bobski62, The last time that I was stopped I got the feeling that the police were working out whether I was sufficiently "local" to know the road and not get stuck.
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Yes @under a new name, I think your summary is a better one than mine!

I think you're right though @rjs, it does make a difference. For me, always pleased if I get through St Foy on a tricky day. If I were ever to lose momentum there it would be hard to get started again.
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Quote:


If we were to arrive at the bottom of the final approach road and it was snowing would the Gendarmes allow us to proceed based off the fact that I have four wheel drive and winter tyres or would they also insist on chains being carried / fitted?

Possibly
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@bobski62, @rjs, the last time I was "stopped" was en route from Besancon to Geneva, over the Jura and the Gendarmes checked my tyres and asked,

"do you know what you are doing in this snow? and that we probs won't be able to rescue you if you f up?"

It was, in fairness, chucking it down.

Yes to both and on my way.
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OK, let's put this in context. (This was why I pointed the OP to all the innumerable threads on the topic.). Sooner or later, travelling to the Alps to ski (on snow) in the winter (when it may well be snowing) for a holiday (where you hope there's lots of snow falling, just not when you're in transit) on a fixed date (where you can't decide to defer the trip) every year, you'll eventually hit conditions where you'll need chains. It may take 20 years. It may take 7 years (my average), it may be next year. But this is one of those cost/benefit/risk calculations where you have to decide for yourself.

I've decided that spending £100 on some chains for a £50K car that goes to the Alps every year for a trip that otherwise costs £2K seems a proportionate 'insurance' to obviate the consequences of not having them, given the probability that conditions will require them.

In 14 years, @under a new name hasn't needed chains. In the same period, I've needed them twice. I don't think either statistic proves or disproves the case for the OP getting them - they are just data to feed into their risk assessment.
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
@LaForet, in fairness, I mostly was commuting from Geneva to Chamonix, which is not a hugely demanding drive. Did have a few "moments" has to be said.
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As a mate of mine says .. "In a 4 wheel drive ... you can get really stuck!"

Winter rubber for ever.
But keep a set of chains in the boot (near the top) and practice using them in daylight on the drive ... till you can do it like an F1 pit crew.
Its better to be ready and know what your doing than find out how to do it on your knees in the dark with a white out whirling around you.
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 Poster: A snowHead
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Peace of mind for the price of a set of chains. Simple.
You may not get stopped BUT why add extra stress for the sake of the price of a match ticket!
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Global boiling means the European Alps get far less snowfall than they used to.

Big pukes are getting rarer.

AWD and winters will be fine.

If in doubt, power it out.

And take the backroads.
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Not many back roads up a mountain rolling eyes
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MorningGory wrote:
Not many back roads up a mountain rolling eyes


There's one here, balcony road, much only wide enough for 1 car with passing places. Joins the main road about half way up and cuts off a big corner, 7km or so. All the locals use it but it's not for the faint hearted. I use it sometimes but wouldn't in heavy snow. Less likely to get stuck behind a coach having problems but it's less well ploughed and when campervans ignore the signs they get stuck, there simply isn't room for them.

This photo is a few years old, it's been improved a bit, but not much.

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Its a legal requirement to carry chains.
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No it's not. The law which was due to come in last year in France, winter tyres and/or chains, wasn't implemented. However you run the risk of being turned back when they are checking suitability of vehicles on heavy snow days.
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what we need is chains that can fit multiple size tyres, we change car ever 2 years & I am not buying new chains every time.
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@Jonny996, most chains cover a range of sizes, but whether that covers you?

I would say also that the cheapest are cheap for a reason. And crap.
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Claude B wrote:
No it's not. The law which was due to come in last year in France, winter tyres and/or chains, wasn't implemented. However you run the risk of being turned back when they are checking suitability of vehicles on heavy snow days.

Well that is what the AA, RAC, etc. say. Though I thought it was only any road that has the B26 sign where you legally have to carry chains.

I thought the law that did come in was to make winter tyres mandatory?
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Jonny996 wrote:
what we need is chains that can fit multiple size tyres, we change car ever 2 years & I am not buying new chains every time.


A set of chains that fit your car will fit a few other sizes too so you'll need to be mindful of that when replacing your vehicle. Also, even though the wheel size might be right another car may not accept that chain (in case of traditional design) and require side fitting chains side fitting chains are expensive.

I have a set of Polaire Grip chains for SUV, so if I keep the SUV style car the likely hood is the chains will fit, however, if I change to a traditional tourer car I would need a different set of chains.
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Claude B wrote:
No it's not. The law which was due to come in last year in France, winter tyres and/or chains, wasn't implemented. However you run the risk of being turned back when they are checking suitability of vehicles on heavy snow days.


This is the issue with tyres/chains it's near impossible to get a definitive answer and the default is 'you might get turned away'.

I was under the impression chains were always mandatory equipment in France and more recently the law had changed to require some sort of snow tyre although that was up to individual communes to dictate.

However, I was then told snow tyres were still not mandatory and I see many cars on summer tyres I the Alps so no idea.

Depends on your attitude to risk.

I still think chains are mandatory unless you can point me toward legislation to the contrary.

I love a winter tyre/snow chain debate!
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Its not a legal requirement to have either winter tyres or chains in France. The legislation which ultimately didn't come into law would have made it a legal requirement to have either or both in certain areas between certain dates.

Law and common sense are completely different matters. You'd get turned back if you didn't have appropriate equipment on certain roads when weather conditions called for them. In order to not block the road, be a danger, etc.

To me legal requirement = mandatory.
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Jonny996 wrote:
what we need is chains that can fit multiple size tyres, we change car ever 2 years & I am not buying new chains every time.

For my current car, I switched to paying much more for rapid-fit chains and realised that the more expensive (£299) set I bought were adjustable to a far wider range of wheel size than the cheap ones I'd got previously. If I'd gone for the pricey ones a couple of cars ago, I'd have ended-up in pocket. So this underlines what @James77 said - cheap may not even be cheapeast in the long-term.

My Spike Spider Easy Alpine chains have a gross adjustment setting to three major ranges of sizes and within them, the links are then further adjusted to the specific wheel size. Obviously, if there's a huge difference in wheel size e.g. Ford Fiesta to Jeep Grand Cherokee, this doesn't work. But if it's to a similar-sized vehicle, just a bit larger/smaller, then the odds are much more in my favour that they'll transfer. Anyway, it's something worth putting into your buying equation.

And as @under_a_new_name says, cheap chains are often not very robust. Beware thin-gauge links: expensive+thin (6-8mm links) means the metal is extra-strong to compensate for the smaller gauge, but cheap and thin (favoured by some car hire companies) means they're far more likely to break.
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Spent a season in Cham with my x1 x-drive and chains never left the boot. Not particularly anything too extreme happened as well anyway but its good to be prepared.
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I've got chains and keep them in the boot when driving in winter.

Since I had winter tyres, first on 2 Saab 9-5 Aeros for 13 years (not the perfect winter car, front 2wd, too powerful and torquey) and subsequently Octavia Scout (perfect winter car, admittedly soft 4wd, not too powerful) for 3 years the chains have been used precisely once, on the Saab to drive the last 30 metres into our parking (icy, steep, 135 degree turn, no run-up).

As most have said, with 4wd and winter tyres the chances of needing to use your chains are vanishingly small. But only you can decide if its worth carrying them. If I couldn’t safely drive with the current car without fitting the chains I’d be parking it up and waiting until later.
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 Poster: A snowHead
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We have a French audi a4 allroad 4 x 4 with winter tyres. When we bought it the salesman refused to sell us any chains and he was right. We ski tour and go up all sorts of small mountain roads. Usually fresh snow is the grippiest and never had any problems on those sort of conditions. Biggest problem is other road users on the main roads. With the setup we have then never a problem to get going again even on some of the steepest roads around.

Most of the locals including lifties and pisteurs just have fwd with relatively narrow winter tyres and the ones I know do not own chains.

If you do not do a large mileage on your winters you will notice they gradually get less effective with age and the sweet spot for me is changing after 4 years.

One of the most common sights around us on transfer days is large english 4x4 on summer tyres stuck at the side of the road, in a snow bank. Depending on my mood and their attitude I sometimes pull them out. Elasticated tow rope from Halfords is an amazing bit of kit.
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Chains are not that expensive, don't take up much boot space and one day may spare you an overnight stay on a snowy road. Just do it.

BTW got to test the snow shocks in VT last Christmas, because I ended up without snow tyres due to logistical setback.

Road was largely clean apart from a parking lot next to the agency and a downhill driveway next to the apartment. Summers were in free spin at the agency so I put the socks on and voila - perfect grip. The driveway was far worse, two Frenchmen next to me spend the entire time I was unloading trying to fit snow chains onto their car to drive up and were still messing around when I did a perfect 3 point turn and drove up without any difficulty. Didn't see whether they had summers or winters - it was dark, but I expect summers.

This is just a personal experience, don't take it as universal truth. Socks will get you out of trouble and are better than chains where roads are mostly clean but have snowy spots, but are not a match for a good set of winters or all seasons. I will be getting a set of cross climate for next season, since my summer tyres are wearing down anyway.
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After one big (soggy) dump in Chx last season I was watching a BMW estate trying to move out of it's parking space in a flat level car park outside my apt. I went out to help expecting a 2WD French reg car on regular tyres. I was surprised to find a German reg X-drive on winters. It was going no where, either sat still with traction control on, or spinning for fun if off. A trip to the apt for shovels plus pushing by several folk was needed to get it to the road, thereafter it was fine.

So yes, whilst you probably won't ever need chains, you might. This car was not moving, even with shovel action, without a lot of folk pushing; anyone solo would have needed chains.

My pick up just breezed out of a similar spot. No idea why the stark difference as it's 4WD system is crude, it is an auto, and the winter tyres are past their prime. Maybe it had been moved more recently? Maybe even there was some fault with the BMW's electronics, as I would have expected more from it.
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Just realised the above is more an answer to @LaForet's question the the 4th post than @Griggs's question in the op (to which the answer is....depends).
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I went belt and braces and bought a second set of alloy wheels with Nokian winters I swapped them last December and swapped them back mid-March. They cost me £1400 direct from Volvo. I also bought a set of Polaire grip side fitting chains (as traditional chains don't fit many new cars) these cost me £300 from roofbox.

On my trip to Flaine in February I could've driven up and back on slicks, however, next winter might be different. Chains stayed in the boot and to be honest I don't think they'll ever come out the bag, they feel like great insurance but expensive for something that takes up boot space and that's the dilemma if they're not mandatory.

When I change cars I can sell on the wheels and possibly the chains. Or maybe I'll keep this car?!! I say that every time I waste money on a new car.

I won't risk the safety of my family for that sort of money, it's too late to wish you'd invested as you're hurtling off a cliff!
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@Griggs, Buying chains is just like buying insurance, you pay the money hoping never to need to use it but then on the occasion that you need it you are very glad to have paid the money.
Bonus with chains over insurance is that you only have to buy chains once for each vehicle and when you change the car you can sell the chains on ebay or snowheads for about half what you paid.
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@midgetbiker Your BMW Touring owner might have had winter tyres but it's not uncommon for people to wear them down below the 4mm where they need replacing, because they still look quite 'chunky' at that point. Unfortunately, the drop-off in snow/slush traction below 4mm is usually dramatic, They might also have been switching between EcoPro and Comfort modes, rather than DSC=Off/DTC=On/Traction mode (the BMW manual is terrible in explaining how to setup the traction for snow). And they probably wouldn't have had a limited slip differential (like my RWD BMW) which would also help avoid wheelspin. Or they may have had all-seasons on and thought they'd be as good in the snow as winters (which, all other things being equal, they aren't). Or some combination of these.
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I read somewhere that the golden rule for winter tyres is 4x4x4 (Fit 4, one on each corner, change at 4mm, don’t keep past 4 years old).

I’ve pretty well stuck to that and when at the end of a winter I’m close to 4mm I just leave them on all summer and buy a new set the following winter. 4 year “rule” sometimes breached.

Must get round to swapping back to my summer tyres Embarassed
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