You know it’s going to be fun on the mountain when you drive under the big electronic sign that reads CHAINS REQUIRED. Probably the last thing you’ll want to do at that moment is pull over, climb under your grimy vehicle and freeze your hands off futzing with chains. Well, you may not have to.
Here are some key things to know about chain laws and best practices in Oregon.
1. You may not need chains after all. If you a) drive a four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive vehicle that weighs less than 6500 pounds, b) carry chains with you just in case, and c) have high-quality mud and snow, all-weather radial or traction tires with the snowflake symbol on them, you are exempt. For proof, see Exemption Number 2 in the state’s explanation of chain laws. As a long-time fan of the Toyota RAV-4, I can tell you that a reliable mountain vehicle with good snow tires can handle snowy conditions beautifully without chains. Of course I say that with the caveat that how you drive is far more important than what you drive.
2. If you don’t have four-wheel-drive, you can avoid the hassle of chains by using studded traction tires in winter. Studded tires are legal in Oregon between November 1 and March 31, and while legislators have attempted to change the law on traction tires to protect roads from wear and tear, none of these bills has yet become law.
3. If you don’t have 4W Drive and there is fresh snow, put on chains, the right way. NEVER stop in a travel lane, no matter how much snow is on the road. Find a designated chain-up area, pull over and move as far forward as possible to allow others to pull in behind you. Carry a pair of thin gloves so you don’t freeze your fingers. And learn how to apply your chains BEFORE you drive up the mountain on a powder day.
In case you’re wondering about that 6500-pound weight limit, a Subaru Forester weighs 3260 lbs., and a Toyota RAV 4 weighs 3600 pounds. Even a hefty Chevy Suburban weighs in at less than 6,000 pounds, so pretty much any vehicle with 4WD qualifies for the chain exemption.
Okay, I get it. Better to be cautious than risk accidents. I understand why the Department of Transportation and the Mount Hood resorts post signs that give the false impressions that all drivers must chain up on snow days. Nobody wants to spend a powder day stuck in traffic behind some dummy with bald tires and rear wheel drive. Nobody wants to get in an accident.
But I do think that it is worth knowing the law, because the law makes sense. If your vehicle has four-wheel or all-wheel drive, you do not need chains. Invest in quality snow tires, take it easy around the curves and you should be just fine making your way up to enjoy that beautiful powder.
Last modified: November 11, 2020