Mountain Tire Chain Restrictions

Winter Mountain Driving: Use Tire Chains & Tire Cables!

Locals have been complaining about the chain restrictions up here. When we have visitors this can be a good thing BUT the problem seems to be with the lack of sense used by whoever sets the restrictions.

We mountain folk think that it is a flatlander who set the road restrictions because once the main roads are clear—the restrictions always remain in place longer than necessary which means people are not always allowed up without having chains on their vehicles.

This was the case for several delivery drivers yesterday. In fact, one was reported to have visited Lake Arrowhead and then instead of shooting over here, he traveled back down the mountain and attempted to return. He was told to chain up at the bottom of the hill—but finally got through after talking some sense to the road block guys.

Now, there are good and bad points to the restrictions. One big one, which is good, is safety. Anyone remember the idiot tour bus driver that did not have chains last year? The guy blocked Highway 18 which triggered a road closure and the deployment of rescue personnel in Snow Cats to rescue the stranded passengers and other travelers.

A little common sense goes a long way. I want to remind locals to remember that visitors and flatlanders are affected by the altitude oxygen deprivation—which starves their brains and shuts the brain cells off…

So not only are some locals mad that they get stuck behind slow moving cars and trucks when the main roads are pretty dry, the chains contribute to pot holes and other wear n’ tear on our local roads.

What’s a local to do?

If you are not familiar with the chain restrictions for the mountains they are:

W: No Restrictions – Watch for snow on pavement.

R-1: Chains are required on all commercial vehicles (trucks or buses). All other vehicles
(cars, pick-ups, vans, etc.) must have either snow tread tires or chains on the drive axle.

R-2: Chains are required on all vehicles except four-wheel drives with snow tread tires.
Four-wheel drive vehicles must carry chains in the vehicle.

R-3: Chains required – ALL VEHICLES – no exceptions.

You can view the Department of Transportation diagram (PDF) for where tire chains should be installed by clicking here

Although they should not stop on a curve, or in the middle of the highway to put on chains, for some reason many visitors do anyway. It is dangerous for you and for everyone else driving on the road. If you are heading up the mountain and chain restrictions are in place, do everyone a favor and pay those guys to install the chains for you. It is quick, safe, and easy. Once you get on the mountain it is not safe to stop in the middle of the road to install your tire chains.

Notes About Chain Restrictions & Control

• You must stop and put on chains when highway signs indicate chains are required. You can be cited by the California Highway Patrol and fined if you don’t. You will usually have about a mile between “Chains Required” signs and the checkpoint to install your chains.

• Control areas can change rapidly from place to place because of changing weather and road conditions.

• The speed limit when chains are required is 25 or 30 miles an hour.

• When you put on chains, wait until you can pull completely off the roadway to the right. Do not stop in a traffic lane where you will endanger yourself and block traffic.

• Chain Installers: If you use the services of a chain installer, be sure to get a receipt and jot the installer’s badge number on it. Remember, chain installers are independent business people, not Caltrans employees. Having the badge number may help with any misunderstandings later. Chain installers are NOT allowed to sell or rent chains.

• When removing chains, drive beyond the signs reading “End of Chain Control” to a pull-off area where you can safely remove them.

Okay, so I am probably going to split this article into two parts for the mountain visitor or person planning for a mountain retreat or vacation to Big Bear, because there are certain things you should do—such as planning for unexpected weather conditions.

Let me just finish with a few points and links…

Visitors who are renting a car, need to make sure that the vehicle not only has chains—but that they fit! Car rental companies have been notorious for not having the right sized chains or cables. You can check the size on the side of the tire and on the actual box or container BUT you can also ask the employee to do a live demonstration as a safety precaution.

For those traveling in your own vehicle, make sure you have chains or cables in your vehicle prior to departure. I have links to descriptions of the types of tire chains and tire cables listed below–you can order them and have them delivered down the hill. You can also get some here on the mountain–but since so many visitors are unprepared they tend to run out of certain sizes.

Finally, Make sure you check weather and road conditions before you head up here. Winter storms have been known to hit as early as late November and into April. Yes, we do have the infamous freak storms in October and after April–but in general, the roads are pretty clear.

Here are some resource numbers you will find of value:

Caltrans Public Affairs at (866) 383-4631 (7 am to 5 pm Mon-Fri)

Road Conditions at (800) 427-ROAD (1-800-427-7623).

You can also visit the Caltrans Web site at for road information and closures.

I find that the phone information is notoriously behind in updates but at least it will give you an idea. Also, there is a sign on Highway 18 that gives you a radio station number to tune into on your way up—use it.

Radio stations for use during winter mountain travel:

95.1 FM KFRG in the Valley and High Desert
93.3 KBHR in Big Bear Valley
98.9 KHWY in the High Desert
102.3 KZXY in the Victor Valley
107.7 KCDZ in Morongo and Joshua Tree

Other resources:
CalTrans District 8 Updates (San Bernardino/Riverside Area)

Everything You Wanted to Know About Tire Chains & More

Buy winter tire chains or tire cables before you head up to your Big Bear vacation or Lake Arrowhead retreat!

SECURITY CHAIN® CHAIN TIGHTENERS Security Chain® Chain Tighteners Why do you need these? Because, you won’t always get the chains tightly on every time. These snug them down so you don’t have them fall off while driving!

SECURITY CHAIN® CABLE TIRE CHAINS Security Chain® Cable Tire Chains These babies are the most popular for the average visitor.

SECURITY CHAIN® SHUR GRIP® SUPER Security Chain® Shur Grip® Super Z Light Design Tire Cables

SECURITY CHAIN® QUIK-GRIP TWIST-LINK TIRE CHAINS Security Chain® Quick Grip Twist Link Tire Chains

SECURITY CHAIN® QUIK-GRIP BAR-REINFORCED TWIST-LINK TIRE CHAINS Security Chain® Quick Grip Bar-Reinforced Twist-Link Tire Chains GG’s favorite chains for her truck!

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6 Responses to “Mountain Tire Chain Restrictions

  • 1
    Living By Learning
    January 9th, 2008 15:27

    Travelling in from other areas, it’s hard to imagine being in a place where you need chains.

    One visit to Mammoth, with snow reaching rooftops, we learned the value of chains!

  • 2
    San Diego Highwayman
    February 25th, 2008 19:51

    agood place to GIT Security Chain’s excellent product if yer headed “up” from san Diego 😉

  • 3
    GG (Gossip Girl)
    February 26th, 2008 07:08

    @LivingByLearning: Yep, you really need to have them in the winter months for safety. If you try and avoid buying chains you can cause severe traffic and endanger others.
    @SanDiegoHighwayman: I never had the pleasure of meeting you when I lived in San Diego. You forgot to leave your private page link–for my readers view it here:

  • 4
    San Diego Highwayman
    March 6th, 2008 06:04


    Most folks meet me when they’re in unpleasent or dire circumstances.

    I’m often “directed” to such, kinda hard to explain how it happens.

    If one were to be admirin what it is I enjoy doin, and happen to need snowchains as well, then they could come see me fer the snowchains and git perfectly fitted, and be supportive in the bargain. 🙂

    Thx fer the kind words.

    Happy Trails,

    Highwayman Thomas T

  • 5
    GG (Gossip Girl)
    March 6th, 2008 07:41

    Thomas, Thanks for stopping back by. I know about those hunches…live my life by following a lot of them. The weather has been unseasonably warm and the roads are clear but we usually get some heavy snow in March–cross your fingers and maybe you’ll have some more tire chain fitting adventures before spring!

  • 6
    San Diego Highwayman
    March 7th, 2008 12:25

    Speakin of “adventures” GG 😉

    Went out this mornin to the bank and ta git my ears lowered by my fav barber.

    Going WB on the I-8, I see a Mustang in the CD with a CHP behind it and figure “someone’s gittin a ticket.”

    Coming back, I see a tow @ the Mustang and think ?? as I continue on my way.

    Anyways — it’s a bit later morning now and and I’m agittin ready to go out to “play” fer a while on the freeway — I come over the rise WB agin, and there’s the Mustang — STILL there — someone small sittin on the passenger side — so I light up and pull off in front of it — back up to it and investigate.

    Little girl’s been cryin.

    She’s had a tread delamination blowout on her LR tire and the remaining tread, flailing around the wheel well had damaged the body as well.

    CHP had stopped to help her and had requested a tow to change out the tire for her “courtesy” as she had no HE [help enroute], no funds to pay, and no one local to assist her.

    Tow driver had done as requested and left but didn’t notice she couldn’t leave.

    She said to me that the car “wouldn’t move” after the tire was changed.

    I immediately suspected that the spare wasn’t correct and was jammed on the brake caliper. [ Seen that before. ] So, without further ado, I removed her blown tire from the trunk and told her I’d return with a good one for her in about 20 min.

    She protested that she couldn’t pay. I assured her that that wasn’t an issue as I gave her my card and explained my reason for being there.

    Now I’m sizing up her situation as I’m talking with her, and it looks to me like she’s got everything she owns packed into that car. I’m guessing she’s been having a REALLY bad day [or more]

    Sooooo …

    I got a tire of the same size from my stock I keep for these kinda situations, mounted it up on her wheel, and took it back to her on the freeway.

    Took the spare off, installed the good tire, and tried to move the car.

    Which wouldn’t start.

    She’s looking pretty sad just now.

    She had said it wouldn’t “move.”

    It comes to me from past experience that the Mustang [ and other Ford vehicles ] have a “rollover” cutoff switch for the fuel pump located in the trunk on the LR wheel well. So, when the LR tire blows in this fashion it often trips that switch with the flailing of the tread against the body metal.

    I locate the switch, press the button, and try to start it again…ROOOORHMMMMMM

    The look on her face made my day!

    Reason I didn’t *think* of that switch first? She REALLY needed a tire to continue her journey safely…the other 3 were okay…