Winter tyres and chains in the French Alps law

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TimDavies
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Winter tyres and chains in the French Alps law

Article in the Dauphine paper today reporting that from 1 November 2019 you must have 4 winter tyres and snow chains/ socks on your car. 

 

A year away away but bound to catch a few out and be in receipt of an amende or even worse, slithering up an icy hill ❄️ ❄️ 

 

StephenGoulden
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Unless things have changed recently , 4X4s don't need chains. The rule you describe has been the case for 2 wheel drive for a long time. Austria and Switzerland have similar laws.

The chain-mounting areas must be used and if you cause a problem, the immediate consequences are not to be thought about - car impounded plus a fine quite likely.

TimDavies
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All cars, regardless of number of driven wheels. It’s winter tyres plus chains. 

RichardBird
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The legal requirement, normally above 1000m, is to either have pneus neiges (winter tyres) OR to carry chains.  I dont know of any regulation that excludes 4x4s from this requirement. 

The winter tyres should be fitted on all 4 wheels to avoid skids. Chains if needed must be fitted on the driivng  (traction) wheels. In place of chains, the socks (chaussettes) or Michelin net type covers are accepted as equivalent.  Chaussettes are quite fragile, suitable for very slow speeds on snow, but they will tear on asphalt at higher speed.  The ideal setup is to fit winter tyres which will deal with 80% of snow conditions, and carry as well a set of chains or Michelins for the really serious 20%.  Plus a small shovel.

If you don't use winter tyres, you must carry chains or equivalent. A pair of chains on the traction wheels are adequate. I dont't know of any specific regulations for 4x4 but common sense dictates that one pair of chains would be adequate on the front wheels.

I keep winter tyres on all year here in the Alpes Maritimes. The cost of changing tyres twice a year is equal to the cost of extra wear in the summer for average mileages, so not worth bothering with.

It would be quite remarkable if your car were impounded due to snow troubles! A telling off, and/or maybe a €80 fine. You would however not be permitted to drive on without compliance, so it could mean an expensive tow to lower levels.

RogerColeman
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I have just come back from a trip to Chamonix, researched this point in some detail before I went as I had heard 4x4s with winter tyres didn't need snow chains, but in fact I could not find any authority for this, and having checked the local rules, the position seems to be you now need chains whether or not you have winter tyres, and I could not find any exceptions for 4x4s 

Of couse,needless to say having bought the chains the roads were fine!

BruceDawson
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This is a bit bizarre isn't it! Almost all of the B26 signs I have seen, indicating snow chains are required, also have have "pneus neige admis " written below - this means that if you have winter tyres on all 4 wheels you are allowed to carry on. I've also seen nothing about 4wd exceptions, which actually doesn't surprise me as the 4wd doesn't help much if the tyres don't trip the road surface - plenty of data on that (as well as loads of 4wd vehicles I spotted having slid off the road after a bit of snow where the drivers have just found out that summer tyres don't work on snow and ice). However, winterised hire cars always have winter tyres AND snow chains

I've do have a confusing issue with this though, if anyone has any thoughts - my 4wd car won't take conventional chains but i do keep winter tyres on over the skiing season. Practically speaking the only time the car wouldnt make it up a road, chains wouldn't help me because the car would probably ground out on deep snow (it drives amazingly on most snowy roads, hilly or not), so I wouldn't be going anywhere. However, I don't want any over zealous french gendarmes ruining a trip - so I guess I have 3 choices: 1) not worry as it will probably never happen; 2) Buy some snow socks (which will fit the car) to appease the police but probably won't be an improvement on the winter tyres or 3) spend several hundred on  the special outside mount chains that shouldn't foul the cars chassis/ suspension.

I'm leaning towards snow socks as an appeasement measure, but has anyone any experience of these giving any noticeable improvement over winter tyres in proper snow? And if anywhere other than France accept these as a substitute for chains?

Thanks

RichardBird
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Firstly, to confirm: Pneu neige is the same as pneu hiver - Winter tyres.  Should they be on all 4 wheels or only driving wheels?  I can ask the local police but tyres on all 4 wheels is common sense even on a 2 wheel drive car.

Secondly. Not sure why chains would foul the suspension - unless you have a Ferrari or BMW mini?   But I recommend the Michelin Easygrip net covers.  Far more robust than the 'chaussette' socks which can tear to pieces if you have to rev too hard.  And will help grip even with winter tyres.  But about €100 instead of €35.  There are some very robust socks but they cost €100 as well. Howver, always check if they are compatible with whatever vehicle you have. 

Chains are the cheapest and best all-condition answer, about €35, but a pain to fit on. The secret is to stop before you get onto snow, on a clean road surface.  Ther are often laybys provided for the purpose. Once the tyre is partly buried in snow you will never get them on.  Those "easy fit" chains cost a bomb, no point unless you happen to live in Switizerland.

I have winter tyres on 4 wheels and carry chains but if starting from scratch I would probably buy the Michelin nets instead of chains. If they are a bit too expensive for occasional use one has a choice: Buy socks and treat them really carefully, or buy chains and practice fitting them in the warm comfort of your home garage! (if compatible with your suspension of course)  I only have had to use chains once in seven years here.  4 winter tyres on my front wheel drive SAAB have got me nearly everywhere.

Michelin nets and socks will satisfy the police, equivalent to chains, even if you have summer tyres.. 

https://www.allopneus.com/Accessoire-CHAINES-NEIGE-MICHELIN-EASY-GRIP-EVOLUTION-7-LA-PAIRE-5161-1.html

BruceDawson
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That's interesting Richard, thanks for that.

Car manufacturers always recommend winter tyres on all 4 wheels if at all. Having said that I have happily got through all sorts of stuff with just 2 winters on the front. I changed tactics to all 4 when I got my lwb VW Transporter facing sideways on a narrow road in some snow - quite exciting, and perhaps not surprising with heavy tools in the back of a lwb van!

The handbooks for both my van and my car indicate compatible tyre sizes for use with chains, but although both are factory standard options,  neither has my tyre size listed for some reason (I presume it is clearance).

Those Michelin nets look interesting, found some for around £65, but they say they are not for cars that won't take chains, annoyingly. Although they are ratified in Italy and France as substitutes for chains.

I'm most interested in the experience of "used once in 7 years", when you live in the Alpes Maritimes. That suggests its not worth me spending a penny, especially if it is generally chains or winters! 

Thanks again.

RichardBird
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Bruce . Yep  - same with summer tyres, and chains on only 2 wheels. Rear end skid around waiting to happen! Especially on descents.  Rather dangerous combination IMHO except with experienced drivers.

I dont understand why Michelin nets would foul up anything at all, they are really just strong socks. - if you go to the online suppliers you can always check compatibility. Tyre sizes are stamped on the tyres. ( I posted one supplier above). 

If you have winter tyres, you are right, no need to buy anything more at all legally.  But for £30 I like to carry the chains just in case I get into trouble.  Plus pair of old ski gloves and my old offpiste snow shovel.  Just feels good!

JohnCairns
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Recently hired a Hertz car from Swiss side Geneva airport . It was a 4x4 BMW X2 (very nice!) with winter tyres . Asked about chains but they said it was 4 wheel drive so didn't need chains and also not allowed to fit chains to 4 wheel drive in Switzerland ??? of course we drove to France! I do drive a 4x4 at home and compared to a 2 wheel drive have found that getting going in the snow is of course great but when you hit the brakes you are no better at stopping than a 2 wheel drive car !!!! I presume that chains help you stop  better as well as help you get going ? 

RichardBird
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John hi. 4 wheel drive with winter tyres is the ideal setup to get you almost anywhere.  No need for chains unless you are planning to get into some really extreme situations.  I don't imagine chains will help you stop faster, in fact the opposite. But that's just my opinion, I have never tried hard braking with chains on and dont intend to!

 

BruceDawson
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That's funny John: found myself in the same situation 10 days ago. Thrifty kindly gave me a 4wd Jaguar F Pace ("Ford Focus or similar"!!!....) at Geneva. I didn't check anything, but discovered later there were no chains supplied, but decent winter tyres on the car. So, next morning I wake up to a few inches of snow on the road and the car in Annecy, a 1:4 driveway to get up and a quiet lane, followed by the 2hr drive to La Plagne. Winter tyres plus 4wd proved solid as a rock in the snow and the slush and the deep snow in the resort - negotiating the car park was the worst for snow depth, but proved no problem. Most cars going up and coming down to/ from  the resort had chains on. I didn't feel any issue with sliding or losing grip.

Conclusions: Wherever you are in winter conditions: if you run summer tyres take chains or socks for the alpine roads regardless of 2 or 4wd; better still run winter tyres for those conditions and don't worry about chains. If your winter driving is frequent or remote then winter tyres are a no brainer, and 4wd and/ or chains or socks will increase your range of ability, but won't change your legal status much.

The data I have seen on snow braking doesn't give chains any noticeable advantage over snow tyres (but that will depend on the tyre quality and tread depth).

Enjoy the winter !