Personal or Commercial Vehicle – How and When to Chain Up

The first time I ever tried to put chains on my car was in a snowed-in mountainside parking lot. My fingers froze, the sun sank lower, and when I finally got the chains fastened, I crept down the snowy road with gritted teeth, wondering if I’d done it right.

Trust me, you want to learn how to put chains on your vehicle before the need arises. If you need practice, then watch this video guide and try it out, so you and your vehicle are prepared for the possibility of slippery conditions.

Tires and Chains for Passenger Vehicle Drivers

When you come to a posted sign on the highway stating “Motorists Must Use Winter Tires/Commercial Vehicles Must Carry Tire Chains, October 1 – April 30 (or March 31),” you must have proper winter tread tires for your passenger vehicle. Should you go beyond that point without those tires you may be subject to a fine. (Passenger vehicles could once carry chains only, but are now required to have winter tires).

At the very least. you must have Mud and Snow (M+S) tires. If you regularly travel in snow and ice, we recommend the ones with the three-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol. Whichever kind you have, they must have a minimum of 3.5 mm tread depth. Learn more about How to Choose from 4 Types of Tires for Winter Driving in BC.

If road conditions worsen, be sure to install your chains before you reach an uphill grade. Pay attention to whether approaching vehicles are using chains or having difficulty. If you have any doubts, chain up before proceeding.

For Commercial Vehicles Operators

If you’re driving a commercial vehicle and encounter a sign or flashing amber lights with a message that indicates vehicles over a certain posted GVW must chain up, then carrying chains is no longer sufficient — the chains MUST be installed at that point. We advise being well-experienced with How to Install Tire Chains on a Commercial Vehicle. Failure to chain up may result in a fine or other enforcement action. Proceeding without the proper equipment installed could also cause you to lose control of your vehicle, endangering your own life and the lives of others.

You might be wondering what type of chains to buy, which wheels to chain, and whether your vehicle’s Automatic Braking Systems or Automatic Traction Control are a good enough substitute (they’re not). For more information about chains and traction devices for commercial drivers in BC, see Commercial Vehicle – Tire and Chain Requirements. 

You’ll find which BC routes currently require chains at DriveBC’s Commercial Vehicle Chain Requirements.

Wherever you travel, and whether you’re driving a vehicle that’s big or small, following these chain and tire requirements will help you (and others) reach your destination safely.

Page 1 of 102 comments on “Personal or Commercial Vehicle – How and When to Chain Up”

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  1. Thanks for quoting the laws and giving the rote answer about winter tires. You have not addressed the concerns of the previous writers. I now understand motorcycles are not legally allowed on most Hwys after Oct 1 and I have to install my winter tires when temperature are well above those recommended by the tire manufacturers. Commercial vehicles only need to carry chains. How much time and tax dollars were spent to poorly rewrite this law?

    • Hello Ross,

      As you might have heard, Minister Stone recently clarified that the M+S or winter snowflake logo requirement does not apply to motorcyclists. As you know tire manufacturers do not make winter tires for most motorcycles. Under the Transportation Act, the minister can, by placing signs, prohibit vehicles that are not equipped with winter tires from a highway. The signs do not show motorcycles. The minister said that motorcyclists must apply common sense and not travel in inclement conditions. In severe winter conditions, police may turn all vehicles around if they think the tires are unsafe for conditions; this includes motorcycles. Thanks for connecting with us here, we hope that this helps!

  2. I am planning a late November move on BC highways in a UHaul rental truck (14,000lbs GVW and 8100lbs empty weight) with an auto hauling trailer in tow. Uhaul will only supply all-season tires on their vehicles and trailers. Is it acceptable to only “carry” chains (a pair for the truck and a pair for the trailer) and use if required on the highways? Thank you….Brian

    • Hi Brian,

      Thanks for checking in. The law allows M+S (all-season) tires for your vehicle weight. We suggest asking the company if its tires have M+S on the sidewall, and a minimum 3.5mm tread depth. However, as you’re likely leaving at a set date with little flexibility regarding departure times/dates, we recommend you also carry chains so you’re prepared to travel in all types of weather conditions.

      Chains are handy for trailers as they prevent the trailer from slipping sideways at slow speeds when a vehicle traverses curves, which are often super-elevated (sloped) to make the curve easier to negotiate at speed.

      Hope this helps.

  3. RE: your trans bc online -“do I need to chain up?” .
    Until the new sign in this posting came along this year the instructions for the winter months were winter tires or carry chains. I carried chains and in the worst months had snow tires on. It is very difficult to determine from your article whether carrying chains is legally enough anymore. I am hoping that the situation is as it was i.e that you can carry chains but must be prepared to put them on when conditions demand. If you have changed the law then I think it is very unsatisfactory since over the last week i would have been required to use fast wearing winter tires with inferior roadholding in 20 deg temperatures.
    I suspect that the law hasnt changed. I am not interested in wasting your time on hat you think is the best technological solution -I just want to know whether the I can get fined or anything with just chains. I understand that the cope can send me back if consitions and my car equipment warrant -but thy can do that anyway.
    Iam trying not to be picky but at present 90 % of the cars will be illegal on malahat if snow tires are required without exception. It may be neat and tidy – but it brings the law into disrepute and its sloppy! With respect Peter Smy

    • Hi Peter,

      Only carrying chains in a vehicle that is not equipped with the appropriate tires is not permitted on signed highways. On these highways, your tires must either be marked with the mountain/snowflake or M+S (Mud and Snow) emblem on the sidewall, and have a minimum 3.5mm tread depth. If you haven’t purchased specific winter tires, check your tire’s sidewall – there’s a chance it will be marked with M+S.

      Tires marked with a mountain/snowflake symbol offer the best traction on snow, ice and in cold weather.
      Tires marked with an M+S offer better traction than summer tires, but are less effective than mountain/snowflake tires on snow and ice, and in cold weather. M+S tires (with a minimum 3.5 mm tread depth) are a winter tire for compliance with current highway signage requirements.

      Whether you use mountain/snowflake or M+S tires, it is still a good idea to carry chains for severe conditions.

  4. This new requirement has not been thought through properly. M+S tires are well known to be little better than summer tires, and essentially useless in snow.

    This leads to the absurd situation where a Kelowna resident cannot drive over the Bennett bridge (which is part of Hwy 97) to get to West Kelowna, on a typical warm October day.

    Does this apply to motorcycles? If so, it means that all motorcycles are banned from nearly all provincial highways for 6 months of the year, including those nice warm 20 degree Fall riding days we get here in the okanagan valley! Why? Because the M+S symbol, and the snowflake symbol, are car tire ratings, and are not used on any motorcycle tires.

    • Hi R.F.

      Thanks for sharing your concerns with us.

      Tires marked with a mountain/snowflake symbol on the sidewall offer the best traction on snow and ice and in cold weather.
      Tires marked with an M+S offer better traction than summer tires, but are less effective than mountain/snowflake tires on snow and ice, and in cold weather. M+S tires (with a minimum 3.5 mm tread depth) are a winter tire for compliance with current highway signage requirements. However, for better winter driving performance, on snow and ice and in cold weather, tires with the snowflake and mountain symbol depicted on the tire’s sidewalls are recommended.

      Motorcyclists are classified under the passenger vehicle category in the Motor Vehicle Act and therefore subject to the same restrictions as cars. Because motorcycle tires do not typically run on M+S tires, they would require studded tires during the winter tire season.