Chaining Up Rental Cars

Rental car companies almost always specifically disallow the use of chains or cables on their cars. This poses a dilemma for visitors from out of the area. You should not enter the park, or the mountainous terrain surrounding the park without chains, but you are in a rental car that disallows the use of chains.

The only way to be 100% sure to avoid violating the rental car rules, while still following the law and safe driving practices, is to stay outside the park and use a shuttle service to visit the park. Even staying in El Portal, outside the Arch Rock entrance, is risky as chains can be required between Mariposa and El Portal over the Midpines summit. For most people this isn’t a great option, as you are giving up the chance to stay inside the park, even though you might not have to use chains. And, this option requires you to use public transportation, eating up even more time during your vacation days.

Violating the rental agreement comes with risks. If you damage the car while in violation of the agreement by using chains, it would likely void any protection plans you purchased.

We believe traveling to the park without chains poses a MUCH HIGHER RISK. We feel discouraging the use of safety equipment on rental cars creates a dangerous situation for both people and rental cars. So, we are in favor of using chains in violation of the agreement, should we find ourselves in a situation where chains are required for safe operation of the vehicle. Furthermore, just carrying chains in the car does not violate the agreement. It’s very possible that you would encounter only R1 terrain, which only requires the chains to be in the car. If you have 4WD, then you almost never have to put chains on the car, but you are required to carry them.

We recommend renting a 4WD vehicle, if available, if renting during a period that snow is likely.

TIP: We make two car reservations: one for 4WD and one for a midsize car. If we know that roads are clear and the forecast is moderate, we might go ahead with the midsized car. If we know that chains restrictions are in place, weather is coming in, and/or we want to visit the ski area and its rated R2 to Badger Pass, we pick up the 4WD car. For this strategy, we check the weather and the roads number 209-372-0200 a few hours before picking up our car. There is generally no charge for the extra reservation – just don’t use the prepaid reservation services that offer a discount by committing to the rental and paying in advance.

When we rent a car on our way into Yosemite, we check the tires on the exact car assigned for the words “M+S”. 95% of all tires have this rating, even on rental cars, which means mud and snow. This tire won’t need to be chained up unless the ratings or conditions reach R2. (See NPS page on ratings here )

We take a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” approach with the rental car company.
We do not discuss chains with them at any time or give any indication that we will be entering chain restricted areas.

Then, we purchase chains or cables for our rental car , usually at Walmart. We take a picture of the tires in the parking lot to bring inside. At checkout, we verify that the chains can be returned if not opened. Then, we hope for good conditions that don’t require us to use the chains. The return policies for chains varies from store to store –some retail stores including auto parts stores don’t allow chain returns even if not used.

Renting chains is an option in Mariposa, on Highway 140, at Stage Stop Mini Mart . Read here for rates and details .

If chains are required, either by signs, ranger check points or conditions, we put them on immediately. We would rather protect ourselves, other drivers and the rental car by properly installing chains then follow the rental agreement. In this situation, it’s extra important to install and remove the chains correctly.