Driving in snow during the upcoming snow storm this weekend can be potentially dangerous since snow chains, as required by California Department of Transportation, can do great damage to modern cars.
The "biggest snow storm of winter in six years" is predicted to hit Southern California over the President's Day weekend, which will cause heavy rain and mountain snow.
As snow precipitates in the mountains, ski resorts become a popular destination for people looking for a winter getaway. Depending on the road condition of these resorts, CalTrans may ask visitors to put on snow chains.
"Snow chains can potentially have negative effects on modern cars, especially performance cars like BMW or Audi," Gregg Cornwell, owner of Gregg's Automotive in Big Bear Lake, said. "And they often have to get towed."
Gregg's auto shop usually receives around two to three cars on snowy days, whose brake lines are pulled out by snow chains. He suggested that modern cars tend to not have enough space between the wheels and suspension system in the fender well. These larger wheels and tires are likely to cause chains to get stuck, leading to all kinds of malfunctions involving speed sensors and brake lines.
Snow chains were first designed in the early 1900s to provide more traction for vehicles on snow and ice when fitted around a vehicle's tires. As cars developed in functions and design over the years, snow chains roughly remained the same. The compatibility of snow chains on modern cars has rarely been tested by either the government or auto manufacturers.
Rick Schmunck, president of Quality Tire Chain Corp, said that snow chains are likely to cause malfunction of a vehicle's ABS (Auto-Brake) system. "Because the computers that control the system don't pick up the correct sensing," he said.
Many visitors have struggled with snow chains earlier this year during the January snow storm in Southern California.
The Big Bear Mountain Resort, one of the most popular ski resorts in Southern California, is offering extended hours for President's Day weekend to accommodate more visitors.
"[Snow chains are] hard to put on ," Henry Liu, a USC graduate student who went on a ski trip in Big Bear Lake in late January, said. "Mine even broke, twice. It's easy to put [snow chains] on during a sunny day. But it's a different story in the snow."
Regulations regarding snow chains in California have not changed since 1990, and California has remained to be one of the last states that still require snow chains. Many rental companies, such as Enterprise, prohibit the use of chains on rentals.
"Cables usually work better than chains, because they fit better and don't come off as easily," Cornwell said. "But a good pair of cables can be expensive."
CalTrans advises people to always carry chains while driving in snow, because road conditions can change. Road conditions and chain control information can be found on the Internet at www.dot.ca.gov and is also available over the Caltrans Highway Advisory Radio.
Reach staff reporter Naiwen Tian here.