New Zealand roads can quickly get icy and snowy. Driving a motorhome in these conditions can be a risk — but snow chains will provide the extra traction you need to stay safe on the road.
In this blog, we go over installing and removing your motorhome’s snow chains, plus we call out our top tips for effectively using snow chains on a recreational vehicle.
Planning your winter adventure
If you’re planning to travel into the Southern Alps on the South Island, or around the Central Plateau on the North Island, you’ll want to carry snow chains. They’re a must-have in winter — though may also be needed in spring and autumn.
Snow chains are essential for safe driving in New Zealand in winter on snow covered roads. If there’s been a recent snowfall, you may be required to fit or carry them on:
- Mountain passes — like driving to the eternally popular Milford Sound
- Ski field access roads — where signage at the bottom of each mountain outlines whether chains are needed.
Heavy snow removal equipment is stationed on most of the main mountain passes during winter. This equipment will remove any snow relatively quickly after a snowfall — so it’s often best to pull over and wait until the road has been cleared.
Check Waka Kotahi (New Zealand Transport Agency) for road conditions and any potential road closures.
Snow chains — an optional extra
Check your booking to see if they:
- Are included with your insurance
- Can be added for free with an insurance upgrade, or
- Are an add-on.
Picking up your motorhome hire
When you pick up your motorhome, check there are snow chains on board. Take them out of their cover and inspect them to ensure they’re ready to be used when needed.
Also check that any other equipment you may need for the chains are included — such as gloves and a tensioning device.
Find out how a motorhome hire without road restrictions can enhance your holiday experience.
Installing your motorhome snow chains
Installing snow chains on a motorhome is similar to putting them on a car. However, motorhomes are bigger and heavier than most cars, so it’s important to put them on correctly — to avoid any damage to your RV or the chains.
Only install snow chains on your motorhome if you have experience fitting them. It’s much safer to wait for the road to clear.
Most motorhomes and campervans are front-wheel drive, so snow chains are only fitted onto the front tyres.
To fit your snow chains correctly, follow these steps:
Try to find a safe parking space on relatively flat ground — then apply the handbrake to ensure your motorhome can’t move while you’re fitting the chains
Lay the snow chain out flat next to your front tyre — with the yellow end of the plastic cable towards the left while removing any tangles
Pass the flexible cable (the yellow plastic end first) behind your tyre — from left to right
Pull the plastic cable upwards — so that the steel ends can be joined together
Hook the outside flat green connector to the last link of the yellow chain end
Push the chain back over your tyre — so the plastic cable isn’t on the tyre tread
Pass the red chain through the self-locking slide gear at the bottom of your tyre — and pull it to tighten
Thread the red slack chain through the two red loops — then pull it to tighten and hook the remaining slack up to the furthest link.
Ensure the chain is centred around your front tyre without any slack. Then repeat the above steps with your other front tyre.
Although there are several different styles of snow chains, it’s common to have colour-coded parts to help you fit them. Check your motorhome’s manual for detailed instructions on how to put chains on your specific vehicle.
Testing your snow chains
It’s normal for snow chains on any type of vehicle to slightly loosen after driving forward a few metres. Take your time to test your chains and remove any slack by driving your motorhome forward a few metres.
Stop your RV, remembering to reapply the handbrake, and release each tyre’s slack chain that you previously hooked up — then pull them to tighten and rehook.
You may need to repeat this test again until your snow chains are sitting snug around your motorhome’s front tyres.
Once your snow chains are fitted and have been tested, pull away slowly. Spinning the wheels can result in damage to your motorhome’s suspension or steering.
Driving with your snow chains
Continue to check your chains occasionally as you travel over the snowy or icy stretch of road. You may need to:
- Stop to check your snow chains if you hear a noise that doesn’t sound right
- Tighten your chains again if driving has created extra slack.
Snow chains are not designed for driving at high speeds. It’s especially important to slow down if you’re travelling in a heavy motorhome with snow chains fitted.
As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t travel any faster than 40km per hour with chains on New Zealand roads.
Find out just how easy it is to drive a Wilderness motorhome in winter.
Removing your motorhome snow chains
Snow chains must only be used when there’s a layer of compacted snow or ice. Driving with them on for prolonged periods when they’re not needed will damage your tyres — or the chains themselves.
After clearing the icy or snowy conditions, it’s important to pull over as soon as you can in a safe, flat area — to remove your snow chains.
To remove your chains safely, be sure to find a parking bay or rest area that gives you enough space away from any traffic. Undo the chains, give them a quick wipe down, and store them away in their bag.
Top tips for using snow chains on a motorhome
If you have experience fitting snow chains, you may feel confident enough to put them on your motorhome’s tyres. Here are a few tips for using them.
Do a test run
It’s unlikely you’ll need those snow chains as soon as you drive away from your campervan rental’s base. Plan to test them after parking up for the day — at a flat freedom camping spot or in the safe space of a campground.
Follow the installation steps as outlined above but with plenty of time and without the pressure of a cold, mountainous environment with traffic.
Wearing gloves may not win much favour with the traditional hardened Kiwi psyche but it’s the smart move.
It’s tempting to just get out there and get the chains on quickly, and take off. Nevertheless, resist the urge and take your time with a pair of warm gloves on.
Not only will your chains be fairly cold, dirt, slush, and grease are also part of the mix. Ideally, bring along some old gloves that will do the job — rather than your best snowboarding gloves.
Be sure to choose a winterised motorhome so you can stay warm on your New Zealand winter adventure.
Research ski access road requirements
If skiing or snowboarding is on your travel itinerary, it is possible to drive up to a number of New Zealand’s ski resorts. But look into the condition and drivability of the access roads you plan to take before hiring gear.
Some ski field access roads simply aren’t suitable for motorhomes — while others may not have suitable parking for larger vehicles. Each field has its own regulations for installing and carrying chains. To find out:
- Call ahead to the ski field and get the local details firsthand
- Check the field’s website for current mountain and access road conditions.
If you’d rather not drive up yourself, you may be able to park your motorhome near the bottom and use a shuttle bus or hitch a ride up the mountain.
Ask for help
If you aren’t feeling too confident about installing your snow chains, pull into a local service station and ask for some help. Many will be willing to lend a hand and have a chat — especially in touristy and ski resort areas of the country.
Winter can be a wonderful time to travel New Zealand. There are less people on the road, captivating mountain scenery, and with snow chains on board, an open road to adventure. Check out our ten reasons for taking a winter motorhome trip in New Zealand.