Colorado traction law car rentalPhoto Credit: Pixabay

Planning on a ski trip to Colorado this winter? The state just implemented a new traction law that requires vehicles to be equipped for the worst mountainous road conditions. But most car rental companies can't guarantee in advance that customers will receive a vehicle with four- or all-wheel drive. This may put some renters between a rock and a hard place.

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Colorado lawmakers recently updated the requirements for passenger vehicles using state highways during winter months. Now every vehicle traveling on state highways must have adequate tire tread and traction-control devices in their vehicle during inclement weather and snow events.

During the entire winter season, the new traction law (also known as a Code 15) requires motorists to have 4WD/AWD vehicles or to have either snow tires or tires with the mud/snow (M+S) designation when driving on certain highways . When in effect, the law sets the required minimum tire tread at 3/16 inch on both snowy and dry roads.

One route impacted by this law is Interstate 70, which cuts through Summit County between the Eisenhower Tunnel and Vail Pass. Motorists caught driving inadequate vehicles could be fined a minimum of $130, and if the vehicle is blocking the road, the fine jumps to $650.

It's difficult to reserve a compliant vehicle through a rental car company in advance. If you peruse the website of your favorite brand, there is typically not a search option for 4WD vehicles.

Most SUVs and pickup trucks come with AWD or 4WD, and you're covered if your vehicle has it. But when we called the rental car agencies at Denver International Airport, none could guarantee the availability of a vehicle with four- or all-wheel drive.

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Installing chains would bring you in compliance with the law but rental car companies won't allow snow chains on their vehicles. The rule stems from fear that chains can damage the vehicles and the belief that many people don't know how to properly install tire chains.

At AutoSlash, we can help you search for SUVs and trucks in areas with winter weather—but be prepared to pay more. During snow storms and other projected periods of high demand such as holidays, we will often see these vehicles renting for more than $300 per day.

If you're concerned about securing an AWD or 4WD vehicle, follow our tips below to maximize your chances of getting one.


How To Boost Your Chances for Snagging a 4WD or AWD Vehicle

  • The larger SUV classes are more likely to have 4WD/AWD. We typically recommend booking at least a standard SUV as many compact and intermediate SUVs are 2WD.
  • If there is a choice, renting from an airport location is always better than renting from an off-airport location since airport locations usually have larger selections of vehicles.
  • Renting from a top-tier brand increases the likelihood that you can get a 4WD/AWD model since they tend to have better selections and can sometimes pull vehicles from sister companies if needed.
  • Signing up for the rental company's loyalty program is worthwhile since it may give you a bit more clout in terms of vehicle selection.
  • If you're picking up at Denver International Airport, consider booking with Silvercar, whose fleet is entirely made up of Audi AWD vehicles.
  • Rent a Jeep. Most major rental car companies offer them in their fleets, although they typically use language like "Jeep Wrangler or similar" to avoid guaranteeing that you will get a specific model. Your best bet is to select a Jeep when you reserve the vehicle, and then call ahead of pickup to check that you will in fact get one.


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