Depending on where you plan to drive in your rental vehicle during winter will make a difference to whether you need snow chains or not.
If you planning a trip through any high country or alpine pass route in the South Island during winter then we would recommend that you carry snow chains. There are some roads in the South Island e.g. The Milford Road where it is law to carry snow chains in your vehicle during winter months. In other areas including the Queenstown Lakes District, the Council recommend that chains should always be carried during winter, and advise that drivers can be fined for ignoring snow chain fitting signs. Some of the key roads and passes to be aware of are Arthurs Pass, Lewis Pass, Lindis Pass, Porters Pass, and The Crown Range. During winter storms other roads and passes may also be affected.
In the North Island, it is less likely to need snow chains although The Desert Road in the Central North Island experiences snow several times during most winter periods.
While some New Zealand drivers are very familiar with driving on snow or ice, a number of overseas visitors driving rental cars find the conditions very challenging. Heavy braking and acceleration, excessive speed, and sudden changes or direction can all lead to a loss of traction. In snow and ice, snow chains will assist with handling but will not totally eliminate the risk of losing control of your vehicle.
Some other winter driving tips for a safer trip include:
Drive with your head lights on (even during the day)
Allow enough time to comfortably reach your destination. Allow for delays
Be aware of black ice (especially on corners) which is common in shaded frost prone areas
Leave enough space between your vehicle and the vehicle in front to stop safely
Be ready for the unexpected e.g. animals on the road, slips & rockfalls
Avoid sudden changes of speed and direction
Be aware that New Zealand roads can be more challenging than in other countries
Keep up to date with the road conditions via Transit New Zealand, AA Roadwatch etc.
Our advice to our rental car customers is to always carry chains if planning to drive around the South Island during winter. In the North Island we recommend staying up to date with weather and road conditions and carrying chains when necessary.
Rental Cars New Zealand carries a large stock of snow chains at our Christchurch Depot for both our car hire and snow chain hire customers.