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Winter tires on rental cars in Japan


What are studless winter tires?

Studless winter tires are snow tires made of hydrophilic rubber with special tread designs that reduce their susceptibility to slipping on frozen and snow-covered road surfaces. When driving in Hokkaido or the Tohoku region, or toward mountainous winter sport areas, you need a vehicle equipped with either studless winter tires or snow chains. During or after snowfall, expressways become off-limits to vehicles not equipped with studless winter tires or snow chains. Such vehicles have no choice but to use local roads, or worse; give up on reaching their destination altogether.

Differences between studless winter tires and snow chains

Studless winter tires

Given that studless winter tires can also be driven on roads that aren't snow-covered, renting a car equipped with such tires means that you never need to get involved with any equipment yourself during the duration of your rental. When you're likely to stick mostly to the area's main roads, opting for studless winter tires is the recommended choice. Note that studded (spiked) tires are not allowed on Japanese roads (except for special designated vehicles), and therefore aren't offered by car rental companies in Japan.

Snow chains

If you were to drive with snow chains on roads that aren't snow-covered, you would risk breaking them. This tends to mean that you need to install and remove them frequently along the way. Clearly, this can be quite a hassle, especially if you don't have much experience working with snow chains.

However, expressway use is subject to two special restrictions that may come into effect during and after snowfall: "Winter Tire Restriction" and "Snow Chain Restriction". When "Snow Chain Restriction" is announced, driving on the expressway becomes only permitted to vehicles with chains installed. If you are heading for an area known for its particularly heavy snowfall or anywhere where snow isn't cleared from the road regularly, it is recommended that you bring snow chains too.

How much can I expect studless winter tire rental to cost?

Winter tire options vary in price between companies, but usually cost 2000 yen or less. Also, additional fees can sometimes be avoided entirely by choosing a plan that comes with winter tires included, or by choosing from a company that equips all its vehicles with these tires in winter (depending on the region).

How can I rent a car equipped with studless winter tires?

Web-rentacar.com provides 4 ways of ensuring that your vehicle comes equipped with studless winter tires:

Add a studless winter tire option to your reservation

Pages of plans that have optional studless winter tires available show a green icon with "Studless" written on it. When making a reservation for such a plan, you can select this option for the column of available options to include it in your reservation.

Book a plan that comes included with studless winter tires

Some plans come equipped with winter tires by default, in which case their costs are included in the basic price. Selecting the studless option is not necessary for these plans.

Book a vehicle from a company that equips all its cars with studless winter tires in winter

On the rental office detail pages you can find mention of whether that company offers season or region specific campaigns in which all its vehicles come equipped with winter tires. In those cases all plans offered by that company within that region and period include winter tires for free.

When making a reservation, mention in the "Requests" field that you wish to have studless winter tires

Aside from the 3 methods described above, there is a "Requests" field that appears when making a reservation. If you specify that you want winter tires, there is a possibility that they can be arranged for you (excluding Times Car Rentals, Nissan Rent-a-car, and Nippon Rent-a-car). Making such a request does not guarantee availability, but after the reservation is made, the rental company will be ready to tell you whether they are available and what their pricing will be, so please confirm these details.

If you're going to drive in a snowy region of Japan, I hope this guide will be of use to you.

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