Düsseldorf · Falling temperatures are the signal for drivers to change their tyres. There are a few things to bear in mind when choosing and using winter tyres.
Slush, snow, icy roads - winter tyres can handle all these weather conditions. They have many sipes (slits in the tyre's surface) that are made of softer rubber and that improve grip on snowy and icy roads. You can recognise these seasonal tyres by the Alpine symbol, which is a pictogram of a mountain with a snowflake.
When are winter tyres mandatory in Germany? In Germany, you must have tyres that are suitable for the weather condition you're driving in. This includes being able to drive safely in winter road conditions including black ice, slush, ice or frost. Snowfall and temperatures below freezing are possible from October to April, and many people follow the rule of thumb "von O bis O" (von Oktober bis Ostern, or from October to Easter). But depending on where you live and the weather conditions, you may need winter tyres before October and even after Easter.
When should you change your tyres? Do it too early rather than too late, says Ruprecht Müller from the ADAC Technical Centre in Landsberg. Driving with winter tyres at maximum daily temperatures of 15 to 20 degrees Celsius is no problem. "This doesn't damage the tyres," says Müller. "But when there's sudden frost overnight, you suddenly need to have your winter tyres on, even if it's 15 to 20 degrees in the afternoon of the same day," he warns. The legally prescribed minimum tread depth of 1.6 millimetres also applies. However, for safety reasons, the ADAC recommends at least four millimetres for winter tyres.
So what will you get fined? According to the ADAC, drivers who violate the winter tyre requirement must pay a fine of 60 euros. If other road users are affected, the fine is 80 euros. In addition, there will be a penalty point added to your driving license. Even if someone else was driving your car, you will still have to pay 75 euros and you’ll get that penalty point on your driving license.
Which winter tyre models are particularly good? In autumn 2023, the ADAC tested 16 winter tyres each for compact cars and lower mid-range SUVs. The focus was on the categories "driving safety" and "environmental balance". The result: four models from well-known manufacturers are particularly impressive.
In the compact car class, a quarter of the tyres tested were rated "good". These include the "Continental Winter Contact TS 870" for 167 euros (score 2.0) and the 147 euro "Dunlop Winter Sport 5" (2.4). The "Michelin Alpin 6" (2.2) for 170 euros showed the best environmental balance due to high mileage and low wear and tear. The "Goodyear Ultra Grip Performance +" (2.2) for 166 euros was convincing in terms of weight and fuel consumption. In addition, eleven models were rated "satisfactory" and only one tyre was considered "unsatisfactory".
Among the SUV tyres tested, four models from the brands already mentioned performed particularly well. The "Dunlop Winter Sport 5" (grade 2.2) for 126 euros, the 141 euro "Michelin Alpin 6" (2.2), the "Goodyear Ultra Grip 9+" (2.3) for 135 euros and the "Continental Winter Contact TS 870 P" (2.4) for 136 euros impressed the testers in terms of both road safety and environmental performance. In addition, three other models scored "good". Seven tyres received the grade "satisfactory" and two the grade "poor".
Can you drive with winter tyres all year round? There’s no law against driving with winter tyres even in summer. But the ADAC says this is not a good idea, writing on its website: At high temperatures, real winter tyres show deficiencies that could even become dangerous. According to the report, braking distances are longer at high temperatures and on dry roads, and driving stability is also poorer with winter tyres.
Are all-season tyres a good alternative? All-season tyres are a mix of summer and winter tyres. As the ADAC explains, they have small sipes like winter tyres and distinctive vertical grooves like summer tyres. These are a good choice for people who live in regions with mild winters, who are not travelling in mountainous areas and who can leave the car parked in very high or very low temperatures. Tyres with the Alpine symbol or the "M+S" marking are also suitable for winter conditions. However, real seasonal tyres have better road safety characteristics. According to Tüv Rheinland, the advantage of all-season tyres is that you only need one set of tyres. There is no need to change and store a second set. The disadvantages are that the tyres wear out more quickly, cause higher fuel consumption and, according to Tüv Rheinland, reduce braking distance and grip.
What will change from 2024? After 1 October 2024, tyres with the "M+S" (mud and snow) label will no longer be permitted in winter road conditions. Only all-season or winter tyres with the Alpine symbol may then still be driven.