Winter tires: Better safe than sorry
The days are slowly getting longer, which means that before we know it, spring will be upon us yet again. But don't switch your tires just yet; despite the recent rise in temperatures, wintry weather is common in Europe through April. The last thing you want is to get caught without required equipment.
Rules for winter tires
Germany - Motor vehicles and motorcycles must have clearly marked winter (snowflake) or all-season (M+S) tires. Specific dates are not cited for the use of winter tires, but Germans typically follow the rule of “von O bis O,” meaning from October to Ostern (Easter). Regardless of the month, if you are caught driving in winter conditions without appropriate tires, you will be fined. If you are in a traffic accident without winter tires in winter conditions, you can be held responsible by authorities, and your insurance company may deny coverage.
Italy - Winter or all-season tires are required on most autostradas and mountain roads as noted on signs. Date requirements vary, but usually winter tires are required from Oct. 15 to April 15 on mountain roads and from Oct. 15 to April 15 or Nov. 15 to April 15 on autostradas.
Belgium, Netherlands & U.K. - In general, winter tires are not required unless directed by signs or authorities. However, as the temperature drops below 7° C, standard tires can harden, creating less traction while driving. Winter tires allow for better control, performance and fuel efficiency.
Buying winter tires
You may opt to buy tires on your local economy, on your installation or online. Keep in mind that if your tires have to be ordered, it could take four to 12 weeks for them to arrive, and you don’t want to be caught without the right tires when the temperature drops. A popular choice for purchasing online, Tire Rack provides the option to ship priority, so your tires may arrive more quickly, though the price of shipping will be higher.
The required tire tread depth varies by country, though 4mm is recommended. Winter tire regulations are also different across Europe, so ensure that your personal vehicle or rental car meets local requirements.
Other winter checks
Make sure windshield wipers are in excellent shape, and top up with windshield washing fluid that has an anti-freezing additive. Check lights weekly, and confirm that the engine’s anti-freeze level and strength are adequate. If the battery shows signs of problems or is more than five years old, it’s probably time to have it replaced.
Diesel fuel is sensitive to cold conditions and can actually “gel,” or turn into a solidified state, which may cause your engine to malfunction. Block heaters help warm the engine when not in use. If your car does not have a block heater installed, talk to a trusted mechanic about the cost of installing one on your vehicle. Or, you can buy a portable heater to help keep the diesel fuel at a safe temperature. Many European countries set standards for fuel stations to switch to a blended “winter diesel” with additives to help slow the solidifying process, but during extremely cold conditions the fuel may still thicken.
Keep a flashlight, blanket, cellphone charger, granola bars and bottled water in your car in case you are ever stranded. Also look into automobile associations such as the U.K.’s AA, Germany’s ADAC and Italy’s ACI. For an annual fee, you can receive 24- hour roadside assistance.
Leave an ice scraper and insulated gloves in your car so that you can remove snow and ice. Driving without clearing your entire vehicle limits your visibility, can create hazards for other motorists, and is illegal in some countries.
For questions about winter driving requirements, contact your local vehicle registration or inspection offices. And give yourself more time to get to work and appointments during winter — burning rubber is a bad idea.