Driving to Europe's ski resorts
Since May 2006 German motorists have been required by law to use the most appropriate tyres for the weather conditions. In practice this means most drivers keep two sets of tyres – 'winter tyres' for the colder months when many roads are snow-covered and 'summer' tyres for the remainder of the year. Summer tyres may not be used when there's ice or snow on the road.
Alternatively, German motorists may use so-called 'all-season-tyres' and leave them on the car all year round.
Winter tyres use a tread rubber compound and block pattern specifically designed to retain flexibility in low temperatures and give good braking/traction performance on snow/ice covered roads. The sidewall of a winter tyre will be marked with a symbol showing a snowflake or snow-topped mountains.
So called all-season tyres (not to be confused with 'summer tyres' that can be used all year round!) Use the same low temperature rubber as winter tyres but feature a compromise tread pattern for improved wear and reduced noise compared with the winter tyre.
The sidewall of an all-season tyre will be marked with a snow-flake or snow-topped mountain and a symbol representing the sun.
Which should you buy?
There are currently no plans to introduce legislation requiring winter or all-season tyres here as prolonged periods of sub-zero temperatures and roads covered in compacted snow are very rare due to our climate.
The recent severe winter (2009/10) has prompted more drivers to consider fitting winter tyres.
If during the winter months a vehicle becomes stuck because the tyres are unsuitable, drivers are liable to an on the spot fine in Germany. If the vehicle causes an obstruction and aggravation to other traffic, the fine may be doubled. The fine may not refer specifically to the fitment of 'incorrect' tyres though but relate instead to the fact that the vehicle could not make normal progress in inclement conditions!
The German law requiring 'appropriate tyres' is national legislation only. The UK Department for Transport have confirmed that International conventions permit vehicles to circulate in international traffic as long as they satisfy general technical requirements which as far as tyres are concerned mean only "pneumatic tyres ensuring good adhesion, even in the wet".
So as far as the law is concerned your normal tyres that meet Irish regulations will be OK for a winter trip to Germany though you must take measures to ensure that you can make normal progress in inclement conditions.
In practice this means carrying snow chains and using them whenever conditions or local signs require.
We've put together a table showing winter tyre and snow chain requirements for popular winter resorts
There's no doubt that specialist winter or all-season tyres can offer a performance/safety benefit in sub-zero temperatures when roads are covered in snow and ice so if you're a regular visitor to Europe's ski resorts then winter tyres would be worth considering if you can cope with the relative cost and inconvenience of keeping two sets of tyres and switching them before and after each trip.
Alternatively, if your current tyres are due for replacement anyway then 'all-season' tyres are well worth considering.
Before you go
Check out any local rules with your travel company or holiday rep
Check with your insurer – they may have specific requirements for winter resorts
- Practice fitting snow chains – they may be easier to fit when your hands are cold and the wheel arches filled with snow if you've practiced first in the warm/dry at home