Anyone who follows us on any platform, particularly through our ‘Motorhome Skiing and Boarding Facebook Group‘, will know that the ‘do I need winter tyres?’ question continues to crop up over and over again so we thought we’d chat to someone in the know and hopeful put paid to any confusion.
We, like many, started from a place where we thought winter tyres were an unnecessary expense. Come full circle, we now feel they should be a legal requirement that is strictly enforced for motorhome skiers and anyone travelling to the mountains in winter, in whatever vehicle – you could consider us a little draconian.
In fact, we would go further in saying that anyone choosing not to fit full winter specification tyres in a campervan or motorhome, travelling to the mountains in unpredictable conditions, should be forced to push their vehicle up 21 switchbacks in slippers in a blizzard to see exactly what they’re asking regular tyres to do. And then they should be locked up for their, and everyone else’s safety.
Could we be any clearer on the issue? We aren’t qualified to comment so totally understand if you don’t place any validity on our opinion. With that in mind, we asked a few friends who do know about tyres.
When you analyse why people ask the question about winter tyres, it invariable comes down to cash – tyres are a pricy investment and doling out hundreds of quid on something that isn’t really improving your ski holiday per se is a tough pill to swallow. However, we used Falken for our winter tyres last season and they were mind-blowingly brilliant at getting us out of another fine mess – they are exceedingly good value and everyone’s wearing them this season – so why not quiz these guys on the issue?
Marcus Schulz, Assistant Manager of Product Planning of Falken Tyre Europe took some time to clarify the issue based on current legislation and with the sensible party-line:
Winter tyres – legal requirements
Regardless of whether winter tyres are a legal requirement, when the temperature falls below 7oC the performance of summer tyres is sub-optimum and produces less grip. Winter tyres have a specifically-designed compound that incorporates more natural rubber and advanced silica to ensure their composition remains supple to generate more grip on cold, icy and snowy surfaces. Where winter weather conditions are expected, appropriate tyres are strongly recommended to ensure the appropriate levels of traction.
Do I need chains if I have winter tyres?
Some countries in the EU require you to have both when travelling, as winter tyres are a legal requirement and snow chains are compulsory on some roads. Snow chains can only be used on roads that are covered in ice and snow, as if you try to use them on a road that has been cleared of snow and gritted you risk damaging the road surface and vehicle.
Winterized: There are ‘aire de chaînage’ all over the place in Europe to allow you to safely pull over and put chains on and take them off so panic not, for those of you who, like us completely failed to practice this important task)
While winter tyres provide you with extra grip for colder conditions, if you are travelling to certain countries in Europe, carrying snow chains is still a mandatory requirement and is recommended to be prepared for severe weather conditions.
Winterized: It’s not just ropy road conditions you need to be mindful of, it’s getting in and out of the parked state that we used chains for more than anything – and easy-fit usually means ‘slightly less impossible to fit-fit’ and ‘marginally less likely to result in a tantrum fit’.
My snow socks are amazing – I don’t need winter tyres, do I?
Snow socks are fabric covers that can be pulled over the tyres to increase the grip on ice and snow. While snow socks do provide extra grip and are perfect to be used on vehicles that are mainly driven around gritted areas, they should not be used instead of winter tyres. This is particularly the case in countries where winter tyres are a legal requirement: snow socks cannot act as a replacement.
Winterized: The following is a big one – a question that we know a lot of you ask about and debate
What’s the difference between Mud and Snow and the Alpine snowflake?
The Alpine snowflake symbol came into force in November 2012 under EU regulations on the Safety of Motor Vehicles. The Alpine snowflake symbol can only be used if the tyre passes a minimum required performance on snow, the so called “snow grip index”.
‘Mud and Snow’ (either marked as M+S, M.S or M&S) has been used to indicate winter tyres for many years. But it is not associated with any mandatory performance test, there is no performance guarantee associated with ‘M+S’ marked tyres.
Winter tyres are dangerous to use in the summer, aren’t they?
Summer tyres guarantee the maximum safety performance during summer, on dry or wet roads. If you use winter tyres in the summer the braking distance is longer. For example, the distance when braking from 80 to 0kph between 11-26°C on a wet road will be 4m shorter with summer tyres than with winter tyres.
Winter tyres are uneconomical and will destroy the handling of my vehicle
They are designed to perform below 7°C and the focus is on providing the best grip and traction in these conditions. You can search for more economical versions of winter tyres using tyre labelling. Handling will be different as the compound and construction differs from a summer tyre for the reasons above.
How do winter tyres actually work?
When temperatures fall below 7°C, summer tread compounds that work in warmer temperatures begin to harden and provide less grip. Winter tyres are designed with more natural rubber and advanced silica to remain supple and provide extra grip in freezing conditions. Winter tyres also have a specialised tread design to grip on snow and ice, and extra deep channels to disperse slush and surface water.
Can I store them in my garage?
Tyres should be stored in a cool place away from direct sunlight and sources of heat, such as hot pipes and electric generators. If tyres are exposed to these elements for prolonged periods of time it will exhaust the tyre’s oxidation and weathering agents within the rubber compounds and result in cracking. This means that garages, basements and garden sheds are ideal for storing tyres. You should make sure that the surface you are storing your tyres on are clean and free from grease, fuel or other substances that could deteriorate the rubber. You can also buy special bags to protect them. Upright storage is preferable, or no higher than 1.5m/4.5ft if horizontal.
If you do not have a space where you can store your tyres, you can rent a storage solution from a garage, often nicknamed ‘tyre hotels’.
Here’s the latest on winter tyre regulations in Europe: (mandatory use indicated with snowflake tyre mark)
Andorra – Winter tyres are not legally required, but road signs across Andorra indicate when snow chains are compulsory.
Austria – Between 1 November and 15 April, winter tyres are mandatory. The tyres must have a minimum tread depth of 4mm. Road signs across Austria indicate when snow chains are compulsory.
Bulgaria – Winter tyres are not legally required, but when travelling between 1 November and 31 March you should bring snow chains as some road signs will indicate compulsory use.
Estonia – Winter tyres are a legal requirement between 1 December and 1 March. Extreme weather conditions outside of these dates may extend the period of mandatory winter tyre use. Snow chains are not mandatory.
Finland – Winter tyres are a legal requirement between 1 December and 31 March. Snow chains are not mandatory.
France – Although winter tyres are currently not a legal requirement, new legislation means that from the 2019/20 season winter tyres will be mandatory in the French Alps. It’s expected that this period will be from 1 November to 31 March, with the geographical areas of the ruling to be applied at the discretion of local authorities. At present, snow chains are compulsory in certain areas, as indicated by road signs.
Germany – The use of winter tyres is mandatory on snow- or ice-covered roads; it is compulsory that snow chains are fitted to vehicles. As of 1 January 2018, legislation changed meaning that only winter or all-season tyres with the Alpine symbol (snowflake symbol) are accepted. Tyres that just have a M+S code are therefore no longer sufficient to meet German legislation. Germany does not have an exact date when winter tyres must be fitted, but are compulsory based on winter weather conditions. Generally, it’s considered to be October to April.
Hungary – Winter tyres are not legally required but carrying snow chains is a legal requirement; if you do not have them your vehicle will not be permitted to travel in Hungary.
Iceland – It is a legal requirement to use winter tyres between 1 November and 14 April.
Italy – Winter tyres are generally not legally required but are recommended. In some areas, road signs may indicate the compulsory use of snow chains or winter tyres. In the Val d’Aosta area, all vehicles must be fitted with winter tyres or snow chains between 15 October and 15 April.
Latvia – Between the 1 December and 1 March the use of winter tyres is a legal requirement. Snow chains are not mandatory.
Lithuania – Between 10 November and 1 April the use of winter tyres is a legal requirement; snow chains are not mandatory
Luxembourg – The use of winter tyres on snow- or ice-covered roads is mandatory in Luxembourg; the use of snow chains is not mandatory.
Norway – As the driver you are responsible for correctly equipping your vehicle according to the weather conditions. While it is not mandatory, it is the norm and highly recommended to use studded tyres or winter tyres. Using studded tyres or snow chains between Easter and October is forbidden, as this can cause damage to the road surface.
Portugal – Winter tyres are not legally required, but road signs indicate when the use of snow chains is compulsory.
Serbia – It is compulsory to use winter tyres when travelling in Serbia during winter; you should also carry snow chains.
Slovenia – Between 15 November and 15 March it is compulsory to use either winter tyres or snow chains. Road signs will indicate when the use of snow chains is compulsory.
Spain – Winter tyres are not legally required, but road signs will indicate the compulsory use of snow chains.
Sweden – The use of winter tyres is mandatory between 1 December and 31 March, with one of the following markings ‘M&S’, ‘MS’, M.S’, ‘M+S’, ‘M-s’ or ‘Mud and Snow’. Snow chains are recommended.
Switzerland – Winter tyres are not legally required, but road signs across Switzerland will indicate when the use of snow chains is compulsory.
United Kingdom – Winter tyres or snow chains are not legally required, but snow chains are permitted.
So there you have it. The answer to the question ‘do i need winter tyres?’ is yes, you do need winter tyres and if you opt out then you’re a bit of a wally.
More on winter tyres: