Oct, 2020

Winter tyres from O to E

When should you drive with winter tyres?

When should you drive with winter tyres? The well-known rule of thumb and mnemonic brings it to the point: from O to E - i.e. approximately from October to Easter. But why actually? Changing tyres costs money and does not always seem sensible. After all, it doesn't snow and freeze all the time, and certainly not everywhere.

Nevertheless it is urgently necessary to drive from O to E with winter tyres. The reasons are:

- Safety

- Legal situation

- Insurance

But let's take a closer look.

Summer tyres in winter?

We traditionally associate winter with ice and snow, and you may be travelling in regions where such weather conditions are not (or no longer) to be expected. But even in bone-dry weather, summer tyres are a potential safety risk when it's cold.

Because they were specially developed for warmer temperatures. This is particularly evident in the rubber compound: summer tyres contain less natural rubber than winter tyres and are therefore harder from the outset.

This is good in warm weather: it helps to keep rolling resistance relatively low, which has a positive effect on fuel consumption, among other things. In cold conditions, on the other hand, it can be dangerous. Hard tyres on cold roads mean: greater risk of slipping. The fact that summer tyres harden additionally already from 7 degrees Celsius increases this effect.

What the highway code says

In the Federal Republic of Germany a legal requirement for winter tyres has been in force since 2010. This is not bound to a fixed period of time. It comes into effect in certain weather conditions. The legislator defines this as follows: "Black ice, slippery snow, slush, ice and frost".

This means in reverse: If the weather permits, you can also drive with summer tyres in January without worrying. However, in Central Europe, between October and Easter there is always the possibility of getting into some form of winter weather. And by that time at the latest, the appropriate tyres must be on them. This is what §2 paragraph 3a of the German Road Traffic Regulations stipulates.

Since 2018, suitable tyres have been recognisable in Germany by the Alpine symbol. For older tyres with the M+S symbol there is a transitional period until 30 September 2024.

Infringements are subject to penalties, which are laid down in the German catalogue of fines. For driving with summer tyres in winter weather there is a fine of 60 euros and one point in Flensburg. If this is accompanied by a traffic obstruction, the fine is 80 euros and one point. If there is a danger, it is 100 euros and one point.

So the legal situation is clear. But it is also clear that it will not always be possible to avoid taking a tour with summer tyres between October and Easter. This is not ideal, but it's no drama either. In this case, inform yourself thoroughly about the expected weather conditions and drive in daylight if possible to keep the risk low.

What makes winter tyres special?

What special properties do winter tyres have? Firstly, there is the higher proportion of rubber, which makes them softer. This means that they retain their suppleness even at temperatures below 7 degrees.

Another important factor is the tread: the wide, deep grooves are designed to absorb snow, which ensures improved grip on snow-covered ground. A large number of tiny sipes on the surface provide greater grip - even on icy roads.

Winter tyres are therefore perfect for ice, snow and slush. In summer, however, their strengths turn into disadvantages: Among other things, softness and structure cause an increased rolling resistance compared to summer tyres.

This in turn significantly increases fuel consumption. The smoothness of the tyres also results in a spongy driving behaviour - the vehicle is less sure of tracking and the braking distance is longer. All year round on winter tyres: also anything but optimal.

Accidents and insurance

The first half of 2020 has been turbulent overall, but there is also positive news: According to the Federal Statistical Office, there have never been fewer road accidents with fatalities and injuries in Germany since the fall of the Berlin Wall than in the first six months of this year.

Nevertheless, traffic accidents are still the order of the day. Another argument for changing tyres according to the season: If you drive with summer tyres in winter weather and have an accident, it is considered "gross negligence". Your insurer now has the right to reduce or even cancel your insurance cover (unless your tariff covers gross negligence).

In addition, in such cases, the accident victim bears joint responsibility.

All-season tyres - a good compromise?

Due to the high demand, many tyre manufacturers now also offer all-weather or all-season tyres. These are characterised by a rubber compound that meets the minimum requirements for winter tyres, but also allows safe driving in summer.

Especially in regions without extreme weather conditions you may be well served with all-weather tyres. However, you should consider two things. Firstly, because the tyres are exposed to high temperature fluctuations, they wear out faster than the summer/winter tyre combination. If you want to save money, this factor is naturally part of the calculation.

And secondly, in some European countries winter tyres are absolutely mandatory. There you are not allowed to drive with all-weather tyres during the cold season.


Driving all year round with summer tyres is not an option - the winter tyre requirement already prohibits this. On the other hand, winter tyres are a source of danger in the warm season.

The alternative to changing tyres are all-weather/all-season tyres. These are permitted and are improving by consensus.

But all-season tyres are still a compromise today. If you want to be on the road with maximum safety, the best solution is: winter tyres from O to E and summer tyres in the rest of the time.