Do You Need Winter Tyres For A European Ski Holiday?

Close up of winter tyre on snow
A winter tyre

In countries where local drivers are required to use winter tyres by law during certain months of the year, are UK-registered vehicles required to use winter tyres too?

I have always assumed that winter tyre regulations apply in European countries apply to foreign-registered vehicles and local vehicles equally, but it appears that it may not be quite so clear cut as this.

According to a news release published by Micheldever Tyre Services, which runs the Protyre network of tyre fitting centres in the UK, “the Department of Transport has confirmed that international conventions permit vehicles to circulate in international traffic as long as they satisfy general technical requirements.”

The implication is that you can drive — for example — to German ski resorts without complying with current German legislation that requires car drivers to use winter tyres in winter. However, I am a bit suspicious of this and strongly suggest that in reality, the local police will take a dim view of clueless foreign drivers causing havoc by driving with summer tyres in snow and ice.

In any case, many countries (including Germany) explicitly specify that foreign-registered cars must comply with winter tyre rules and there is often an overriding requirement to ensure that your vehicle is suitably equipped for the conditions — which means that summer tyres only will not do.

Here’s what the AA suggests regarding Germany:

Germany has recently (4 December 2010) introduced new regulations requiring all passenger cars and motorbikes including vehicles from foreign countries to be fitted with winter tyres or all season tyres on all axles when conditions are wintry.

The same page on the AA website also notes that in some cases, foreign visitors are allowed to drive on summer tyres in winter conditions, as long as they carry snow chains and use them when advised or required. In my opinion, this may be an option as a last resort, but is a poor substitute as snow chains are only any use in thick snow, and are not usable in icy or frosty conditions, when winter tyres offer a massive grip advantage over summer tyres.

In case you aren’t convinced about the merits of winter tyres, consider this quote from the Daily Mail‘s This Is Money website:

Special winter tyres are the reason why you often see a rear-wheeled drive BMW casually working its way up a snowy Alpine road in Europe, but a similar vehicle unable to make its way past a mini-roundabout in Britain.

If you are planning to drive to wintry parts of Europe this winter, I would strongly suggest considering a set of winter tyres or possibly all-season tyres that can be used all year round but provide improved grip in snow and ice when compared to summer tyres. I use all-season tyres and have been pleased with their performance in the limited snow we have had so far this year.

At the very least, make sure that your summer tyres have at least 3mm of grip — any less is frankly a bad joke and will leave you with no grip whatsoever in winter conditions. You should also ensure your tyres are correctly inflated and (preferably) have a usable spare wheel.

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