When are winter tyres compulsory in Germany?
December, 3 2019
A few years ago, rules for using winter tyres in Germany were significantly tightened. You probably already knew that. But did you know that the rules changed again from 1 July 2020? So it’s time to brush up on your knowledge, especially if you are going on a winter sports holiday this year or travel frequently in Germany. What’s actually the position now? When are winter tyres compulsory in Germany, and what conditions must a winter tyre comply with in Germany?
*Last updated on 19 October 2020*
Which winter tyres, and when?
In short: only winter tyres or all-season tyres that have the Alpine symbol (a symbol that looks like a snowflake) still comply with the new rules. German law does not refer to winter tyres, but to “tyres with winter properties”. It is mandatory to use this type of tyre in winter conditions.
But what exactly do the Germans consider to be “winter conditions”? Winter conditions are defined as: ice, slippery conditions in snow, slush and slippery conditions caused by ice or frost. No fixed period is defined, so there is the possibility of winter conditions in periods other than the traditional winter months, meaning winter tyres might be compulsory then, too.
Winter tyres in Germany from 1 January 2018
The definition of a “tyre with winter properties” has been modified since 1 January 2018. The most important change is the fact that only winter or 4-season tyres with the Alpine symbol below still meet the requirements. In addition, it is a legal requirement that the minimum tread thickness of the tyre must be 1.6 millimetres. However, for safety reasons in Germany – as in Austria – a minimum of 4 millimetres is recommended.
Because of these new regulations, tyres that only have an M + S code are no longer sufficient. Manufacturers can decide for themselves whether to put the letters M (mud) or S (snow) on their tyres. But these terms say nothing about the performance of the tyres in winter conditions. What’s more, these symbols may appear on summer tyres. The Alpine symbol gives more assurance. To be allowed to use this symbol, the tyre must conform to a minimum standard of grip in winter conditions (snow grip index).
Does this mean the tyres you bought before 2018 were a waste of money? Thankfully, no. A transitional regulation will be in force until 30 September 2024 and winter or all-season tyres with only an M + S code can still be used, provided they were manufactured before 1 January 2018. You may be required to prove that the tyres were actually manufactured and purchased before that date. If you already have the Alpine symbol on your tyres, you’ll be fine, no matter what year they were purchased or manufactured.
The production date of the tyre can be checked using the DOT code shown on the tyre. The four numerals of the code show the production date. For example, the numerals 2416 mean that the tyre was manufactured in the 24th week of 2016. It is mandatory for all winter tyres or all-season tyres manufactured after 1 January 2018 to have an Alpine symbol. Make sure you check the production date and the symbol when buying new tyres.
Winter tyres for caravans and motorhomes from 1 July 2020
Since trailers and caravans are not self-propelled but towed, the rules do not apply to them. The car that is doing the towing, or the motorhome, must of course comply with the new regulations.
A new regulation was introduced from 1 July 2020, one to which motorhome owners in particular should pay attention. Commercial vehicles and buses weighing more than 3500 kg – so including motorhomes – must be fitted with winter tyres on both the driving axle and the steering axle when winter conditions apply. Before this date winter tyres were only compulsory on the drive axle. So take note if you are going away in your motorhome!
Fines and liability when using incorrect or no winter tyres
If your tyres do not meet the new requirements during a control, there will be a €60 fine. If you are inconveniencing other road users this will be increased to €80. Moreover, if you are involved in an accident, even if it was not your fault, you may be held jointly liable. Not only if you are going on a winter sports holiday in Sauerland or Bavaria, but also for example for a trip to a flat region such at Lower Saxony. In other words, failure to use winter tyres when you should have done means you could be asked to pay damages. So make sure your tyres are right for the weather. Of course, with good 4-season tyres you won’t have to worry about anything all year!
To comply with all the regulations in winter conditions, your car should be fully equipped for the winter. German law specifies that your car must be equipped for current weather conditions. In addition to the correct tyres, your car must have sufficient screen washer (containing antifreeze) in winter and properly functioning windscreen wipers.
In addition, it is also mandatory to use snow chains on some (mountain) roads, so make sure you carry a set in your car. Finally, an emergency triangle, high-visibility vests and a first aid kit are of course mandatory. If you drive a vehicle combination (for example a car with a caravan) then it is also mandatory to have two wheel chocks in the car. A portable yellow flashing light is also recommended, but is not mandatory for vehicles without a German license plate.
Campsites in Germany
These campsites are located close to winter sports regions.
Rules in other countries
Rules concerning winter tyres are not the same everywhere in Europe. For this reason, Bianca found out the rules covering winter tyres in France and Italy for you.