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Friday 8th February 2013


Life in a land where snow doesn't actually equal chaos

As a Brit living abroad, I've learned to adapt to new rules. Even when I don't necessarily agree with them. Some of the regulations here in Germany are enough to drive a man crazy. I can't swap an air intake or exhaust without the right sheet of paper or a costly inspection. If I want to run a different tyre size, it's the same problem. And don't get me started on fully comprehensive insurance. It makes the UK's insurance market look like a charity.

Anyone got the keys to the track?
Anyone got the keys to the track?
But there's one cost-inducing bit of extra motoring legislation that I think is a really good idea. I am, of course, referring to the winter tyre rule. It's a relatively newly enforced law for Germany, but it's a sensible one. Whereas some countries enforce winter tyres on certain roads or during specific dates, Germany's rules are simples. If you're driving in wintery conditions, you need to be using suitable tyres. They can be all-seasons, or specific snow tyres. They just need to carry the M+S (mud and snow) designation on the sidewall.

Get caught without them in a snow flurry and it's now a €40 fine. That doubles if you're blocking the road or impeding traffic in any way. And if you're in an accident, don't expect the insurance company to cough for any of your damages. That precedent was set decades ago I'm told.

Even a RWD track car works correctly shod
Even a RWD track car works correctly shod
Sounds like a harsh regime, but boy, does it make a difference. Snow, frost and low temperatures simply don't stop the commute. Sure there's always some drama somewhere, but the scenes of snow chaos are nowhere near as common as they are in the UK. And we must get double or treble the snowfall. Anecdotally, snowfall has never stopped me or any of my colleagues getting to work in the six years I've been living here. Schools are always open, even the bin lorries and buses are running through the white stuff. And we do get a lot of it here at the Nurburgring.

"So what?" I hear you cry. On Top Gear last Sunday the presenters said the same thing, effectively. they took the easy road of declaring winter tyres useful for only as long as Britain had snow. About two minutes a year I think they said.

Well, that's just not true. Stopping distances in the wet and cold are significantly improved on winter tyres at temperatures below seven degrees. We're talking about whole car lengths at the lower speed limits and tens of metres at higher speeds.

That's the 'working from home' excuse out then
That's the 'working from home' excuse out then
The downsides? They're not that bad, to be honest. It's normal here to have a second set of wheels. The nice alloys for summer, the cheapy small ones or even steelies for winter. If you're buying your car new or second-hand you always factor in whether the deal includes a full set of winter tyres or not. Local garages will store your second set of wheels for a few quid, and you often find deals for a set of wheels, winter tyres and storage included. And if you think about it, you're not burning double the amount of rubber, you're just using two sets of tyres for longer instead of one set for half the time.

From a driving point of view winter tyres are often a bit crappy and wobbly when you push on in warm and dry conditions. The tread blocks move and feedback is lost. But most of winter it's either wet or cold anyway. And I'd rather lose a bit of feel than have to stay at home when my commute has snow-covered hairpin bends on it!


Author: Dale Lomas
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