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Five things you need to know about winter tyres

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Five things you need to know about winter tyres
Photo: carmagazine.co.uk
10:12 CEST+02:00
It’s that time of year when temperatures start to plunge and drivers are advised to switch to winter tyres to avoid being caught out by snow and ice on the roads. Winter tyres can cut accidents and give you much better grip on the road, but not all you read about them is true.

Here are five myths about winter tyres, and what you need to know:

  1. Winter tyres are obligatory across Austria throughout the winter. Although the majority of drivers in Austria do change their tyres from summer to winter ones towards the end of October, there is actually no legal obligation to do so from a certain date - it really depends on weather conditions. From November 1st until April 15th the law stipulates that winter tyres should be used in “wintry” conditions - i.e. if there is snow, slush or ice. However, if the roads are dry and temperatures are still Springlike you are still allowed to use summer tyres within these dates. But do be careful of rain and low temperatures as this can lead to black ice on roads - and winter tyres are required in these conditions.

  2. There is no difference between summer and winter tyres - it's just a marketing ploy to get you to buy two sets of tyres. Winter tyres are made of a different rubber compound (a high silica content which makes them softer) and tread pattern (more sipes, or small slits, in the tread blocks), so they grip the road better and allow you to safely brake on snow and ice. Manufacturers say drivers are better off with winter tyres whenever the temperature dips below 7C. Cars with winter tyres have significantly shorter braking distances: about 20 percent on wet surfaces, and the braking distance can double in snowy conditions.

  3. Proper winter tyres are marked with the M + S symbol. “Mud and Snow” (either marked as M+S, M.S or M&S) has been used to indicate winter tyres for many years. However, M+S is not related to minimum performance requirements and while M+S tyres have better snow traction than regular tyres, they do not necessarily pass the legal snow grip threshold. The "Alpine" symbol, or the three-peak-mountain with snowflake (‘3PMSF’) came into force in 2012 and can only be used if a tyre passes a minimum required performance on snow - the so called “snow grip index”.

  4. A minimum tread depth of 1.6mm is sufficient. Although the legal minimum tread depth for any tyre is 1.6mm, once it gets below 3mm the stopping distance in an emergency increases dramatically. In snowy conditions, tyre traction is 50 percent lower. Do check the tread depth of your tyres, and consider buying a new set of winter tyres once tread depth goes below 4mm.

  5. Narrow winter tyres are better than wide ones. Narrow winter tyres are only necessary if more space is required in the wheel arches to fit snow chains. In fact, according to tyre manufacturer Pirelli, broad winter tires with a good profile design offer more traction. Dunlop agrees that the larger the contact area of vehicle and road, the greater the grip - even when there’s only light snowfall.

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