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21 November 22

Winter Tyres in the UK and Europe

Yes, it is that time of year again when truck tyre call out services or fleet management services need to think about winter tyres when calling on their 24hr mobile van or truck tyre fitters.

When we published a similar article last year, we had some comments that we were alerting people to something that didn’t affect them here in the UK, as the legal winter tyre requirements are in Europe and Scandinavia.  Those people perhaps didn’t realise that a lot of our emergency truck or van tyre call-outs are for vehicles from Europe or that travel to Europe and so the need for winter tyres is a consideration.   The rules differ from country to country and so if you or any vehicles in your fleet are travelling overseas, it is worth checking the detail.  Sweden for example requires winter tyres to be fitted from December to March but in Austria the restrictions have already started from November 1st until April 15th and failure results in a € 5,000 fine.

Winter tyres are not just a consideration for our tyre dealers and stockists for foreign or globetrotting trucks and vans, some parts of the UK such as the Scottish Highlands are also likely to need them too.

In the UK, tyres more suited to winter conditions are not legally required but they can be fitted voluntarily.  At this time of year a number of people are experiencing reduced effectiveness from their tyres already as the roads are covered in wet leaves and could probably benefit now. 

What is the difference between ‘ordinary’ and winter tyres?

As our network of local commercial tyre fitters will know, winter tyres are made from a softer rubber compound with deeper tread grooves and narrow cuts or ‘sipes’ to help disperse water or snow.  This tread pattern also maintains a better level of grip as a standard truck tyre quickly becomes compacted with snow and ice reducing its traction.

Generally, the harder rubber compound truck tyre replacement becomes even harder at temperatures below 7 deg C.  The independent testing body Tyresafe, published results comparing summer and winter tyres showing that at 20deg C, harder compound tyres had a braking distance of 65.3m vs a longer 67m for the softer winter compound at the warmer temperatures.  At below 5 deg C however, the winter tyre braking distance was much shorter with 65.7m vs 70.5m for the harder rubber compound.

The RAC says 2 drive wheels with winter tyres are better than 4 X 4 without

Interestingly, according to the RAC a 2 wheel drive vehicle with winter tyres has better grip than a 4 wheel car with summer tyres.  In spite of this, a lot of people and commercial vehicle operators will be put off by the cost of making a scheduled change to winter tyres.  When considering fleet tyre management some do argue that by reducing the wear on the summer tyres, they last longer and so the additional cost is marginal but other considerations include storage.  There are organisations that will ‘hotel’ your tyres too.  Clearly, for larger commercial vehicles it is vital to use local commercial tyre fitters but we would recommend that for smaller vehicles that fleet operators use them too or replace the entire wheel as it is easy to crack or damage a tyre taking it off or putting it on a rim and so repeated tyre changes over the seasons may result in unnecessary added cost.

Recognising a winter tyre and other considerations if travelling in Europe

The insignia moulded onto winter tyres is the ‘snowflake’ or ‘Alpine’ sign to denote a true winter tyre.

Additionally, there is a legal minimum tread depth of 1.6 millimetres, however, for safety reasons in Germany – as in Austria – a minimum of 4 millimetres is recommended.

An earlier standard, set in January 2018, also established that only tyres with the Alpine symbol are permitted in winter conditions. Tyres purchased before then without the symbol can still be used provided they can be validated as before the date ( using the 4 digit code, week number and year as 2 digits) which will still have the  M + S code which 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.

Care should be taken as the M&S symbols may appear on summer tyres, only the Alpine symbol gives more assurance.  The symbol is reserved only for tyres that conform to a minimum standard of grip in winter conditions (snow grip index).

Winter tyres for caravans and motorhomes since July 2020

The rules don’t apply to trailers and caravans as they are not self-propelled. The vehicle that is towing them must comply to the safety standards.

Commercial vehicles and buses weighing more than 3500 kg  which will include 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.

Finding tyres in an emergency

At Tyrenet, a large part of what we do all day is find tyres and available qualified fitters to attend to your commercial tyre breakdowns.  If you do need winter tyres as part of your truck tyre fleet management then you need to contact us and access our vast network of tyre dealers and tyre depots.   As a result of lack of demand for winter tyres here in the UK, few tyre dealers hold stock of winter tyres making the average 24 hour mobile or emergency tyre fitting service unable to get a matching tyre quickly.  It is always our aim at Tyrenet to get you back on the road in 90 minutes and so if your new lorry tyre now is not generally stocked, that would become a challenge but one we’d like to take on.

As usual, we would trawl all the emergency local tyre fitters to find the replacement for you to provide the fastest tyre replacement possible.

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