Rules and regulations

From tyres to ice scrapers – getting your car ready for winter

Damage like this is not uncommon at the first sign of winter. Source: istock

To stay safe and avoid mishaps on the roads in winter, it’s important to know when to fit those winter tyres. The Swiss have an answer to this conundrum that is simple and easy to remember – it’s called the October-to-Easter rule. During this period you should drive using winter tyres. But does this principle still apply? 

The fact is that Swiss law does not prescribe the use of winter tyres. But it does stipulate that your vehicle must be roadworthy. To ensure that a car satisfies this requirement in winter it needs winter tyres. After all, it is not just in snow that winter tyres offer a better grip than summer and all-weather tyres – as soon as temperatures drop below freezing they generally hold the road more effectively whatever the conditions. This is because of their special soft rubber compound. Any accidents right now on roads that are icy or covered in snow could be down to summer tyres, as the braking distance is about twice as long with these tyres. And this is where insurance comes into play. 

If an accident can be attributed to the absence of winter tyres, the insurance company may reduce the insurance proceeds. In the worst-case scenario, the motorist may even be lumbered with all the costs. It is therefore advisable to have your winter tyres fitted in time. As garages tend to be booked out just before or just after the first snowfall, you should schedule a tyre change appointment in plenty of time. However, before you have your old winter tyres fitted, the tread depth must be measured. The minimum tread depth throughout Europe is 1.6 millimetres, though experts warn against wearing tyres down to that depth. They recommend a minimum tread depth of 4 millimetres. 

So, if you need to buy new tyres, you should look out for sipes (tiny channels cut into the rubber to provide a better grip on the road), a special tread compound (prevents the rubber hardening at lower temperatures) and the snowflake symbol (regarded as a kind of seal of approval for winter tyres).  

And if you are already in the process of getting your car ready for winter, you will also require an ice scraper and antifreeze in the washer fluid, plus you will need to get your lights checked.

If you are also amending your car insurance for next year or switching to a cheaper policy, you may save enough to cover the next tyre change – maybe even your next set of tyres.