When should I fit winter tyres?

| By Andrea Auer |
Source: iStock / imagedepotpro

In Switzerland, you are not required by law to fit winter tyres. But if you want to avoid hassle with your insurance company, make sure you're using the right tyres. Comparis explains when you should switch to winter tyres and what else to watch out for.

In Switzerland, the October-to-Easter rule reminds motorists when it is advisable to drive on winter tyres and when it’s time to change them. However, this is not set in stone. The ideal time varies from region to region. If you live in the mountains, you will need to change them sooner than if you live in an urban area.

You can also use the weather as your guide: if the outdoor temperature falls below seven degrees Celsius, it's time to switch to winter tyres.

Our tip: Book an appointment at your garage or tyre centre in good time. If you leave it until the first snowfall, you may have to wait a long time before they can fit you in.

Are winter tyres compulsory?

In Switzerland, there is no legal requirement to fit winter tyres. However, according to the Swiss Road Traffic Act (Art. 29) (not available in English), all vehicles on Swiss roads must be in a roadworthy condition. This is the responsibility of the car drivers themselves.

During the cold season, winter tyres are the safest choice. They are made of a rubber compound specially designed for winter driving. Their tread also ensures increased driving stability and greater safety when braking in wintry conditions.

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Are all-season tyres permitted in Switzerland?

All-weather or all-season tyres are allowed in Switzerland. However, for safety reasons, you should think carefully before purchasing a set. Even though the quality of products developed in recent years has greatly improved, all-season tyres are still considered a compromise solution. Tyres with excellent summer characteristics underperform in winter, and vice versa.

Our tip: Only buy all-season tyres if you know you can do without your car if weather conditions dictate.

What is the legal minimum tread depth?

In Switzerland, the legal minimum tread depth for car tyres is 1.6 millimetres. However, Touring Club Switzerland (TCS) and other experts recommend a tread of at least 4 millimetres for winter tyres. The recommended depth for summer tyres is 3 millimetres. The recommendations are the same for all-season tyres – 4 millimetres in winter and 3 millimetres in summer.

Our tip: Not sure if the tread depth on your winter tyres is sufficient? You can easily check it using a two-franc coin. Place the coin in the groove of the tyre. If you can see the base of Helvetia, it’s time to purchase new tyres.

Will my insurance pay out if I have an accident on summer tyres?

If you cause an accident when driving on unsuitable tyres, the insurance company may reduce the payout or recover the loss from you. You may also be fined or even have your driving licence suspended. The relevant authority decides on the extent of the penalty based on the police report.

Good to know: Tyres that are very unevenly worn are not considered roadworthy and may not be accepted by the police or – in the event of a claim – your insurance company.

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Are winter tyres legally required in neighbouring countries?

Different rules apply in the countries bordering Switzerland. As a general rule, winter tyres are not compulsory in France. However, the French authorities can sometimes require you to fit them, and this is indicated by road signs. The situation is somewhat different in Germany and Austria: if there is snow, slush or ice on the roads, winter tyres are required by law.

In Italy, winter tyres are generally compulsory between 15 November and 15 April, but as each province sets its own rules individually, this may vary depending on the location.

Our tip: If you intend to travel to a neighbouring country between October and April, you are advised to fit winter tyres to your vehicle. This will save you any hassle with foreign authorities and is ultimately safer for you.