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Winter Tires in Germany: Rules and Recommendations

It is time to start worrying about winter tires. Germany has its rules, but there are recommendations drivers should consider following in addition.

Berlin, October 10th, 2020. Update: September 21st, 2021 (The Berlin Spectator) — The Germans have a rule which says “Use winter tires from ‘O’ to ‘O’.” The first ‘O’ stands for October, and the second one for ‘Ostern’, which is the German word for Easter. This does not work in English, or it would have to be from ‘O’ to ‘E’.

‘Situational Obligation’

Let’s start from the beginning. Germany is located in the northern part of Central Europe, meaning it does snow, at least as long as global warming does not turn this region into a beach resort with palm trees. From October to March, low to freezing temperatures as well as snow and ice have to be expected.

The existing rules are the very minimum Germany expects from drivers. First of all, there is what is called a ‘situational obligation’ to use winter tires. If it is warm around Christmas, nobody will be fined if he or she uses summer tires. But when roads are frozen in October, they will.

The fine can be anywhere from 60 to 100 Euro (67 to 112 Dollars or 52 to 86 Pounds Sterling), depending on the question whether the driver endangered others by not using winter tires. There is another issue: In case of an accident with summer tires on snowy or frozen roads, the insurance will probably not pay, or it might only cover part of the damage.

More Grip

Whoever drives in winterly conditions needs to make sure his or her winter tire tread is at least 1.6 millimeters (0.04 inches) deep, according to the German law. At the same time the General German Automobile Association (ADAC) recommends 4 millimeters (0.16 inches). That way, the tires have a lot more grip.

It is easy to establish whether the tread is good enough, with a 2 Euro coin. If the silver edge of that coin disappears in the tread, everything is fine. If it does not, new winter tires should be purchased. By the way: Winter tires do not only have a deeper tread, but they are made of a different composition of materials, to make sure they survive freezing temperatures while protecting everyone.

Decades ago, winter tires made regular passengers cars sound like Soviet tanks, and they increased the gasoline consumption to the level of those same vehicles. According to the ADAC, those times are over. Differences between summer and winter tires, in this regard, are hardly measurable.


  • Winter tires are required in freezing temperatures and/or winterly conditions.
  • The German law says, they need to have a tread of 1.6 millimeters. According to the ADAC, they should have a 4mm tread (0.16 inches).
  • Winter tires create the grip needed in winter. They protect everyone. In case of an accident with a car with winter tires, the insurance will pay the damage.

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