When to use winter tires in Germany

Since Dec. 3, 2010, a German federal law has been in effect that specifically mandates the use of winter tires when conditions are icy.

Winter tires have two kinds of markings: a snowflake, indicating it’s a snow tire; or M+S, indicating the tire is designed to work in “Matsch und Schnee,” meaning “mud and snow.” All-season or all-weather tires may also have the M+S marking, and they are also acceptable for winter driving.

This law also applies to motorbikes, trucks and buses, regardless of whether the driver is the owner or is renting the vehicle.

Most German motorists know the old rule of thumb for putting snow tires on the vehicle: “von O bis O,” which means “from O to O.” It is short for “von Oktober bis Ostern,” meaning “from October to Easter.” It is recommended that motorists make the change from regular tires to snow tires in October and leave them on until Easter.

Only snow tires without spikes or studs are allowed in Germany. Tires designed for snow function better than multipurpose tires. All tires should have at least 1.6 millimeters of tread depth, but for maximum safety, tires with less than 4 millimeters should be replaced.

Winter tires offer better protection than all-season models, and it’s best if all four tires match.

German automobile club officials recommend using tires that carry the “three peak mountain” seal. Tires with this mark meet the highest standards.

NOTE: A new traffic rule effective October 2024 will request snow or all-season tires with the three peak mountain seal. M+S will not be valid any longer. Vehicle owners, who still have or will buy tires with the M+S symbol until the end of 2017, are authorized to drive them until the end of September 2024. Tire manufacturers must produce tires with the three peak mountain seal starting January 2018. They cannot deliver tires with the M+S symbol to tire shops any longer.

If police catch motorists driving in winter conditions without winter tires, the motorist will have to pay a fine of €60 and will receive a point against their license.

If involved in an accident or if found blocking traffic in icy conditions without winter tires, the fine increases to €120 with a point against the motorist’s license.

In addition, some insurance companies may deny coverage to motorists driving with summer tires on winter roads.