Winter Driving – Be prepared!

by Nicole Karsch-Meibom
Contributing writer

Winter puts a strain on the driver and the car. Weather conditions often cause slippery surfaces. Low temperature can lead to engine failure. Fading lights reduce visibility. So, be prepared.

Since December 2010, winter tires have become compulsory for all vehicles, including motorbikes in the case of icy or snowy conditions. Snow tires are specifically indicated (“M+S,” mud and snow). They have the necessary grip for slippery roads as their tire types — the small zigzag slits in the tread block of the tire — allow a better contact between the tire and the road surface. This reduces the braking distance significantly.

Though there is no fixed time period connected to this law, authorities expect you to have the right tires on your car immediately when the weather conditions require it. If caught with the wrong tires, expect a fine of up to €80. In case of an accident, your insurance company might even refuse to pay. So experts suggest motorists mount their winter tires in October and take them down during Easter time.

For old winter tires, make sure tire pressure and tread depth — Tread Wear Index — are correct. The law requires a minimum depth of 1.6 mm. However, experts recommend 4 mm for optimum results. To check your tires’ tread depth, stick a euro coin into the tread. If the golden edge remains visible, your tire is worn down.
It is generally important to have the correct tire pressure because it gives you the best gas mileage and tire life. To find the exact specifications of your specific tire, always stick to the instructions in the owner’s manual.

Some cars have a sticker inside the driver’s door indicating the recommended pressure. Never refer to the pressure listed on the tire itself. This is the maximum pressure the tire can hold.

By the way, don’t forget to prepare your battery for icy temperatures. The German ADAC automobile club received thousands of calls for help because of dead batteries last year. Using the headlights, heater and defroster more often wears out older batteries more quickly. It is recommended to exchange them every five years. Also, get familiar with the proper use of the battery jumper-cable while you are at home or in a garage with people to help you. Once you’re stuck somewhere far away, you will be glad you know how to use them.

Before starting any car journey, make sure your windows offer good visibility. Clear snow and ice from all windows properly. If the windows are not fully cleared of ice and snow, there may be a fine waiting for you. Plus, in this instance, the insurance company will not cooperate. Likewise, drivers must make sure that both license plates and the roof are free from snow. Ice flying from your car can cause damage to others, which you can be sued for. For that same reason, protect yourself and keep enough distance from trucks.

In Germany, it is against the law to let your engine run to warm up the engine and the car. While the fine itself is low (€10), many people have a strong sense of environmental protection and will not approve of this. Besides, experts say that it does damage to your motor.

Give your car a maintenance check-up before the peak of winter. But even after a checkup, it’s still the driver’s responsibility to follow the laws.

Driving in wintertime requires a lot more attention than in summer. Adjust your speed, stay alert and plan more time for your journey. Winter is not a good time for last minute races.