Arriving Safely in Winter

Slippery roads, snow-covered cars, longer braking distances – if you want to reach your destination safely by car in winter, you need to know what to watch out for during the cold season.

According to DEKRA, it is important that the entire car is free of snow and ice before driving. Photo: ETM-Spotz

According to DEKRA, it is important that the entire car is free of snow and ice before driving. Photo: ETM-Spotz

A Monday morning in frosty January. Katja Keller is sitting at the kitchen table, scrolling through the news on her tablet. “Historic cold snap – Madrid drowns in snow chaos,” she reads in surprise. Storm “Filomena” paralyzed Madrid in particular with historically heavy snowfall. It doesn’t happen every day that snow hits Spain like this. It has also been snowing in Germany lately. Katja’s neighbor Thomas recently told her how busy he’d been in the workshop over the past few weeks. As a car mechanic, he shakes his head year after year at drivers who are far too late in getting their vehicles ready for winter, when it’s especially important that the car is well equipped for the icy season.

In Germany, new tires are only considered suitable for winter if they bear the Alpine symbol “mountain with snowflake” since 2018. Photo: ETM-Belluomo

In Germany, new tires are only considered suitable for winter if they bear the Alpine symbol “mountain with snowflake” since 2018. Photo: ETM-Belluomo

First of all, there’s the issue of winter tires. Katja follows the rule of thumb when fitting summer and winter tires and always changes them in October and then again at Easter. Even though all-season tires would meet the legal requirements, she uses special winter tires. She can still use her older tires with the M+S marking until 2024, after which she’ll have to switch. In Germany, new tires are only considered suitable for winter use if they bear the Alpine symbol “mountain with snowflake” since 2018.

“They still have enough tread,” she told her husband after sticking a one-euro coin in the tread as a test before mounting in October. The gold-colored edge was more than covered, meaning that the tire still has more than four millimeters of tread depth. According to DEKRA experts, this is the minimum depth the tread should have in order to be safe, especially on snowy roads. However, in Germany, tires must not have a tread depth of less than 1.6 millimeters under any circumstances. In Austria, the legal winter tire requirement isn’t considered fulfilled if the tread depth is less than four millimeters.

The tire still has more than four millimetres of tread depth when the golden edge of the coin is covered. Photo: ETM-Belluomo

The tire still has more than four millimetres of tread depth when the golden edge of the coin is covered. Photo: ETM-Belluomo

On this January morning, Katja has to leave the house early. After all, the car is parked out on the road and is completely snowed in and iced over. “Weren’t you going to get the rest of the winter gear out of the basement and put it in the car?” asks Katja’s husband, when she has almost pulled the door shut behind her. “Right! Good thing you reminded me!” she exclaims. She already stowed the ice scraper and a broom for the snow in the car that weekend. Now she gets the new anti-fog cloth, lined gloves, a warm blanket, and the canister of antifreeze as a reserve for the car wash from the basement. Then she sets about clearing the car.

Important winter accessories: ice scraper, broom, blanket, anti-fog cloth and antifreeze for the wiper system. Photo: ETM-Belluomo

Important winter accessories: ice scraper, broom, blanket, anti-fog cloth and antifreeze for the wiping system. Photo: ETM-Belluomo

According to DEKRA, it’s important that the entire car is cleared of snow and ice before driving – completely, instead of just making a peephole. In addition to all windows, this also includes the hood and roof, otherwise visibility can suddenly be lost while driving. In addition to the headlights and other lighting equipment, sensors and cameras around the vehicle should also be carefully uncovered. This is the only way the assistance systems can work reliably. The license plate should also be clear. If it’s covered in snow and unreadable, you could receive a warning. It’s forbidden to let the engine warm up when the vehicle is stationary – and it’s nonsense, because it harms the environment, causes unnecessary noise, and doesn’t benefit driving.

Beat off your shoes before entering the car – otherwise unnecessary moisture will enter the car. Photo: ETM-Spotz

Dust off your shoes before entering the car – otherwise humidity will increase in the car. Photo: ETM-Spotz

Before Katja gets into the car, she thoroughly dusts off her shoes. The snow, which she would otherwise drag into the car, increases the humidity in the car, which makes the windows mist up more easily and makes it difficult to see. In addition, slippery, snow-wet shoes make it easier to slip off the pedals, which is especially dangerous when braking.

On the main road, a car drives in front of Katja with its rear fog lights on. “The winter weather isn’t that bad,” Katja thinks to herself, “you actually only need the headlights when it’s foggy and visibility is limited.” The rest of the way to the office is slow going. A few cars ahead of her, a snowplow creeps along the road. It’s not illegal to overtake, but she understands why the car in front doesn’t do so: it’s much too slippery today. Once back at the office, Katja enjoys a hot cup of tea and asks her colleague if he has heard about the snow chaos in Spain.

For more tips on safe winter driving, click here.

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