Without knowing the facts, one shouldn’t choose a winter tyre on the basis of the EU marking

A few years ago, I bought a bunch of household appliances for my new home. Important selection criteria included the refrigerator having a lot of storage space, integration of a freezer unit, and ease of use of the washing machine and tumble-dryer. All appliances had an energy-efficiency rating, which could be used to organise devices of different makes and models in order by their energy-efficiency.

Since the beginning of November, the EU tyre marking, comparable with the label on refrigerators, has been compulsory for all tyres manufactured since the start of July. As we know, this marking indicates the tyre’s grip in wet conditions, its rolling resistance (which affects fuel consumption), and the bypass noise. The marking is not used at all for studded tyres. The reason for this may be that the measurement methods used are not suitable for studded tyres and it was not even considered that any new methods should be developed for a product that, though the most popular winter tyre in Nordic countries, is marginal in other parts of Europe. From a tyre manufacturer’s point of view, leaving the studded tyre outside the marking scheme is acceptable and does not constitute a threat to anybody’s safety. After all, the studded tyre is a classic winter product and people have a clear sense of its properties on snow and ice, although there is a significant difference between a good and a bad tyre. Studded tyres are hardly ever used in summer, eliminating the need to assess their summer properties, which are measured for the current EU tyre marking. However, for comparing between winter tyres, the inadequacy of the marking is shocking – the consumer cannot buy a safe tyre for winter conditions on the basis of this marking.

This is a rather extreme statement, isn’t it? Unfortunately, I think it is accurate. In addition to studded tyres, there are winter tyres designed for both Nordic and Central European conditions on the market. The common name ‘friction tyre’ is used for both of these tyres, although they vary greatly in their friction‑related properties.

A Nordic winter tyre (such as the Nokian Hakkapeliitta R) has been designed for a harsh winter – with snowy, icy, slushy, and sometimes wet conditions. The tyre’s surface pattern has a great influence on the grip on snowy surfaces. Grip on ice is a property that is achieved mainly through the mixing technique. Unfortunately, it comes at the expense of grip in wet conditions. Hardly anybody is surprised that the design of winter tyres for Nordic conditions prioritises grip on ice over grip on wet surfaces. A Nordic tyre is definitely still a safe product in wet conditions, but its classification cannot approach the highest EU ratings in the near future.

Winters in Central Europe are wet and usually are snowy only briefly. This is why development of characteristics for grip on ice for Central European winter tyres (such as the Nokian WR A3) does not play a significant role. The Alps are a refreshing exception to the depressing winters in this region, but the lack of grip on ice and snow in the Alps is compensated for by covering the tyres with chains. When compared to its Northern cousin, the Central European winter tyre has better grip in wet conditions because it is designed for the region’s wet-type winters in particular.

When comparing the properties of tyres, the EU system for tyre marking places all tyres that fall within this scheme’s scope at the same level, by addressing grip in wet conditions only. I am not worried about unfair comparison between summer and winter tyres, as these are distinguished as summer and winter tyres in all stores and shops. The thing that worries me is the ability to identify differences between various winter tyres. How can the poor consumer, who may not be particularly interested in tyres, be aware that good grip in wet conditions may suggest that the winter tyre in question does not perform well on ice or anywhere snowy? And who would deliberately choose a tyre with a low or medium rating for wet-grip properties unless already certain that this is a good winter tyre? I have confidence in competent tyre dealers’ ability to help the buyer in this regard, but it is really a pity that, at least so far, the EU tyre marking actually can run counter to safety in the winter.

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