Choosing the right tyres for your vehicle can be a time-consuming process, especially if you need tyres that perform well in harsh winter road conditions. Driving on a slushy and snowy road is no picnic even for an experienced driver, so make sure you and your car are well-prepared for different winter conditions.
Read our article to see what you should focus on when searching for the optimal model of car tyres. What do the "M+S" and "3PMSF" markings on tyres mean and why are they important for your safety?
For many years the lack of proper standardisation in tyre marking was quite annoying for customers. Distinguishing between models for different seasons was difficult. The situation improved in 2012 when the European Union and the United Nations introduced regulations for the labelling of winter tyres.
However, many drivers still don't know how to read the tyre markings stamped on the sidewall of a tyre and how to check whether it is suitable for winter conditions. If you are also wondering what performance capabilities a tyre has, watch the video and read the information below.
How can you recognise a winter tyre?
From winter tyres we require guaranteed safety, even in the toughest conditions, when roads are covered with snow and ice. Ease in pulling away and reliable cornering are important for drivers, but the key parameter is braking in difficult winter conditions. Effective braking is the best indicator of tyre quality.
This parameter is relatively easy to check - a car fitted with winter tyres can come to a complete stop sooner than if it was fitted with summer tyres. Tyres designed for cold weather simply offer better grip and stability on the road once winter strikes.
Is a tyre with "M+S" marking suitable for all conditions?
The answer is: not necessarily.
What does the "M+S" marking mean then? It stands for "Mud + Snow" but this is only a declaration from the manufacturer that the product operates in mud and snow better than regular models. This may be misleading.
When buying tyres, remember that "M+S" is marked on all winter tyres, but not all tyres with "M+S" marking have winter properties (see the graphic below).
You will also find "M+S" letters on some all season tyres. The marking is also used on models sold on the US market, even though they do not meet the needs of drivers in the winter season.
In general, "M+S" tyres should have a very soft rubber compound and a tread with deeper grooves and a special sipe pattern to ensure better performance in the snow. Unfortunately, these features are not verified by standardised tests and may be unreliable.
All winter models have "M+S" marking, but not all tyres with "M+S" are winter tyres
Do we have to rely only on the manufacturer's declaration? What is 3PMSF?
To satisfy all drivers, 3PMSF marking has been introduced (Three Peak Mountain Snow Flake) which is an easily recognisable snowflake symbol with three peaks in the background. This is the only marked element that confirms the actual winter parameters of a tyre.
Models with this marking are suitable for demanding weather conditions and retain their performance at temperatures below zero. The 3PMSF symbol is standardised and controlled by EU authorities, which guarantees that the product meets the conditions of rigorous testing and is suitable for operation in difficult weather conditions.
3PMSF marking is located on the tyre sidewall
Please notice that 3PMSF is a symbol not only for winter tyres, but also for all season models that meet certain requirements for traction in the snow. That's why we use the term "tyre for winter conditions" instead of simply saying "winter tyre."
Many European countries introduced legal requirements for winter tyres. Avoid problems and check which countries impose the obligation of using tyres suitable for winter conditions:
What conditions must be met by a tyre manufacturer to use the 3PMSF symbol on their product?
Tyre manufacturers who want their products to bear the 3PMSF symbol must be rigorously tested. According to the Amendments to the Ordinance of UNECE, winter tyres must meet a specific level of performance in the snow. The tests focus mainly on braking and traction.
The advanced ISO test checks the responsiveness of the tyre on snowy and icy surfaces. The tested tyre is compared to a reference model and a positive result is achieved when its performance is better by 25% than the results of the reference tyre in at least six out of ten test trials.
Driving in winter is not easy, so you should equip your car with appropriate tyres
What are the test conditions of the tyre?
The test should be performed on a flat track covered by packed snow, with a maximum gradient of 2 degrees and with suitable length and width. The snow layer must be composed of:
During the test the air temperature, measured 1 metre above ground, should be between -2°C and -15°C and the snow temperature, measured at a depth of approximately 1 cm, should be between 4°C, and -15 °C. It is recommended to avoid strong wind, sunlight and humidity changes during the test.
Tyres designed for winter conditions must meet predetermined requirements
Only a certified product may be marked with 3PMSF symbol, providing a safe choice for the demanding winter time.
How to interpret the test results?
Products may be considered suitable for use in severe and snowy conditions only when its snow traction index is higher than the index of the reference tyre:
The traction index may be also determined using the method for measuring traction in the snow. In this case, the tested tyre must achieve an index of 1.10, which means exceeding the reference model by 10%.
Unfortunately, specific test results are not disclosed, so we don't know which models achieved the best results during the approval process. However, you may obtain some information on tyre performance from tests organised by automotive organisations and magazines.
Tyres with "M+S" marking are intended for different use than models produced typically for winter. Always look for the snowflake symbol with three peaks in the background. Only 3PMSF guarantees the suitability of tyres for demanding winter conditions.
Which tyres are best for winter conditions?
If you want to drive confidently and safely in snow-covered locations, always choose tyres with the 3PMSF symbol. Also, when planning a longer drive, make sure your spare wheel will manage in winter road conditions as well.
In general, all winter models and some all season high-class tyres (e.g. Kleber Quadraxer, Goodyear Vector 4Seasons), offered by large manufacturers and sold in Europe, have M+S and 3PMSF markings.
An exception here includes "M+S" tyres offered on the US market, products of unknown origin from Asia (even though good quality Asian brands are also available) and very old tyres (i.e. older than ten years). We definitely do not recommend such products.