It is wise to start preparations for the winter early. Choosing the right tyres can be a very demanding and time-consuming process. Read our article to see what you should focus on when searching for the optimal model. What do the "M+S" and "3PMSF" markings on tyres mean and why are they important for your safety?
To avoid accidents, you should purchase the right tyres
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 symbols on a tyre and how to check whether it is suitable for winter conditions. Watch our video, read the article and gain some useful knowledge.
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. In addition, this parameter is relatively easy to check, providing high reliability and repeatability of measurements.
The winter puts the tyres to extreme tests
Is a tyre with "M+S" marking suitable for all conditions?
The answer is: not necessarily.
So, what does the "M+S" marking mean? "Mud + Snow"- 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 in the US market, even though they do not meet the needs of drivers in the winter season.
In general, "M+S" tyres should have very soft rubber compound and a tread with more incisions 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. (Caption for figures)
Do we have to rely only on the manufacturer's declaration? What is 3PMSF?
To meet the demands of all drivers, 3PMSF marking has been introduced (Three Peak Mountain Snow Flake) which is an easily recognisable symbol that features a snowflake 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, guaranteeing 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
You are probably wondering why we often use the term "tyre for winter conditions" instead of simply "winter tyre"...
Well, 3PMSF is a symbol not only for winter tyres, but also for all-season models that meet certain requirements for traction in the snow.
Many European countries introduced regulatory requirements for winter tyres. Avoid problems and check which countries impose the obligation of using tyres suitable for winter conditions:
What conditions have to 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 subject them to rigorous testing. 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:
firmly compacted bottom layer with a thickness of at least 3 cm,
the surface layer with a thickness of approx. 2 cm.
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 period.
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.
Winter is a challenging time for our cars.
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 the best for winter conditions?
If you want to drive confidently and safely in the snow and in low temperatures, always choose tyres with the 3PMSF symbol.
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 (however, proven and good quality Asian brands are also available) and very old tyres (older than ten years). We definitely do not recommend such products.