Winter in Germany

With Germany experiencing the coldest winter for 13 years we decided to change our plans for the weekend and took our sledge out instead.

This gave us not only a rare chance to go sledging on the hills of Camp King, but also to talk about some of the things that German residents – and possibly long-term visitors – need to know about: Winter tyres, snow-clearing duty and a lack of salt.

Sledging in Camp King

Sledging in Camp King

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Winter tyres

Many people coming to Germany to live are unaware of the fact that most cars here have two sets of tyres.  The reason for this is the large difference in temperature and therefore road conditions between the summer and winter months.

The winter tyres are made of a rubber mixture that does not because so hard in freezing temperatures, which gives them more grip on cold roads.  The tread has so-called “lamella” shape, which allows it to run better on snow.  Since many side roads do not get gritted or cleared of snow, this can be an important factor.  Cars that are primarily driven on roads in the Alps may even have spiked tyres or snow chains.

The summer tyres are made of a different mixture, that does not become so soft when it gets hot.  This allows them a better grip on hot tarmac in the summer, even when it is wet.

It is important to be aware of this difference, as driving with the wrong kind of tyre can have a negative influence on any insurance claims after an accident.

So every year in April and October I take my car to the garage to have the tyres changed.  They do not simply change the rubber tyre, but the whole wheel.  At the same time they balance them out and also make sure that the tyres with the most tread on them get put on the corners that are most likely to wear during the season.

Left: winter - Right: summer

Left: winter – Right: summer

The ‘old’ tyres are then put into storage and I am used with a certificate called a Reifenpass with their storage location on and the amount of tread in millimetres left on each tyre.

The whole process can take anything from about 15 minutes up to (as it did yesterday) a whole hour.

For those who do not use their cars so much, there is an alternative called “Ganzjahresreifen” – tyres for the whole year, that are a comprimise between the other two.

When bio-ethanol gets cold

With the temperature dipping to -2°C this week, I had an unexpected chance to find out how bio-ethanol reacts to the colder weather.

This is not as cold is it can get in winter here – I’ve experienced -18°C before now! But with the cold wind blowing it certainly felt different to the temperatures that we had been having the previous week.

When bio-ethanol gets cold it apparently gets sluggish. This is why there is a socket on the front of the car, so that I can attach it to the mains and warm the tank up slightly before driving off. Well, that’s the theory at least. As I don’t have an electrical socket anywhere near where I had parked the car, that wasn’t really a solution.

The alternative is to put some normal petrol into the tank during the winter. Again, the drop in temperature came so unexpected, that I hadn’t done this and had only E85 in the tank.

So I drove off anyway – and I can’t say that I noticed any difference. Perhaps the cold temperature hadn’t affected the bio-ethanol as much as I had expected? Perhaps it just wasn’t cold enough yet!

I shall be keeping a watchful eye on the thermometer and may well start mixing in some normal fuel next month.

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