What are the rules on driving abroad in winter?

If you’re driving abroad this winter, make sure you and your car are ready. The weather conditions on the Continent can be severe at this time of year. Winter tyres and snow chains are also compulsory in some countries.
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Then there’s insurance and breakdown cover. If you don’t have suitable policies in place, you could end up with a big bill if you have an accident or an engine failure.

Tread carefully

Winter tyres improve road-handling and reduce stopping distances when the weather is cold and wet. They also give you greater control over the vehicle when there is snow and ice on the roads. Snow tyres are mandatory during the winter months in Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Slovakia and Sweden. The winter months are usually between November and April, but the dates vary, so you should always check. If you get stuck in wintery conditions because the tyres are unsuitable you might have to pay an on-the-spot fine. You might also be prevented from continuing your journey. Snow tyres are not compulsory in Switzerland, but you could be fined if you disrupt traffic because your vehicle is not equipped to travel through snow. In Italy, individual regions can make the use of snow tyres mandatory if conditions dictate. It is also recommended that you have snow tyres if you are travelling to Andorra, Bulgaria, Norway and Slovenia. Make sure your winter tyres are in good condition as most countries require a minimum tread of 3mm or 4mm.

Chain gang

It is compulsory to carry snow chains in some European countries, such as Andorra, Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, Norway and Switzerland. In Slovenia, snow chains must be carried unless winter tyres are fitted. You should use the chains when the appropriate signs are displayed and only when the road is covered with a layer of snow and ice. Always make sure your car can accommodate the snow chains before you set off – chains add extra bulk to your tyres so you need sufficient clearance between the tyre and the wheel arch. Your car handbook should be able to tell you whether you can fit chains to the standard wheels. If not, you might have to buy new wheels and tyres. You can get away with only having snow chains on the driven wheels, so if you car is a front-wheel drive you should fit them on the front wheels. But it’s always better to fit two pairs if you can. Practice driving with the snow chains fitted because it can alter the response of the car. You should also drive slowly and avoid harsh braking or acceleration.

Kit & car-boodle

High visibility jackets, warning triangles and first aid kits are common requirements in many European countries. You might also need to convert your headlamps so as not to dazzle oncoming drivers. It’s worth packing an emergency car kit if you are travelling in harsh weather conditions. Include a shovel, blanket, bottle of water, torch, de-icer and a tow rope, just in case. You might also like to throw in some chocolate or other snack in case you are stuck for a long time. Every UK car must display a GB sticker or Euro flag badge on the number plate. You should also always carry a UK driving licence, the vehicle registration document and the motor insurance certificate.

Bottle and throttle

Alcohol limits on the Continent are often lower than in the UK. The legal limit for alcohol in the blood in many European countries is 50 mg per 100 ml, compared with 80 mg in the UK. Drivers in France must also carry a breathalyzer.

Insurance angle

Insurers are obliged by law to cover your vehicle if you drive within the EU. But they have to provide only the legal minimum level of cover, which is usually third party. In other words, your comprehensive policy in the UK might only cover third party in Germany. It’s therefore important to contact your insurer before you set off in order to extend the cover, though you will probably have to pay an extra premium. You also need to check with your insurer if you are driving outside the EU.

Breakdown lowdown

Experts recommend that you carry out a routine maintenance check on your vehicle before your trip. But that doesn’t mean you should forget about breakdown cover. No one wants to be stranded on the roadside in the UK, never mind in Europe, where you could be unfamiliar with the language. Most UK breakdown policies do not automatically cover Europe, so you will normally have to buy separate cover. You can opt to cover a single trip or you can choose an annual European breakdown policy, depending on the length and frequency of your motoring holidays abroad. Again, it’s important to check that the level of cover is adequate. Basic European breakdown cover will usually give you access to an English-speaking helpline 24 hours a day in the event of a breakdown. Someone will then either repair the car at the roadside, or take you and the vehicle to the nearest garage. A more comprehensive policy might include the cost of any emergency repairs, up to a certain amount, as well as a replacement driver if your only driver is taken ill. A premium package covers the cost of any emergency accommodation, in case you have to wait for the garage to carry out repairs. It would also include alternative transport if you chose instead to continue your journey, or even return to the UK. It’s worth bearing in mind that you cannot normally claim on a breakdown policy for a certain period after purchase, perhaps up to 14 days, so if you only buy cover the day before you leave, you might not have protection immediately. http://moneysupermarket-3.wistia.com/medias/kqadl89yku?embedType=async&videoFoam=true&videoWidth=740

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