Driving in the rain presents a couple of challenges that you don’t encounter while driving on dry roads. It’s important to have the visibility that a good pair of windshield wipers can provide, but even more important is understanding how rain affects traction. Most drivers understand that water reduces the amount of friction between your tires and the road, and they slow down in response to reduced traction. However, a lot of rain can lead to what every driver dreads the most: hydroplaning.
What Is Hydroplaning and How Do You Prevent It?
While driving in the rain, you may face wet roads, standing puddles or moving sheets of water. Tire tread is designed to improve wet-road traction by channeling water to the sides of the tire. Hydroplaning occurs when the tires can’t channel water away fast enough. If your speed or the amount of water in front of your tire increases, then the tire will skip on top of the water’s surface. At that point, the tire is no longer in contact with the road — and no contact means no traction!
Three main factors cause hydroplaning, depending on the relationship between road conditions, tire health and your speed. They are:
- Water depth. When a road is merely wet, your traction is reduced; hydroplaning occurs when a measurable pool of water exists on the road. The deeper the water, the more your tires have to channel out to maintain contact with the road. Therefore, the more water on the road, the slower you should drive.
- Tread depth. The deeper your tire tread is, the more space there is for water to channel out to the sides. As tires wear out, tread depth decreases, leaving less room for water channeling. If you know your tread depth is low, you should pay close attention to your speed.
- Vehicle speed. The faster you drive, the faster the spaces between the tread blocks on your tires fill up — and the more chance there is that hydroplaning can occur.
How Do You Recover From Hydroplaning?
Depending on the situation, it may be difficult to tell that you are hydroplaning in the first place. While driving in a straight line, you may feel a sudden “looseness” in steering — as if the back end of the car is moving around freely. If you are in a turn, hydroplaning can be more noticeable, if the front end or back end suddenly kicks to the outside of the turn.
If this happens while you’re driving in the rain, it’s important to know how to recover safely.
- Do not make any sudden turns and do not touch the brakes.
- Ease off the gas. The vehicle will slow down on its own and regain traction.
- Ease on the brake to further slow the vehicle.
- Gently turn the steering wheel in the direction you want to go.
Though a hydroplaning event may last less than a second, keeping a cool head and a steady hand will help you maintain vehicle control. Once you’ve gotten out of the hydroplaning event, keep your speed down until it’s safe to speed up again. When you get home, check your tires to see if they need air or replacement.
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Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.