Hydroplaning, also known as aquaplaning, occurs when a car loses contact with the road and the tires skate on top of a thin layer of water, which can cause a vehicle to lose control. Hydroplaning can occur wherever wet road conditions are present, even if it has stopped raining. Here’s how to prevent hydroplaning and what you should do if you are caught in this situation.
It doesn’t take much water to cause a car to hydroplane. In fact, roads are the slipperiest when it first starts to rain as oil residue mixes with water to form a dangerous concoction.
Hydroplaning causes a vehicle’s tires to lift off the road. As a result, the vehicle may suddenly shift to one side, causing the driver to temporarily lose control. Further, the vehicle may slam into other cars, hit an abutment or flip over and roll down an embankment. There is no telling what will happen to a vehicle once steering and braking abilities have been lost.
How to Prevent Hydroplaning
You can prevent hydroplaning by ensuring that your tires are properly inflated and have sufficient tread levels. Worn tires are particularly more likely to lead to hydroplaning when road conditions are wet.
1. Slow down. When road conditions are wet, decrease your speed. Research covered by Consumer Reports reveals that road contact is reduced the faster a vehicle travels. Whereas you may have full contact with the road at 20 mph, that connection is reduced incrementally at faster speeds and all but disappears at high speeds — even in vehicles equipped with new tires.
2. Avoid puddles and standing water. When considering how to prevent hydroplaning, you should always avoid pools of standing water. The road may be dry, but a deep enough puddle could cause your vehicle to spin out of control if you don’t take precautions. Standing water can be deceiving in that it may be much deeper than it appears and could cause you to lose control.
3. Turn off the cruise control. Cruise control is a great way to improve your fuel mileage when it is in use; however, it can also cause hydroplaning if you keep it on when the roads are wet. Cruise control is designed to help you maintain your speed, which is precisely what you don’t want to do when road conditions are wet.
4. Don’t panic. If you hit water and your car begins to spin out of control, don’t panic. At this point, you’re not looking at preventing hydroplaning so much as how to get out of it. Gradually pump your brakes until the tires catch hold of the road. Maintain control of the steering wheel while avoiding sudden turns. If possible, shift the transmission into neutral and point your car in the direction you want it to go. Your foot should be off the accelerator until control has been restored.
There are other matters to keep in mind when considering how to prevent hydroplaning. For cars equipped with manual transmissions, you should shift to a lower gear. When shopping for new tires, look for those that provide superior hydroplaning counteraction. Ultimately, if travel conditions are especially hazardous, turn off of the highway as soon as it is safe to do so, take a break and wait for conditions to improve.
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Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.