Have you ever skidded while driving on a wet road, losing control over your vehicle for what it seemed like a split second? If you have, you know what hydroplaning looks and feels like, and it isn’t pretty. Hydroplaning not only robs drivers of their ability to control their vehicles, it also causes feelings of absolute powerlessness and terror. Anyone who has ever hydroplaned knows too well that sudden rush of adrenaline, the feeling of fight or flight mode a human body goes into when put in extremely dangerous situations…except when hydroplaning, you can’t fight and you can’t flight. That’s why this is one of the most terrifying experiences any driver, whether seasoned or new, could ever have.
So how to deal with, or better yet, prevent hydroplaning? First things first – arm yourself with knowledge about aquaplaning. The more you know about this unfortunate phenomenon, the easier it will be to do the right thing when it happens (and it can happen to anyone at almost any time!). It also helps to learn how to keep calm in situations like this. Here, we cover everything you need to know about hydroplaning, from why it happens to how to deal with it, as well as how to lower your chances of losing control of your car in the first place. These 9 tips and tricks take less than 15 minutes to read and remember, but could help save your life and the lives of other drivers next time you’re on a wet road.
What is Hydroplaning and Why Does it Occur?
To learn the best course of action when your car starts hydroplaning, it’s important to know what exactly this phenomenon is and why it occurs. So let’s start with the basics – your tires and wet roads.
- Tires, Traction and Wet Roads
When it comes to safety, your tires are one of the most important parts of your vehicle. They transfer the engine’s energy to the road so that the vehicle can move forward. The reason tires are able to do this? Traction. Traction is the resistance happening between the tire and the pavement in reaction to the torque being used. Ever heard of the phrase “where the rubber meets the road”? It’s usually used to describe moving forward when there are challenges ahead. In essence, tire traction is a measurement of tire performance – the more traction, the better you can control your car, the less traction, the harder you can steer, brake and control your vehicle. And if you lose traction completely? You’re hydroplaning (aquaplaning).
Causes of Hydroplaning
But what causes this loss of traction? Rainy conditions, whether light or torrential rain, are the primary reason. In fact, contrary to most drivers’ beliefs, loss of traction, and as a result loss of control over the vehicle, can occur even on slightly wet roads. This is especially true if you’re driving fast on damp highways – if you move over a wet surface quicker than the tire’s treads (grooves) have the time to channel water away, the tires won’t be able to contact the surface of the road properly. As a result, the water will lift the tires up from the road and the vehicle will begin to slide on water (aquaplane).
How to Prevent Hydroplaning
Now that you know what hydroplaning is and why it occurs, it’s time to talk about prevention. There are several things to keep in mind while driving on wet roads that can significantly lower your chances of losing the ability to steer your vehicle. The following 5 tips may be simple but are the most effective ways to avoid hydroplaning.
- Slow Down
The faster you drive on wet roads, the higher your chances of hydroplaning. In fact, most auto safety experts agree that aquaplaning is most likely to occur to those traveling at speeds greater than 35 mph. So, the easiest and most effective way to prevent this dangerous event is to just drive slower. Normally, you never want to drive faster than the speed limit, but when it’s raining, it’s wise to drive five to ten miles slower than the limit. And if it’s pouring rain? Drive even slower than that. The reason why your driving speed matters so much is because the faster you drive, the harder it is for your tires to channel the water; likewise, the slower you drive, the easier it is for the grooves to scatter the water and your tires to make contact with the road.
If you want to be extra preventive, start driving slower than the speed limit the moment you see the first drops hit your windshield.
- Choose Quality Tires Designed to Prevent Hydroplaning
Having quality tires that are specifically designed for driving in wet conditions can significantly help lower your chances of hydroplaning. But how to ensure a good wet traction or aquaplaning resistance from tires? Look at their tread depth. Although your tires may not be legally worn out, a below adequate tread depth can lead to poor functioning in wet weather conditions. It’s not a secret that when a tire reaches 3/32” of remaining tread depth it should only be used on dry roads (if it’s 2/32”, it should be replaced immediately) however, not many drivers are aware that when a tire reaches 4/32” of remaining tread depth, it’s no longer able to properly function in very wet conditions and should be replaced if you want to avoid skidding on wet roads.
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So, how to avoid hydroplaning? Check your tires treads regularly and as soon as you notice wear, replace them. This is especially important if you live in areas with frequent and heavy rainfall.
- Maintain Your Tires
Besides an adequate tire tread, properly rotated and balanced tires are a must if you want to avoid losing control over your car in poor weather conditions. Tires become more worn out in certain areas due to friction (uneven treadwear) which can lead to unbalanced, vibrating-like driving and inadequate control over the vehicle, especially if you’re moving over wet surfaces. Rotating and balancing your tires regularly will also help prolong their life, so it’s a win-win. Generally speaking, if you’re not sure when it’s the right time to balance and rotate your tires, it’s best to do it every other time you have your oil changed, which is ideally every 5,000 to 7,500 miles, but 7,000 to 10,000 miles fine too.
Related Post: Driving on Bald Tires
Speaking of adequate maintenance, also make sure your tires are properly inflated when driving in wet weather conditions. Under- and over-inflated tires can lead to a loss of traction and control which is a dangerous combination in general but especially when you’re driving on wet roads.
- Cruise Control Off
Driving at a constant speed or cruising is one of the most useful car features, especially on American cars and especially if you’re a commuter who frequently uses roadways without many stops and turns. By automatically controlling the speed of a car, cruise control allows the driver to travel long distances without getting too tired. Undoubtedly, this is one of the most convenient features – except when driving in poor weather conditions. If your vehicle starts hydroplaning while on cruise control, it will take more time for you to take control of your vehicle than if the feature was off as you have to disable it first. And when it comes to aquaplaning, every second counts. Also, if you start hydroplaning while driving with the cruise control on and need to slow down, you would have to hit the brakes, which is exactly what you want to avoid when skidding (we’ll explain why further down the article).
So, the moment it starts raining, turn the cruise control off and drive at a safe speed.
- Avoid Driving on Puddles
The easiest way (albeit the trickiest if it’s pouring rain!) to avoid hydroplaning is to steer clear of puddles and standing water on the roadway. Although heavy rain is more likely to lead to aquaplaning, especially if you’re driving fast, it only takes a small film of water to cause problems. If at all possible, avoid puddles and large bodies of standing water as that’s the safest way to avoid losing control over your car. And if you can’t avoid driving over water? Drive at a safe speed, as the faster you drive, the harder it is for your tires to shuffle water away.
What to Do When Hydroplaning
Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, hydroplaning occurs. If you feel like your car is starting to slide over a wet road, do not panic. Instead, take the following steps to regain control and avoid a disaster.
- Take Your Foot Off of The Accelerator
The moment you feel your wheels skidding, take your foot off of the accelerator. Yes, aquaplaning can be terrifying but the last thing you want to do when it happens is panic and hit the accelerator or the brakes. If you keep your foot on the gas, your car could start moving in the wrong direction when the wheels regain their traction. Furthermore, don’t yank the steering wheel as this will only lead to further loss of control. Instead, remove your foot from the gas pedal and let the vehicle slow down on its own. Most hydroplane-related slides last for a second or two so it shouldn’t take long for your car to slow down.
Of course, you’ll only be able to do this if there is enough space between your car and the one in front of it, so do access the situation before reacting. If you do need to stop though, remember the next step…
- Do NOT Slam on The Brakes
Whatever you do, resist the urge to slam on your breaks. Sudden braking while hydroplaning can cause your car to skid completely out of control, which in turn can lead to a collision. Ideally, you want to wait for your vehicle to slow down on its own or for the skid to end before you brake, but if you absolutely must brake during the slide, pump your brakes very gently and lightly until the wheels regain contact with the road.
If you have an anti-lock braking system or ABS, you can brake normally, meaning steadily and firmly but definitely without slamming it down. In this case (the ABS case), don’t remove your foot from the brakes until you come to a stop.
- Steer Into The Skid
While steering your wheel in the opposite direction of where your car is hydroplaning might seem like a logical thing to do, do not do it. Instead, steer in the direction your car is hydroplaning as this will allow your tires to realign with the direction the car is traveling and as a result, help you regain steering control. This technique is called steering into the skid, and it’s the best way to get your vehicle on track after hydroplaning.
The most important thing to remember here is not to make any sudden, panicked moves. Don’t turn too sharply, don’t slam the brakes and don’t jerk your wheel in either direction as all of this will just cause your car to spin out of control. Instead, keep a steady hand on the wheel and steer with small movements until you feel the tires reconnect with the surface of the road.
- When Hydroplaning Ends, Pull Over
There’s no question that hydroplaning is a frightening experience. Even when it lasts for a split second, it can lead to panic, anxiety and full-blown hysteria. And it’s no wonder why – when the control of your vehicle is suddenly stripped away from you, you can’t help but feel utterly helpless and terrified. To recover after this unfortunate event, it’s important to pull over and take a few moments to calm down.
After you’ve relaxed (have a snack if possible), check your vehicle for any possible damage. Then, and only then, continue your drive. Remember to drive slowly and carefully at all times, but especially during rainy conditions!