We’ve all been in the car with that driver who can’t resist hitting a big puddle at full speed. While it seems like it couldn’t do anything more than make a big splash, it can actually put the driver in danger of hydroplaning and losing control of the car. We discuss this and other conditions to avoid that can cause hydroplaning.
What Happens When Your Car Hydroplanes
Controlling your car requires that your tires have good contact with the road. The treads on your tires include little grooves along the surface which help disperse water in wet conditions. This allows your tires to maintain contact and traction under potentially slippery conditions. That’s why it’s important to get your tires checked regularly, and why mechanics specifically measure the depth of the tread when making recommendations about tire replacement.
If you suddenly encounter more water than your tires can disperse, either with the treads or the width of the tire itself, you will hydroplane. The layer of water between the tires and the road causes a momentary loss of traction. Basically, your tire will slide over the surface of the water. You may as well be driving on a sheet of ice.
The Best Ways to Avoid Hydroplaning
- Check your tire inflation. Over- or under-inflated tires will not have good traction even under the best of circumstances.
- Check your tire tread. As part of regular maintenance, your mechanic should check your tires to see if it’s time to replace them. They should also rotate and align them regularly to keep wear as even as possible.
- Slow down on rainy days. It should go without saying, but if water is accumulating on the road, you should slow your speeds and avoid sudden braking or turning.
- Do not use cruise control in heavy rain. Instead, pay attention and reduce your speed if you see standing water ahead.
- Avoid big puddles. Watch for areas where water tends to accumulate, especially the wheel ruts or edges of the road.
What to Do if You Hydroplane
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your car will hydroplane. If you feel your tires beginning to lose contact with the road due to hydroplaning:
- Don’t panic! Resist the urge to suddenly brake, accelerate, or turn. It will only increase the chances of your car spinning out of control.
- Ease off the brake or accelerator. If you were braking or accelerating as you felt your tires lose contact, remove your foot from the pedal.
- Gently steer into the direction you’re hydroplaning. It seems counterintuitive, but this will align your tire treads to disperse the water more efficiently.
- Apply the brakes once your tires regain contact. Until you feel that contact, however, let the car slow on its own.
Relax and catch your breath. Losing control of your car is a terrifying feeling. Once you regain control, pull off the road and give yourself a short break if you feel you need it. If it’s still raining when it’s time to drive again, take it slow and stay alert.