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Hydroplaning: What It Is & How to Prevent It

Some things you can't help but worry about. When you drive your vehicle every day, there are many safety risks that you should protect yourself against by driving responsibly and equipping your vehicle with the right parts. Hydroplaning is one concern that every driver faces.

When your vehicle hydroplanes, you feel out of control. This scary experience can happen any time you drive on a road covered with water. Knowing what to do when your vehicle hydroplanes can help save your life.

At the very least, it can help you avoid costly vehicle and property damage. In order to avoid hydroplaning, it's necessary for you to better understand the phenomenon as well as how to prevent it.

What is Hydroplaning?

When your vehicle hydroplanes on a wet roadway, your tires lose contact with the road. The result is a loss of your ability to control your speed, brake, and steer. This occurs on wet roads with enough rain or other moisture to develop a pool or sheet of water across a roadway. In turn, this water can prevent the tires from actively remaining in contact with the paved surface. The tires glide across the water instead of gripping the road.

Hydroplaning causes many accidents each year. They most often occur when drivers can't see or can't avoid water that has collected on the road in front of them. If you've ever experienced an episode of hydroplaning, you know how scary it can be. Even the most skilled driver will struggle to navigate out of a hydroplane. Hydroplaning is made even more dangerous when it occurs in traffic.

How to Avoid Hydroplaning

There are two major factors that will help you avoid hydroplaning.

The first and most important is the way you drive. Knowing how to handle wet roads is the easiest and best way to keep yourself and others safe. When driving in wet conditions, nothing can be taken for granted. The roadways can become very slippery as the first moisture hits them, and then can become quite treacherous when low-lying areas or heavy rain cause water levels to rise on everything from surface streets to freeways.

The best tip to avoid hydroplaning during wet weather? Slow down, and whenever possible, avoid puddles, no matter how shallow they may seem. If you can't avoid them, slow down before driving through them.

Fitting your vehicle with a quality set of tires and proper tire maintenance are two more ways to avoid hydroplaning. Worn, bald, or improperly inflated tires become a hazard on wet, paved surfaces.

What Not to Do When You Hydroplane

Before covering what you should do when you hydroplane, let's talk about some of the things that you definitely should not do.

Panic

Do not panic. Panicking will only make it harder for you to think clearly and avoid danger.

Hit the Brakes

Resist the temptation to slam on your brakes. Slamming on your brakes will cause your vehicle to hydroplane more severely. Depending on the type of braking system that your vehicle has, slamming on your brakes could also cause a spin-out, which puts you in even more danger.

Use Cruise Control

Don't rely on your cruise control in hard rain. Turn it off, and you are less likely to lose control.

What to Do When You Hydroplane

The specific strategy that you should use depends on where your drive wheels are. If you do not know whether you have a front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive vehicle, check with your local dealership. You could also check your vehicle owner's manual.

In a Front-Wheel Drive Vehicle

If you are in a front-wheel drive vehicle with traction control and an anti-lock brake system (ABS), then head for an open area either in the lane in front of you or on the side of the road. Do not swerve. The hydroplane should not last long, but you need a bit of distance to regain control of the vehicle. Push very lightly on the vehicle's accelerator as you steer towards the empty space. This will give your vehicle time to adjust to the new driving environment and give you greater control.

In a Rear-Wheel Drive Vehicle

If you hydroplane in a rear-wheel drive vehicle without traction control or ABS, then you need to use a slightly different approach. Again, look for an empty area that will give you some space to regain control of the vehicle. Steer in the direction of the empty area. Instead of applying pressure to the accelerator, slowly ease off it.

You might not need to decelerate so much that the vehicle comes to a complete stop. Ideally, you will regain control before the vehicle stops. Prepare yourself for this possibility by staying focused. If you need to bring your vehicle to a complete stop, make sure you move to the side of the road and turn on your emergency flashers.

Preparing Your Vehicle for Rainy Weather

Just as you should know what to do when you hydroplane, you should also know how to take care of your vehicle so that it is less likely to lose traction in rainy driving conditions.

Inflation Pressure

Check your tires' air pressure on a regular basis. Underinflated tires cause increased stopping distance and risk of hydroplaning. Your vehicle owner's manual should say what PSI your tires need. If you cannot find the recommended cold inflation pressure in the owner's manual, check your driver-side door jamb. The sticker containing this information may also be in your trunk or glove box.

Tread Depth

Check the tires' treads regularly. If they have worn down, then you need to replace them. You should also check for uneven treadwear. Worn treads are one of the leading causes of hydroplaning. The experts at your local dealership can tell you whether your tires have enough tread left.

Quality Tires Can Help Avoid Hydroplaning

Tires rely on sufficient tread in order to maintain excellent contact with the road. The area of the tire that grips the road as the wheel rotates is called the contact patch, or footprint. When tires become worn, they will provide less traction, especially during wet weather driving.

Even tires that possess enough tread for driving in dry conditions can struggle when moisture is added to the equation. The tread and tread void areas of tires designed for wet weather are engineered to channel water out, away from the footprint, allowing for better driving during the rain.

Tires meant for rain or other wet weather conditions often feature deep grooves at the center and outer shoulder of the tires. These grooves point in different directions to guide water out from underneath the tire.

If you live in a wet weather environment where rain, snow and sleet are prominent seasonal forms of precipitation, it may be worthwhile to invest in a set of tires that are geared toward driving in such conditions and make sure to replace your tires when they're worn.

Nearly all of the premium tire brands offer several tire models that are sufficient for wet weather driving without sacrificing the performance desired in dry driving conditions. Some examples of tire types suitable for wet weather are all-season tires and winter tires. However, you should only use winter tires when the temperature is consistently colder than 45 degrees F.

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