We’ve all experienced it. That out-of-control feeling you get when your car begins to hydroplane on a wet or damp road. Once your vehicle starts to hydroplane, the result is a loss of your ability to control your speed, to brake, and to steer, which nobody wants to have happen. So, today we’ll answer a few questions:
- What causes hydroplaning
- What to do if your car starts to hydroplane
- How to prevent it from happening
What Causes Hydroplaning
Hydroplaning happens when the tires of your vehicle begin to ride on top of standing water instead of the surface of the road. If you want the scientific answer, hydroplaning occurs when water pressure in the front of the wheel pushes water under the tire. The tire is then separated from the road surface by a thin film of water, which causes it to lose traction.
According to Safe Motorist, it isn’t the pounding rain that’s the most dangerous; it is the slick conditions that drivers aren’t prepared for.
What To Do If Your Car Starts To Hydroplane
When a car starts to hydroplane, the most important thing to remember is not to panic. You don’t want to brake or accelerate suddenly, as it can result in a deadly turn of events for the driver and surrounding motorists.
Since hydroplaning is a loss of traction to the front tires, sudden braking slows the front tires but locks the rear tires, causing a car to spin out. On the other hand, sudden acceleration will make the vehicle continue straight, regardless of whether or not the steering wheel is turning, which could be dangerous if the vehicle is pointed toward the edge of the roadway.
What you should do depends on your vehicle’s drive wheels. If you do not know whether you have a front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive vehicle, check with your local dealership or 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 press lightly on the accelerator and 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. Following these directions 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.
It’s also important not to have the cruise control engaged in heavy rain due to a sudden acceleration problem. The vehicle will recognize the build up of water as a slow down and ask for more power. This may cause the car to shift to a lower gear and build even more water under the tires.
How To Prevent Hydroplaning
While you should know how to handle the situation as it happens, you can also use the following tips to help avoid hydroplaning altogether.
The following are important tips to avoid hydroplaning:
- Keep your tires properly inflated
- Rotate and replace tires when necessary (tire tread is very important)
- Slow down when roads are wet: the faster you drive, the harder it is for your tires to scatter the water
- Stay away from puddles and standing water
- Avoid driving in outer lanes where water tends to accumulate
- Try to drive in the tire tracks left by the cars in front of you
- Don’t rely on your cruise control in hard rain
- Drive in a lower gear
- Avoid hard braking
- Try not to make sharp or quick turns
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.