Normally, when you are driving down the road, your tires are firmly on the pavement. On wet roads, however, that is not always the case. Hydroplaning occurs when a layer of water comes between your tires and the surface of the road. The resulting loss of control can be both frightening and dangerous. Here are a few ideas on how to prevent and control hydroplaning:
- Tires make a difference. Be sure that your tires are in good condition with plenty of tread remaining. Replace tires that are becoming "bald" since your safety, and that of your passengers, is at stake and this kind of basic car maintenance can help prevent hydroplaning. Consider purchasing tires designed to help reduce the possibility of hydroplaning; these tires feature deep grooves running in the same direction as the tread, which gives water an extra channel to escape from under the tire.
- Keep the pressure. It is important to keep your vehicle's tires inflated to the pressure level recommended by the manufacturer. Under-inflated or over-inflated tires reduce safety and can also have a detrimental affect on your gas mileage.
- Slow down. Reducing your speed by about 30 percent will dramatically reduce your chances of hydroplaning. At higher speeds, your tires do not have sufficient time to channel the water out from under your vehicle. You'll find yourself riding on a film of water instead of having your tires grip the road.
- Avoid puddles. If traffic allows, carefully steer around large puddles. Hydroplaning occurs most often when a fast moving vehicle drives into a deep puddle.
- Follow wisely. In a rainstorm, try to follow in the tire marks of the vehicle in front of you. That car's tires have temporarily cleared a "path" of drier pavement, so if your tires are in the same place that theirs just left, you have a reduced chance of hydroplaning. Of course, you must always keep a safe distance between your car and the one ahead of you!
- Stay calm. Sometimes, even with the best tires and safe driving techniques, heavy rain can cause your vehicle to hydroplane. This can be a dangerous situation, so it is important to keep your wits about you. By remaining calm, you will be more likely to take the proper steps to regain control of your vehicle.
- Ease up. If you find that you have no steering control, let off the gas pedal, but do not apply your brakes. If you have a stick shift vehicle, shift into a lower gear.
- Be gentle. If you are partially hydroplaning, you may be able to regain control. Treat this as you would any skidding condition. Use small, gentle steering motions--no jerking on the steering wheel--to guide your car in the desired direction. If you are fully hydroplaned with all four tires riding on a layer of water, you literally have no control of your vehicle and will have to ride it out. As your speed reduces, you will once again be able to control the direction of your car.
- An extra warning--some experts believe that using the cruise control feature on your vehicle puts you at a higher risk in a hydroplaning incident. Since the cruise control cannot distinguish between your tires riding on dry pavement and them riding on a sheet of water, your speed may actually increase, rather than decrease, putting you in danger. Although virtually all cruise control systems are disengaged by a quick tap of the brakes, since touching the brakes during hydroplaning is not recommended, it may be wise to avoid using your cruise control on wet, slippery pavement.