Hydroplaning, also known as aquaplaning, is a phenomenon that can occur when a vehicle is traveling on a wet surface, especially during heavy rainfall or when there are puddles on the road.
This phenomenon can be quite scary even for experienced drivers if they are caught off-guard and it is usually safer to try and avoid it altogether.
What is hydroplaning or aquaplaning?
Hydroplaning happens when the tires of a vehicle lose contact with the road surface and ride on a thin layer of water instead. In this situation, the tires are essentially “floating” on the water.
Why does this happen?
The main reason for hydroplaning is when the water in front of the tires builds up faster than the vehicle’s weight can push it out of the way. The water pressure causes the water to go underneath the tire, and this can separate the tire from the road surface.
Things that make hydroplaning happen
- Tire Tread Depth: Worn-out tires with shallow tread are more prone to hydroplaning because they can’t channel water away as effectively.
- Speed: The faster you go, the harder it is for your tires to disperse water. Typically, the risk increases significantly at speeds above 35 mph (56 km/h).
- Water Depth: More water means a higher risk. Even small puddles can cause hydroplaning if you hit them at high speeds.
- Tire Pressure: Under-inflated tires can increase the risk as they may not maintain their shape and fail to properly channel water away.
So what happens if my car starts hydroplaning?
When hydroplaning, a vehicle can lose traction, which means the driver can lose the ability to steer, brake, or accelerate.
Obviously, this can lead to skidding or sliding uncontrollably, and, in the worst cases, accidents.
How to avoid hydroplaning?
- Reduce Speed: Especially during heavy rainfall or when the road is wet. There is nothing that works better than driving slow. Even if your trip takes 10 minutes extra. You are better off getting home safe and sound.
- Maintain Your Tires: Regularly check the tread depth – used tires can aquaplane faster. Also, ensure they’re properly inflated.
- Avoid Puddles: If safe, try to maneuver around areas of pooled water on the road.
- Drive in the Tracks of the Vehicle Ahead: The car ahead can help disperse some of the water, giving you a slightly drier path.
- ESP and traction control: they are your friends. We’re on public roads, not tracks. I’d advise you keep your ESP and traction control ON if your vehicle allows disabling them and you are in the habit of driving without them enabled. They can really help!
- Better tires: next time you go shopping, take a look at better tires. You’ll notice premium brands like Michelin and Pirelli have tire models that brake better in the wet when compared to cheap tires. Those numbers are node made up, expensive tires really do drive better!
What to do if you hydroplane
- Stay calm. Panicking and acting suddently or aggresive will not help and can make things worse. Do not apply extreme brakes, suddent turns or any sudden maneuvers.
- Ease off the accelerator. Slowly take the foot off the acceleration and let the engine decelerate naturally until the car regains some traction I would not slam the brakes. At best, ease into them.
- Steer in the Direction You Want to Go: If your vehicle starts to skid, steer in the direction you want the front of the vehicle to go.
- If You Have to Brake, Do So Gently: If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), brake normally. If you don’t have ABS, gently pump the brakes. Brake gently even if you do have ABS.
Not fun, but avoidable
Understanding hydroplaning and knowing how to react can help in preventing potential accidents and maintaining control of your vehicle during wet conditions.
So if you’re facing very wet roads or heavy rain… ease of the accelerator. You’ll still get there, just safer.