Useful Car Tips

Hydroplaning: What it is and How to Avoid It

February 27, 2020
We’re all taught from a young age that driving in the rain can be dangerous and that accidents are more likely to happen. We’re taught to follow some general driving guidelines in these conditions, mainly to slow down. Traction is of course limited when the road is wet, and safe driving techniques must be applied in order to avoid one of the most dangerous situations you may encounter on a wet road: the phenomenon of hydroplaning.


Hydroplaning—also sometimes referred to as aquaplaning—occurs when a layer of water interferes with the contact between a vehicle’s tires and the road surface, causing a loss of traction due to the tires encountering more water than the tread can displace. This loss of traction can be immediate and sudden, surprising even experienced drivers with the consequential loss of steering, braking, and general control. In the worst case scenario of a car losing traction to all four tires at once, the car effectively becomes an uncontrolled sled. In short, hydroplaning can be incredibly dangerous, and contrary to popular belief, it can even happen when roads are slightly damp. However, following just a few simple and straightforward guidelines can help you significantly reduce the risk of hydroplaning occurring.


The first is one of the simplest but most effective: just slow down! When it rains—especially when it rains heavily—don’t be afraid to drop your speed by 5-10 miles (about 8-16 kilometers) versus your normal driving speed under clear weather conditions. Secondly, look for puddles or any accumulated standing water and do your best to avoid them. Even a thin film of water can upset your tires’ traction and lead to a loss of control. If driving through a puddle is unavoidable, gently drop your speed further before doing so. Last but certainly not least, keep up with scheduled tire maintenance. The more you drive, the more your tires will degrade. Take your tires in for regular balancing and rotating, and make sure to replace them when necessary as per the manufacturer’s recommendation. Follow these three steps and you’ll already be well on your way to cutting down on the risk of hydroplaning. If you need to brush up a little more on driving in the rain in general, consult our earlier article here for three more quick tips. However, no matter what precautions we take, there is always a small risk of hydroplaning in the rain. Not only does it pay to know what hydroplaning is and how it happens, it’s important to know what to do if it ever happens to you.


Let’s say the worst case scenario happens: we begin to hydroplane. What do we do? Being prepared Fortem article readers, we know exactly what to do! The very first step is immediately letting off the gas without touching the brakes. Never use your brakes when hydroplaning, even when you think only one or two wheels have lost traction instead of all four. Any sudden braking on a wet road surface can exacerbate a loss of traction and cause you to completely lose control of your vehicle. Next, go against what your instincts may be telling you and gently steer in the direction you’re hydroplaning instead of steering opposite the direction. Doing so will aid you in regaining steering control and help your tires realign in the proper direction of travel. Although you may have otherwise been instructed to overcorrect and steer in the opposite direction of a slide, you should always remember to steer in the direction you’re losing traction when hydroplaning. It may seem counterintuitive but it is the correct technique in this situation. After correcting your steering, wait until you feel your tires reconnect with the road. It should be fairly obvious when you’ve regained traction, as steering control will return. You may also feel a sense of relief and the need to let out a few choice words. Hydroplaning at any speed and on any road can be a stressful experience, so feel free to pull over and take a breather, as you would after any stressful event. Sometimes, we do everything right but the worst case scenario still happens. But fear not! Even if it does, now, you not only know what hydroplaning is, but how to avoid it and how to deal with it if you ever find yourself in such a situation. Slow down, stay attentive, and be safe on the roads!
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