What is hydroplaning and how can you stop it?
While hydroplaning in your vehicle can happen at time the road is wet, in Southwestern Ontario’s storm season – which is now – the chances for just such an occurrence are greater than much of the rest of the year.
What is hydroplaning?
If you’ve ever driven during a downpour and felt your wheels slide across the road, or driven through a big puddle a little too quickly and felt your back wheels sway from side to side, chances are your car was hydroplaning – riding on the surface of the water instead of on the pavement.
All drivers should learn how hydroplaning works, how to avoid it, and how to handle your car to avoid a hydroplaning collision.
What causes hydroplaning?
Hydroplaning happens when a sheet of water comes between your tires and the pavement, causing your vehicle to lose traction and sometimes even spin out of control. It’s most likely to happen in the first few minutes of a light rain, when the rain mixes with oil residue on the road, creating slippery conditions.
Hydroplaning can also happen when water can’t drain off the road quickly enough – like when there’s a heavy downpour – or when there are low spots in the road that allow puddles to form. In these situations, your tires hit the water faster than they can push it away, causing them to ride on top of it, which can cause a loss of control.
How do you avoid hydroplaning?
To avoid hydroplaning, follow these three tips:
Maintain your tires. Keeping your tires properly inflated is important, especially in poor weather conditions. If your tires are over- or under-inflated, you’ll lose traction and control more easily than if your tires are properly inflated. Check your owner’s manual and adjust your tire pressure accordingly.
Drive appropriately for the weather conditions. When the roads are wet and slick, travel at a slower speed and leave extra space between your vehicle and the one in front of you. The faster your wheels are moving, the harder it is for them to scatter the water and maintain contact with the road — and the harder it will be for you to stop.
Avoid using cruise control in the rain. If your vehicle’s cruise control system is running when it starts to rain, turn it off and maintain a safe speed. If you ended up hydroplaning with cruise control running and needed to slow down, you’d have to hit the brakes, which should be avoided.
What should I do if my vehicle is hydroplaning?
Sometimes, even when you think you are being cautious and driving appropriately for the conditions, hydroplaning might be unavoidable. If you feel your wheels skidding or sliding, try not to panic. Take these steps to get back on track and avoid a collision:
Take your foot off the gas. When you feel your vehicle hydroplaning, remove your foot from the gas pedal. If you keep your foot on the gas, your vehicle could move suddenly in the wrong direction when your wheels regain their traction. If there’s enough room between your vehicle and the one in front of it, let your car slow down on its own — but if you do need to stop, remember the next step…
Don’t slam on the brakes. When you’re hydroplaning, slamming on the brakes can make your tires lock and cause your vehicle to spin out of control. If you need to stop to avoid a collision and your car has an anti-lock braking system (or ABS), press your foot firmly on the brake pedal (steadily, without slamming it down) and don’t remove it until you come to a stop. If your car has a regular braking system, pump your brake pedal lightly and quickly.
Get a grip on your steering wheel. While your foot is off the gas pedal, hold the steering wheel firmly and keep your vehicle pointing straight ahead – steer just enough to keep the car moving forward, without jerking your steering wheel in either direction.