Sunday, October 9, 2011

What to Do If You Are Hydroplaning

What is hydroplaning?

Hydroplaning is if the tread on your wheels cannot channel all the rain water out from under your tires - or, from beneath each patch of tire that is supposed to be resting on the road and giving off traction. When hydroplaning, those tire patches are sitting on a layer of water instead of road.

How can I tell if I am hydroplaning?

The rear end of your car can feel a tad loose, especially in a high crosswind. The steering will also immediately feel loose or little too easy. The steering wheel jerks out of the blue and the vehicle pulls toward the puddle. Additionally, you may be nearing a curve and find that your vehicle isn't responding to your steering. On a straight road, a small "wiggle" of the steering wheel can give you immediate information on whether you are hydroplaning.

What causes hydroplaning?

  • Water depth
  • Speed
  • The amount your car weighs
  • Width of the tire
  • Depth of tread
  • All tires will hydroplane with the right combination of speed and water depth

What should you do if in this situation?

  • Do not hit the brakes - reduce your speed by smoothly taking your foot off of the gas pedal, engage your clutch if you are driving a manual vehicle, and let it coast to the point where the hydroplaning stops. You can't make any jerking movements
  • You will not be able to steer while you are hydroplaning, so do not move your steering wheel but hold it with a strong grip.
  • Wait until you can feel the road again under your car. When you are done hydroplaning, it should be instantaneous and easily felt, like you have returned to pavement.
  • Proceed with caution and test the brakes periodically to make sure that they aren't flooded

How can I prevent hydroplaning?

  • Ensure that as much of the contact patch on the tire touches the road surface as possible by noticing the tread depth. Bald tires give poor traction on slick roadways. Federal guidelines require 4/32 of an inch on your front tires and no less than 2/32 of an inch on your rear tires. However, studies have shown decreased traction in poor weather when tire tread reaches 5/32 of an inch or less.
  • Keep your tires at the proper inflation. An under inflated tire will hydroplane at slower speeds, since there is less pressure to push the water out of the way.
  • Watch the road coming up for pools or running water.
  • Watch the spray being kicked up by the cars ahead. If it suddenly increases it's likely that the driver has hit a patch of water that could cause you to hydroplane.
  • Also, drive in their tire tracks so your tires don't have to do as much work.
  • Watch your tire tracks in the rear-view mirror. You should be able to see distinct tracks on the wet road behind you, and even see your tread pattern on the pavement for a few seconds before water covers it again. If you can't see your tracks, slow down.
  • Keep your speed down in the rain - reduce your speed by at least 1/3
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