What Is Hydroplaning and How To Avoid it

Hydroplaning, or aquaplaning, is when a vehicle skids over wet surfaces. “Hydro” means water, while “plane” refers to the surface. When a tire tries to go over more water than the tire can splash away, your car may glide. As a result, the car is harder to maneuver. In the worst cases, you risk experiencing a complete loss of control.

Spring rains and summer thunderstorms can cause slick conditions and make driving tricky. As you prepare for some scenic road trips, our team of expert technicians with industry-leading training have put together tips to help you stay safe and in control.

What is hydroplaning?

Hydroplaning, sometimes called aquaplaning, occurs when a layer of water builds up between the wheels of a vehicle and the surface of the road. When you hydroplane, the wheels lose the traction they need to respond to your steering. In short, you start to lose control of the car and can skid across the wet pavement.

You know those grooves in rubber tires? They are meant to help prevent hydroplaning in a car.  As your car moves, the grooves channel the water under the tire. This way, the tire can more easily pass over wet surfaces. When the water level is higher than what the tire grooves can handle, you may start to skid.

What causes hydroplaning in a car?

Most often, hydroplaning is caused by a dangerous combination of these three things: 1) the amount of water on the road; 2) how fast you’re driving; 3) what shape your tires are in.

Therefore, avoiding hydroplaning comes down to your tires:

  • Make sure they are properly inflated and the treads are deep and not overworn
  • As a general rule, stay away from puddles, and follow in the tire tracks of the vehicle in front of you

How do you avoid hydroplaning?

So, how can you keep your tires on the road and your car in control during the rainy season? Avoid hydroplaning in a car by slowing down in wet weather and properly maintaining your tires.

Here’s our comprehensive list of hydroplaning safety tips to help you weather the storm this spring:

1. Avoid puddles

It may seem obvious, but the best way to avoid hydroplaning is staying away from the water that causes the skidding. If you can do so safely, maneuver around standing water when possible.

2. Don’t use cruise control in the rain

This function works to keep your car moving at a constant speed, which can be great on long car rides. When it rains, however, you run the risk of hitting water and not being able to slow down and react to the lack of traction.

3. Follow the leader

If you are following another car in the rain, try to drive in their tire tracks. The leading car will have already blazed the trail, so to speak, and displaced the water for you to be able to trail safely. But don’t follow too closely in case the car in front of you has to slow down or stop unexpectedly.

4. Keep your tires in check

The best place for water to go when your wheels pass over is in the tread of your tires. Check your tires frequently to make sure the tread is not worn down and unable to serve its function of building traction.

5. Avoid sharp turns when possible

Making sudden movements on slick pavement can cause hydroplaning. When making turns, give yourself plenty of time and try to stay in your lane — waiting to pass cars or switch lanes until the rain subsides.

6. Slow down

Between obscuring your vision, reducing traction on the road and distracting you from the road, rainstorms can be a recipe for disaster. Make sure to reduce your speed significantly — we recommend 35 mph or less — to stay safe and maintain as much control as possible.

7. Take a break

If you don’t feel like you can safely continue driving in the rain, pull off the road when safe to do so. Make sure to use your turn signals and hazards, and, if possible, try to get to the nearest parking lot instead of parking on the shoulder of the road.

What should you do when hydroplaning?

If you do find yourself skidding out of control on the road, try to remain calm. The worst thing you can do is panic and over-correct if you hydroplane.

Here’s what to do when you hydroplane:

  • Do not slam on the brakes, ease your foot off of the gas pedal to slow down
  • Do not turn the wheel quickly
  • Slowly ease up on the brake pedal if you’re braking
  • Disengage the clutch if you have a manual transmission
  • Breathe and stay calm and remember — you’re in control
  • Wait until you feel the road under you again before you start steering

Coming full circle: avoiding hydroplaning with safe driving

Rainstorms can happen at almost any time of year. When they happen, people can find themselves in the midst of some pretty precarious precipitation. And at Caliber, we feel that calls for some reminders on how to drive defensively and stay safe on those slick streets.

Here is a quick recap of how to avoid hydroplaning in a car:

Drive defensively

As a general rule of thumb: you should always be driving on the defensive. Your safety starts before you ever get behind the wheel: always double-check your tires, your wipers, fluids, headlights, etc. Doing a once-over can keep you from getting caught in a slippery situation.

Check your tires

It may seem like we touch on this a little too often, but trust us, there’s a reason. Proper tire pressure with proper tread depth is one of the most crucial ways to guarantee good grip on wet roads.

Remember the Lincoln trick: stand a penny in the tread upside down. If you can see the top of ole Abe’s head, it may be time for new tires.

Don’t use cruise control

Cruise control is there for a reason, but whether you’re on your way to work or taking a weekend road trip, you’ll want to weather the storm and maintain as much control as possible. Cruise control, while convenient, increases your chances of losing control in wet conditions due to delayed reaction times and constant power to the accelerator.

Give drivers space

Remember driver’s education when they taught you to always stay two car lengths away? Well, when it rains, forget it. In times like these, the further away you are from the car ahead of you the better.

Try to stay a minimum of five seconds behind the car ahead of you. This may seem excessive, but it’s not for you. We know if the car ahead of you slams on its brakes, you’ll react quickly. But your car may need a little more time to finally come to a halt.

Stay calm

Remember that if you stay calm, you’ll stay safe. If you hit a sneaky patch of sitting water, your car may hydroplane. It’s important you don’t jerk the wheel or try to adjust. Often, this leads to overcorrecting and veering off, and we wouldn’t want that.

Things may get a little scary out there, but your job is to focus on the road ahead.

At Caliber, we know that prevention is always the best medicine. Bringing you seasonal safety tips to prevent accidents is part of being there for our customers. But, when you can’t prevent a collision, you know Caliber’s got you covered.  

In the event of a hydroplaning accident or any other collision, our team is here for you doing what we do best: Restoring the Rhythm of Your Life.®




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