Hydroplaning Explained: Don’t Get All Wet!

What is hydroplaning?  Why does it happen?  How can I avoid doing it?  And what do I do if I find myself hydroplaning unavoidably?  We’re going to answer all of these questions.  We’re here to help.

How Does Hydroplaning Work?

In normal circumstances, water is pushed to the side of a car’s tire, or through its tread so that the tire maintains contact with the road.  However, when hydroplaning, water remains between the tire and the road so that the tire rides on top of the water.  This type of automotive water skiing has undesirable effects on steering and control.  Under the right circumstances, it’s possible to hydroplane at 50mph on a 30-foot long puddle that’s only with 1/10 of an inch deep!

HydroplaningDiagram

How Can I Prevent Hydroplaning When I Drive?

There are a number of factors that contribute to hydroplaning: speed, road conditions, tire wear, water depth, and vehicle weight.

Speed: the faster you drive the harder it is for water to get out of your tire’s way.
Road Conditions: roads that puddle, smooth roads without texture, and roads with ruts all increase the chances of hydroplaning.
Tires: smaller tire width, worn tire tread, or tires without tread (racing slicks) are most prone to hydroplaning.  Skinny tires have less surface area to make contact with the road and tires with less tread provide less space for road water to escape your tires.
Weight: heavier cars are tougher to lift above the water, and are safer in hydroplaning scenarios.

Well Snap, I’m Hydroplaning…What Do I Do?

Do’s:

  1. Stay calm.  Easier said than done right?  🙂
  2. Hold a steady grasp on the wheel.  Keep your hands at 10 and 2 just like a Nascar driver!
  3. Keep your car traveling in a straight line with small adjustments.  Pointing your car in the direction of its momentum will keep you from an unrecoverable spin.
  4. Pull your foot off the accelerator and coast to a slower speed.  If you do need to brake, follow the same rules you use on ice: soft and even braking, and pumping if you don’t have antilock brakes.

Don’ts:

  1. Don’t panic.
  2. Don’t slam on the breaks.  This might cause your car to spin out.
  3. Don’t turn the wheel sharply even if it’s not responding.  Over steering can cause an unrecoverable shift in momentum.

To sum up, drive at safe speeds and pay attention to road conditions.  Stay safe this spring Seattle, especially on TRED test drives!

 

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