The term hydroplaning is commonly used to refer to the skidding or sliding of a car’s tires across a wet surface. Hydroplaning occurs when a tire encounters more water than it can scatter. Water pressure in the front of the wheel pushes water under the tire, and the tire is then separated from the road surface by a thin film of water and loses traction. The result is loss of steering, braking and power control.
Rubber tires have tread (grooves) that are designed to channel water from beneath the tire. This creates higher friction with the road surface and can help prevent or minimize instances of hydroplaning.
When does Hydroplaning Occur?
Hydroplaning can occur on any wet road surface, however, the first 10 minutes of a light rain can be the most dangerous.
When light rain mixes with oil residue on the road surface, it creates slippery conditions that can cause vehicles, especially those traveling speeds in excess of 35 mph, to hydroplane. This can be a deadly combination for the driver and surrounding motorists.
The chance of being involved in a motor vehicle accident increases during poor weather conditions such as fog, rain, ice and snow. However, it isn’t necessarily the pounding rain and blinding snow that are the most dangerous; it is the slick conditions that drivers aren’t prepared for.
The Following are Important Tips to Avoid Hydroplaning:
- Keep your tires properly inflated.
- Rotate and replace tires when necessary.
- Slow down when roads are wet: the faster you drive, the harder it is for your tires to scatter the water.
- Stay away from puddles and standing water.
- Avoid driving in outer lanes where water tends to accumulate.
- Try to drive in the tire tracks left by the cars in front of you.
- Turn off cruise control.
- Drive in a lower gear.
- Avoid hard braking.
- Try not to make sharp or quick turns.
Understand What's Happening when you Skid
When you hydroplane, so much water has built up in your tires that they lose contact with the road. Your car will behave differently depending on how you've been driving and which tires are hydroplaning.
- If your vehicle has been driving straight, it will most likely feel loose and begin veering in either direction.
- If the drive wheels hydroplane, there might be an increase in your speedometer and engine RPM (revolutions per minute) as your tires begin to spin.
- If the front wheels hydroplane, the car will start to slip towards the outside of the bend.
- If the back wheels hydroplane, the car's rear end will begin to veer sideways into a skid.
- If all four wheels hydroplane, the car will slide forward in a straight line, as though it were a large sled.
How to Control a Skid
Stay Calm and Wait for the Skid to Stop
When you first start to skid, it can be panic-inducing. The car feels out of control and your impulse might be to do something rash. Try not to panic or lose your concentration. You just have to wait for the skid to stop, and stay alert so you can regain control of the car. No matter how your car reacts to hydroplaning, you can take the same steps to regain control.
Ease your Foot off the Gas
- Bear in mind that most hydroplane-related skids last for just a split second before your car regains traction. Waiting it out is the best way to handle the situation.
- Don’t slam on the brakes or yank the steering wheel, since these actions will cause you to further lose control of the vehicle.
Accelerating into a skid can cause you to lose control of the car and make matters worse. Don’t try to accelerate out of the skid. Instead, slowly ease up, and wait a moment or to until you regain control before you accelerate again.
Steer in the Direction you Want the Car to Go
- If you were braking when you entered the skid, ease up on the brake until it's over.
- If you’re driving a manual transmission car, disengage the clutch as well.
Maintain a firm grip and carefully point the car in the right direction. This technique is known as "steering into the skid," and it's the best way to get your car back on track after skidding. You may need to correct the car’s course a few times with light counter-steering as you’re regaining traction.
- Don’t turn too sharply or you’ll over correct. Jerking the wheel back and forth could cause the car to spin out of control. Keep a steady hand on the wheel and steer with small movements to correct your course.
Never slam on your brakes when you're hydroplaning, since it will make your car do unpredictable things. If you can wait until the skid is over to brake, that's ideal. If you need to break during the skid, pump your brakes gently until you regain contact with the road.
- If you have anti-lock brakes, brake normally, since your car’s automated brakes will do the pumping for you.