When your vehicle’s tires lose traction with the road surface, it is hydroplaning. If you’re driving in the rain and there’s more water on the road than your tires can safely push away, you could find yourself unable to control the steering, speed and braking of your vehicle. Without control of your vehicle, you could easily slide into other cars or worse, slide over into oncoming traffic or slide off the road and hit any number of things.
If it’s just stopped raining, there may be areas of roadway that still have puddles, and that’s all it takes for a vehicle to hydroplane and lose control. Once you hit a puddle of any depth or a wet area of roadway, there’s water pressure in front of the wheels that pushes the water under the tires.
At that point, your tires are actually skimming the surface of the water as they’re separated from the road surface by that thin layer of water and therefore, they lose traction and start sliding.
Vehicle hydroplaning can be extremely dangerous depending on the road surface, surrounding vehicles or other obstacles, or even worse on a back road where you may end up sliding down an embankment.
Causes of Hydroplaning
- The amount of water or depth of the water on road surfaces. There doesn’t have to be a lot of water on the road surface to start hydroplaning. One puddle, if it’s deep enough, can cause loss of traction and sliding.
- When the tires lose traction with the road and virtually just skim the surface of the water, hydroplaning occurs.
- Driving too fast for the road conditions can cause hydroplaning since the tires may be rotating faster than they can displace the water from the tread.
- Improperly inflated tires can easily cause a vehicle to hydroplane. Whether your tires are under- or over-inflated, they can lose contact with the road surface, which will cause the vehicle to slide on top of the water instead of the tire tread displacing the water efficiently.
- Worn tires won’t have enough tread to displace the water and maintain efficient contact with a wet road and in effect cause hydroplaning. So it’s important to check your tires’ tread depth, especially if you tend to put a lot of miles on them. It’s recommended to replace your tires when the tread measures 1/16 of an inch.
- As mentioned, the entire road surface doesn’t have to be wet to cause hydroplaning. Puddles of water on the road can be enough to cause loss of traction.
- Overloading a vehicle; carrying more weight than the vehicle is intended to carry causes more pressure on the tires than recommended and the tires can lose enough contact with the road to start hydroplaning.
- The wrong size tires for your vehicle can even cause it to hydroplane, so be sure to only put tires on your vehicle that are meant for that vehicle.
- The tread pattern on the tires can be a cause for a vehicle to hydroplane. Some tread patterns may look cool, but may not displace water efficiently enough for the tire to maintain traction.
How to Recover from Hydroplaning
You want to experience a safe recovery from hydroplaning to avoid any accidents. There are ways to get out of it. Here’s what to do when hydroplaning:
- First, remain calm. It’s best to not panic and to understand what your vehicle is doing and why.
- Immediately take your foot off the accelerator. If you’re using cruise control, turn it off by gently tapping on the brake once. You never want to use your brakes in response to sliding. That may make the situation worse and you may skid out of control completely.
- You need to regain control of your steering and the best way to do that is to realign your tires in the same direction as your vehicle. Even though it might seem like the wrong thing to do, you need to turn your steering wheel into the slide, in the same direction that your car is sliding. This puts your tires in direct alignment to your vehicle and aids in getting back control of your car.
- Once you feel your tires regaining traction with the road surface, slow your car by tapping gently on the brakes and you’ll drive out of the hydroplane.
After you’ve fully recovered, you may want to pull off the road and take a few breaths to completely calm down before venturing on in your travels.