Hydroplaning happens when one or more of a vehicle’s tires encounter more water on a road surface than they are able to push aside. A wedge of water is driven under the tire, lifting it away from the roadway and reducing the friction that allows the driver to control the vehicle’s direction and speed.
If all four tires become waterborne at once, the vehicle will lose steering, braking, and power control until the tires regain contact with the pavement. However, hydroplaning can cause a car to collide with other vehicles or objects, veer off the road, or flip before the tires touch down on the roadway again.
This article gives more details about how to recognize hydroplaning and how to avoid this dangerous phenomenon.
There are two main sets of factors that drivers can control to reduce the risk of hydroplaning. The first is driving habits—the faster a vehicle is travelling, the harder it is for the tires to scatter water, so it is important to slow down when the roadway is wet. This is especially true when there are puddles or areas of deeper water on the road.
Drivers can also move into the left lane, as the outer lanes are usually more rutted by traffic and collect more water, which in turn increases the risk of hydroplaning.
During a rainstorm, it is best to avoid using cruise control, it may deliver a burst of power when a vehicle starts to hydroplane, exacerbating the problem rather than correcting it.
Of equal importance to adapting your driving style to wet conditions is making sure your tires are in good shape. They should be properly inflated, and the tire tread depth needs to be sufficient to cut through and push aside the water. It is important to rotate your tires so they wear evenly and have no balding areas that could be prone to hydroplaning.
Hydroplaning can occur at any speed, depending on the condition of roads and tires and the depth of water. However, slowing down will always reduce the risk of hydroplaning as it increases the amount of friction between the tire and roadway and gives the driver more time to react to deep water on the road. Driving at under 35 miles per hour will significantly decrease your chances of losing control due to hydroplaning.
Hydroplaning gives the sensation that your vehicle is drifting or floating; it could be likened to skidding across a sheet of ice. Your vehicle may begin to fishtail or veer sideways, especially if only one set of tires is affected rather than both. Your engine’s RPMs may suddenly increase as the rubber loses contact with the road surface.
You will also feel a loss of control in the steering, power, and braking systems. The best thing to do is let off on the accelerator without braking. In most cases, the vehicle will regain traction and continue its trajectory before an accident occurs.
Aquaplaning and hydroplaning are two different terms for the same phenomenon. They are synonyms.
Hydroplaning is one of the chief culprits of loss of vehicle control in rainy conditions, as explained earlier in this article. But since water acts as a lubricant and reduces friction between surfaces, vehicles are more prone to lose control on wet pavement even without hydroplaning.
The risk is especially high during the first ten minutes or so of a light rain, when the water has caused slippery oils on the roadway to come to the surface but hasn’t yet washed those substances away.
One of the main factors that influences the risk of hydroplaning is the condition of your equipment, especially your tires. Worn out tires with little tread depth are less effective at pushing water out from underneath them. Tire that are under- or over-inflated also have more difficulty handling water on roadways.
Another factor that increases risk is vehicle speed: the faster you drive, the more likely you are to hydroplane. Water depth is another risk factor—the deeper the water, the more quickly your vehicle will lose traction.
Vehicle weight, tire width, and road surface type are three additional variables that can contribute to a higher risk of hydroplaning. Heavier vehicles will be more resistant to hydroplaning than lighter ones, all else being equal. Wider tires will also maintain contact with the road under wet conditions more effectively than narrower ones. Lastly, grooved concrete will shed water more readily than smooth asphalt, making it safer in a rainstorm.
A tire’s effectiveness in wet conditions depends on its tread pattern and rubber compounds. The best tire for rain will have channels that are optimized to push water out from under the tire, although the exact pattern will vary according to the width of the tire, among other parameters. Some tires are designed with specific compounds and physical characteristics to increase the amount of rubber in contact with the irregular road surface at any given time.
Aside from features explicitly design to address the challenges of rain, there is a set of secondary factors that play into the choice of the best tires for rain. One is the tire’s duration. A long-lasting tire will wear out less quickly, so it will maintain a deeper tread depth for longer, which is key to its performance in rain.
Summer tires are usually made of harder rubber and are slower to be ground down by the friction of driving, so in general they are the best option for rainy conditions. All-weather tires can also suffice, but winter tires are generally poor performers in a downpour. Their grooves are specifically designed to bite into slush and snow, but they are not optimized to push water out from under tires. They are also softer and wear out more quickly, leading to a risk of hydroplaning due to low tread depth.
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