keeping control of your vehicle on the road is paramount to your safety and that of others. if your vehicle starts to hydroplane, you put everyone at risk. what causes hydroplaning and how can you avoid it?
hydroplaning occurs when water gets between your car’s tires and the road surface. it is caused by poor road conditions on a wet surface and can be encouraged by driving too fast. your vehicle weight and the health of your tires also play a role in whether your car will hydroplane.
in this guide, we evaluate each of these hydroplaning causes. we also look at ways to avoid the condition plus discuss methods to remain safe when it does occur.
what is hydroplaning?
hydroplaning involves sliding or skimming along the top of the water on the road. this action puts the water between the road surface and your tires, leading to a loss of steering and trouble braking. if the water on the road isn’t displaced fast enough by the tires, your vehicle will skid and end up on top of it.
this serious road condition leads to many accidents because drivers lose control of their vehicles. more than 75% of weather-related accidents are caused by wet roads. that’s an alarming statistic, which is why you must understand the condition and what to do about it.
causes of hydroplaning
1. road conditions
the condition of the road is the most significant player in hydroplaning. after all, it’s impossible to hydroplane if the ground is dry. when the water depth reaches more than 1/10-inch, hydroplaning conditions exist.
how much water is on the wet pavement, how fast it is precipitating, and how well it is draining from the surface all play a role in whether hydroplaning can occur. the deeper the water is, the more likely the car is to hydroplane.
2. vehicle speed
tires need to have the time to push out the water from between the road and the tread. if you are traveling at higher speeds, there isn’t as much time for this process to occur.
however, hydroplaning can also happen at some lower speeds. you could start hydroplaning going as slow as 35 mph.
3. tire tread depth
the tire tread depth plays a huge role in whether your car will hydroplane. once your tires wear down to 2/32-inch, it’s much more likely that the water won’t be pushed out the way it should.
even if you drive on high-end tires, once the tread is worn, there is no protection. for this reason alone, you should replace the tires as soon as they become worn. however, high-end tire brands do often have a better tread pattern to prevent hydroplaning than cheaper brands.
related: 6 worst tire brands to avoid buying
4. vehicle weight
the heavier the car is, the less likely it is to hydroplane. this principle can be seen when comparing vehicles that are equipped with the same type of tire but weigh differently.
the heavier vehicle applies more force to the road. with this force, water is better displaced, thereby reducing the chance of hydroplaning.
ways to avoid hydroplaning
1. replace tires with insufficient tread depth
the best way to protect against hydroplaning is to ensure your vehicle tires are in tip-top shape. if the tread has worn down too low, the tires need to be replaced. the majority of tires use tread wear indicators that help you monitor the depth. these indicators are rubber inserts that are recessed into the grooves when the tire is brand new.
when the tread wears away, the indicators become visible. once the tread hits 2/32-inch, you will see the rubber bars running flush with the tire tread. at this point, you should no longer use these tires, especially in rainy conditions.
however, you can check the tire tread depth without the indicators. put a penny upside down into the tread. if you can see lincoln’s head, the tread depth is too low and you should replace the tires.
2. keep tires inflated properly
when tires are underinflated, the likelihood of hydroplaning increases. you should keep a close eye on the tire pressure, checking it once a month. you also want to check it again after the temperature drops.
keep the tires inflated per manufacturer specifications. you can find the recommendation on the label inside the driver’s side door jamb.
related: how to find the correct tire pressure for your car (4 steps)
3. rotate tires
tire tread will wear differently, depending on where it is on the car. that’s why you want to get a regular tire rotation.
it’s best to get tire rotation every 6,000 miles. otherwise, one or two of the tires could wear faster, leading to increased chances of hydroplaning.
related: how much does a tire rotation cost? (& is it worth it?)
4. slow down
as you speed up, you increase the chance of hydroplaning. as you speed down the road, the tires don’t have the time needed to properly displace water.
if you are starting to hydroplane, it’s best to slow down to increase traction. if you have to go much slower to ensure your on-road safety, turn on your hazard lights, so other drivers know you are taking your time.
5. avoid puddles
even if you have the best tires on your vehicle, you could still hydroplane when you travel through big puddles during heavy rain. that’s why you want to avoid any standing water, especially if you don’t know how deep it is.
you should also avoid any longitudinal depression. these spots can quickly fill with light rain, so they should always be avoided.
6. follow vehicle tracks
if you can follow behind other vehicles, you have a better chance of retaining traction. the car’s tires before you will have already displaced the water, giving you more solid ground to drive on.
however, you should never follow other vehicles too closely. you could lose visibility and end up hitting the vehicle if they need to stop quickly.
7. don’t use cruise control
everyone loves to use cruise control when heading down the highway, but it’s not a good function when the roads are wet. not only do you become less alert when cruise control is being used, but you don’t pay attention to the speed limits and recommendations as closely.
when hydroplaning begins, the cruise control system can cause some confusion. the system might apply the brakes because the wheels aren’t spinning normally, which only makes the problem more severe.
what to do when vehicle hydroplanes
once your vehicle starts to hydroplane, you only have seconds to react properly. here are a few tips to keep you safe.
- remain calm. if you panic or overreact, you can make the situation worse and it may result in a crash.
- don’t touch the brakes. hard braking will only make the situation worse. remove your foot from the gas pedal and let the vehicle slow down naturally. if you must step on the brakes and you have anti-lock brakes(abs), lightly apply pressure to regain traction.
- hold on to the steering wheel. you don’t want to make any sudden movements but want to keep things centered as much as possible.
- pull off after hydroplaning if you need a moment to regroup. find a safe place to stop, keeping in mind that other people might also be hydroplaning and losing control of their vehicle.
if you aren’t comfortable driving in inclement weather conditions, it’s best to stay home. don’t push yourself to do anything that’s unsafe.