If you've ever been in a car that's skidded along a roadway, you know how awful it can feel to be out of control in the car. But if you're a relatively new driver and you've never hydroplaned before, consider yourself lucky. Hydroplaning is particularly dangerous because of the lack of contact with the ground -- the car is actually not on the road when hydroplaning occurs. The tactics you can use during a regular skid don't quite work during a hydroplaning incident. Here's what's happening during hydroplaning and what you need to do to deal with it.
Hydroplaning occurs when your car hits enough water on the roadway at just the right speed to actually move onto the surface of the water. Your car is essentially floating on top of the water, and the tires are not connected to the surface of the road. Hydroplaning can occur in many different circumstances, from hitting puddles at low speed to hitting wet asphalt at high speeds. The difference between skidding and hydroplaning is that in skidding, your tires are in contact with a solid surface, be it the asphalt or ice. In a skid, you're sliding along the surface. But in hydroplaning, you're not touching anything but water, and momentum carries you along until your car either slows down enough to break through the surface of the water, or you hit something in the roadway like a crack that allows your tires to contact the road again.
As mentioned, you don't need an actual pool of water to do this. You can end up hydroplaning on a thin layer of water on a wet roadway. A common scenario is that you've had to brake hard on a wet road and suddenly start hydroplaning, or you've taken a turn too quickly and hydroplane during the turn.
Steering isn't much help during a hydroplaning incident. If your car's tires aren't touching the ground, being able to turn them won't do anything. If you begin to hydroplane, do keep a grip on the wheel so you can control the car once you stop hydroplaning, but if the car turns during the hydroplaning, do not turn the wheel into that turn like you would with a regular skid.
Let the car coast -- yes, this is scary if you're in traffic -- and slow down on its own. If the hydroplaning occurred when you had your foot on the gas, do not brake. Just get your foot off the gas. As soon as you feel the car connect with the ground again -- you'll likely feel it through the steering wheel if not the entire car -- steer the car to a safe area. If you have to brake as you move the car, do so very gently because hydroplaning can sometimes send a lot of water into the brakes. Once you're ready to pull over and stop, brake carefully.
Avoiding It in the First Place
There's no formula for calculating what speed to drive at to avoid hydroplaning, so avoiding this is more a matter of being alert and not pushing your luck on the road. Do not speed in wet conditions. Drive as far to the right as you can (so on a multi-lane road, move to the right lane if possible, for example) so that you can drive slowly. Try to drive around obvious puddles, and leave a lot of room between you and the car in front of you so that you reduce the chances of having to brake hard. Be very observant about traffic in front of you and ahead -- slow down pre-emptively if you see people braking far ahead of you. Slow down before curves.
Also keep your tires in good shape and replace worn tires. Hydroplaning can occur with new tires, so don't assume that because your tires are new that you can drive like a maniac in a storm. Keep the tires well-inflated but not over-inflated, and rotate them regularly.
If you want help with tire inflation or want to get your tires inspected or replaced, contact a tire service center near you. Even if your area isn't expecting rain, any water on the road can be a risk.
To learn more, contact a company like Jafstram Imported Car Service.