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Car Sense

Hydroplaning: What is It and How Can You Avoid It?

It doesn’t matter the season: heavy rain and wet roads can occur at any time of the year. That means slick roads, limited visibility and yes, hydroplaning.

No matter the weather, having the right auto insurance can give you peace of mind. But hydroplaning can be scary – so it’s important to understand the conditions when it’s likely to occur, and what to do if it happens.

What Is Hydroplaning?

Hydroplaning happens when your vehicle loses control in wet conditions because your tires don’t have enough traction on the road. Hydroplaning happens when water on the road’s surface is not sufficiently pushed out of the way by your vehicle’s tires. This causes your vehicle to rise on top of a thin layer of water between your tires and the road. All traction is lost in less than a second, and you have very limited control of your vehicle.

What To Do When You Hydroplane

If you find yourself hydroplaning, don’t panic. Ease your foot off the gas, and hold the wheel firmly.  Resist the urge to slam on your brakes or turn suddenly. If you start to skid, turn your steering wheel in the direction you are sliding. This can help your tires realign with the direction you’re going, allowing you to regain control.

Vehicles with anti-lock brakes and traction control are less likely to spin under hard braking. If you don’t have anti-lock brakes, brake gently with a pumping action.

As you slow down and straighten out, keep mirroring the movement with your steering wheel. Most skids last for only a split second before your car gains traction and you regain control. It’s best to wait it out and stay calm. When you can feel your tires reconnect with the surface of the road, continue to stay alert and drive defensively.

It is scary when you lose control of your car. If you need a moment to calm down, pull over to a safe spot away from oncoming traffic (such as a parking lot) to catch your breath.

How To Avoid Hydroplaning

Hydroplaning can occur on any wet road surface. According to the American Safety Council, the first 10 minutes can be the most dangerous when driving in heavy rain. Here are a few ways to avoid hydroplaning:

  • Watch your speed. Slow down and drive carefully when the roads are wet.
  • Stay away from puddles and standing water. Keep toward the middle of the road and drive in the tire tracks left by cars in front of you.
  • Turn off cruise control. There is a chance that your car will accelerate if you hydroplane, and your reaction time will be slower if using cruise control.
  • Take your time. Be cautious around curves and steer and brake with smooth, light touches.
  • Be extra cautions at intersections. This is an area where engine oil and water could mix, creating extremely slick spots.

How to Prepare Your Vehicle For Heavy Rain

Here’s a list of things to check to make sure your car is up to the task of driving in wet weather.

  • Tires: A resource like the tire decision guide at TireRack.com can help you find the right tires that fit your car and your driving habits. It helps to know how other consumers rate specific tires in a variety of categories, including wet-weather traction.
  • Tire tread: Do your tires have more than 2/32 of an inch of tread remaining? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, tires with this tread depth are considered unsafe. To check the depth of your tread, place a penny in the tread with Lincoln’s head upside down and facing you. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, your tread is worn down and it’s time to replace your tires.
  • Tire pressure: You should check the pressure in your tires once a month. Learn more about how and why to check your tire pressure.
  • Brakes: It takes longer to stop when the roads are wet. Be sure your brakes are in good condition.
  • Windshield: Consider applying a water-repelling treatment to your windshield, which can dramatically improve visibility. Also, check your wipers to make sure they’re in good condition and working properly. Learn when and how to replace your windshield wipers.
  • Headlights and defroster: Both can help with visibility in rainy weather.
  • Emergency kit and jumper cables: You never know when they could come in handy. Get a list of what to include in your car emergency kit.

It’s not just four wheels and an engine… it’s the car you cherish. Your Erie Insurance auto policy protects your car and quickly gets you back on the road should something go wrong. Learn more about auto insurance from ERIE or talk to your local agent for details.

This story was originally published in 2009. It was updated with new information in 2019.

Hydroplaning can be scary. Learn when it’s likely to occur, and what to do if it happens. /blog/need-know-hydroplaning Erie Insurance