Slippery When Wet: What is Hydroplaning?

Learn the specifics about hydroplaning and how to manage it with these driving tips.
Matthew Keegan, NAPA Auto Parts

What is Hydroplaning?

Hydroplaning, also known as aquaplaning, occurs when a car loses contact with the road and the tires skate on top of a thin layer of water. As a result, the vehicle may suddenly shift to one side, causing the driver to temporarily lose control. Contrary to popular belief, hydroplaning can occur whenever the roads are wet—even if it is not raining hard or after the storm has passed. In fact, roads are the slipperiest when it first starts to rain as oil residue mixes with water to form a dangerous concoction. The most important precaution you can take is ensuring that your tires are properly inflated and have sufficient tread levels, since worn tires are more likely to hydroplane. Below are a few more tips on preventing hydroplaning and controlling the situation when it occurs.

How to Prevent Hydroplaning

Slow Down

When the road is wet, decrease your speed. Research by Consumer Reports reveals that road contact is reduced the faster a vehicle travels. You may have full contact with the road at 20 mph, but that connection all but disappears at high speeds—even with new tires.

Avoid Puddles and Standing Water

You should always avoid pools of standing water. While the storm might have passed, a deep enough puddle could cause your vehicle to spin out of control. Remember, standing water can be deceiving—it may be much deeper than it appears.

Turn Off Cruise Control

Cruise control is a great way to improve your fuel mileage when it is in use; however, it can also cause hydroplaning if you keep it on when the roads are wet. Cruise control is designed to help you maintain your speed, which is precisely what you don’t want to do in less than ideal weather conditions.

Don’t Panic

If you hit water and your car begins to spin out of control, don’t panic. Gradually pump your brakes until the tires catch hold of the road. Maintain control of the steering wheel while avoiding sudden turns. If possible, shift the transmission into neutral and point your car in the direction you want it to go. Your foot should be off the accelerator until you regain control.

Other Hydroplaning Tips

Keep these additional tips in mind to prevent hydroplaning.

  • For cars equipped with manual transmissions, you should shift to a lower gear.
  • When shopping for new tires, look for ones that provide superior hydroplaning counteraction.
  • Ultimately, if travel conditions are especially hazardous, turn off the highway as soon as it is safe to do so, take a break and wait for conditions to improve.

For more information on how to prevent hydroplaning, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.

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