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What is hydroplaning and how do we prevent it?

Hydroplaning can occur at speeds as low as 25-35 km/h depending on conditions — even less if the tire has no or little tread.
Hydroplaning can occur at speeds as low as 25-35 km/h depending on conditions — even less if the tire has no or little tread. - 123RF Stock Photo

We have all heard about aquaplaning or hydroplaning.

Simply put, hydroplaning occurs when a film of water comes between a tire and the road. The steering goes light and you start to lose control. When the tire tread is no longer in contact with the surface, it can no longer provide grip and there is very little even the most experienced and competent driver can do. You can’t steer, stop or accelerate until the tire regains contact with the road. 

In these situations there is only one thing to do — SLOW DOWN. Ease off the accelerator and turn the wheel toward the straight-ahead position. Only by reducing speed and allowing the tread to do its job — cut through the water, dispersing it and regaining contact with the surface.  

Any wheeled vehicle receives its traction or grip from that point where the tires touch the ground. Whether there are two or 18 wheels, the available grip is limited to those points, contact patches or footprints, as they are known.

In a passenger vehicle there are four contact patches roughly the size of the palm of your hand or sole of your foot touching the road - they and they alone determine how well the vehicle stops, turns or accelerates. The engine delivers power to the wheels, the steering wheel turns them, and the brakes stop them — but it is the tires, and their grip on the road, that turn, stop or provide acceleration.

There are three key factors that determine the point at which a tire will aquaplane or hydroplane: 1. The depth of the water; 2. The design and condition of the tire tread; 3. Speed. Water tends to accumulate in puddles, in the ruts worn in the road by vehicle traffic, normally right in the lane where you travel. The amount of water that can cause a problem is directly related to the other two issues — tires and speed. 

Worn tires have almost no chance to cut through even a small amount of water and grip the road surface. Similarly very wide tires on a very light vehicle can ride atop the water surface resulting in a lack of grip and steering control. 

Hydroplaning can occur at speeds as low as 25-35 km/h depending on conditions — even less if the tire has no or little tread. 

Tires are, quite frankly, the most significant safety device on your vehicle. An expensive, high-tech luxury or sports car on the wrong or worn tires can be a treacherous beast. An old $1,000 beater on good tires can be safe as a church in the same conditions. Tire treads and compounds are scientifically engineered and designed to accomplish a number of things — one of them is to evacuate water or snow. 

Check your tires. Invest in your safety when replacing them and slow down when conditions deteriorate. 
 

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