Aquaplaning – what it is and how to handle it like a pro

Aquaplaning – what it is and how to handle it like a pro

One of the biggest hidden dangers of driving in the rain is losing control and crashing due to aquaplaning. Here’s how to prevent it.

Southeast Asia is currently in the middle of monsoon season, and the rainy weather means one thing for drivers: greater caution is needed to handle the wet roads.

Apart from water reducing friction and therefore traction on the road, the more dangerous phenomenon that often leads to crashes is aquaplaning. Often it can happen suddenly and catch you off-guard, but with a few preparation tips and knowledge, you don’t have to be another accident statistic.

What is it?

Aquaplaning (or hydroplaning) is the phenomenon of more water building up beneath your wheels than the tyre treads are able to displace, causing the whole tyre to ‘surf’ on a layer of water. It’s one of the most dangerous situations any driver could find themselves in, and one of the primary aims of driving in the rain is to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Aquaplaning explained

How to prevent aquaplaning

The two best ways to prevent aquaplaning are to ensure your tyres are in good condition, not drive too fast in the rain, and pay attention to the road ahead.

As with nearly everything in life, it doesn’t hurt to stay prepared. Which is why the first step to driving in the rain driving is to properly maintain your car. Ensure that your tyres have sufficient tread and no uneven or abnormal wear, as they’re your most important ally in wet weather driving, and the only things keeping your car on the road and away from the guardrail or longkang.

Tread depth is the most crucial determinant in your car’s wet weather roadholding abilities. These grooves give the water on the road a place to go, ensuring your tyres remain in contact with the tarmac. Less tread depth in used tyres means a less capacity for them to evacuate water. The minimum legal limit for tread depth is 1.6mm, but even that is way too shallow to be effective in the real world. Therefore it’s recommended to replace your tyres long before they’ve worn down to the minimum wear indicators, as seen here:

But even the best wet weather tyres in brand new condition can be overwhelmed if your speed is too high and they encounter too much water too quickly – just like how a kitchen sink unable to instantly drain if you’ve dumped a pot of water into it. This is why we comprehensively and objectively test tyres, to answer questions such as “what’s the best tyres for wet weather?”

Pretty much the only sure-fire method to ensure your car stays on the straight and narrow is to reduce your speed when driving in the rain, and read the road ahead and try to avoid the shinier, wetter areas.

One pro-tip that can help and which isn’t taught in driving school is this: follow in the tyre tracks of the vehicle in front of you. These tracks appear as a result of water being displaced by its tyres, temporarily leaving a drier groove for your own car to handle before the surface gets covered up again.

Following the grooves of the vehicle in front. Wet weather driving.

How to deal with aquaplaning once it happens

Broadly speaking, aquaplaning can be categorised into two types.

The first, more predictable one is when you splash into a deep puddle, and the drag of the water pulls the car to one side.

The other scenario is when you’re going fast enough that your tyres start to surf on a thin, barely-visible layer of water, usually around a curve on the highway. This one is far more dangerous, as the clues that might tell you something’s wrong are easily missed. You’ll have to rely on your ears, hands, and sense of balance for this: you might hear your engine revs suddenly increase, you might feel your steering go “light” or less responsive, and you might feel the rear end of the car subtly “swaying” out of sync with the front end.

In either scenario, do not apply any sudden input such as hard braking or steering, as that will unbalance the car and could send you skidding into the guardrail or other vehicles. Instead, maintain a steady throttle or gradually lift off, all the while gripping the steering wheel and keeping it pointed straight ahead.

And if all that fails and you find the car is starting to skid, don’t panic. Keep a steady nerve, focus your eyes on where you want to go (instead of fixating on obstacles you might hit), steer in the direction you want to go (so if the car is skidding towards the left side of the road, you’ll need to steer to the right), and again, do not abruptly hit the brakes.

Stay safe out there!

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