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Everyone loves a waterslide… except when they’re driving!

It’s springtime in the midwest!  That means rain and wind- sometimes lots of rain in a short amount of time.  You’ve seen the posts about tires before- how they can save you money at the gas pump, old tires, and the importance of keeping them aligned.  Ever think about the performance of your car when it starts to rain?  It’s just rain right?  It’s not like it’s a frozen winter wonderland out there.  Did you know that water on the road can build itself between the road and the tire?  It’s a situation called hydroplaning, and if it happens to all your wheels at the same time, your car can be as uncontrollable as a sled.  WHEE!  This condition happens when a tire runs into more water that the tread can dissipate.  The extra water can act like a wedge, lifting a tire from the surface of the road and allowing you to skate with little (if any) contact with the pavement.

Your best defense against this is to take it slow when the roads are wet.  Even if you don’t hydroplane, there is some loss of traction on a wet road.  Having good tires is a must.  Tires with a tread pattern that will allow the water to move away from the tire are perfect for those rainy and wet climates.  Even a regular tire with a good, deep tread pattern is far better than a tire that’s worn out.  If your tires have grooves, but they’re shallow, that water has nowhere to go except underneath.

Even if your tires are good, this can still happen if you’re not paying attention.  There’s an asphalt road not far from my house that sees lots of heavy truck traffic.  These trucks have caused some ruts in the road, and water to pool along the length of the road.  Even if you hit these sections of road at a moderate speed, it’s like watching a kid on a waterslide.

Some other factors to keep an eye on include:

  • the slope of the road (flat roads drain slower)
  • the width of the road (wide roads drain slower)
  • tire pressure (underinflated tires cause water to direct inward and under the tire)
  • tire width (narrower tires will do better.  The most at-risk tires are small and wide)

There isn’t a precise formula to determine at what a car will hydroplane, but in general, cars will hydroplane at speeds above 53 mph where there is as little as 1/10″ of water on the road.

Go outside and take a look at your tires.  Worn out?  Can’t tell? It might be time to pay a visit to a decent service department and talk to a qualified technician.  They can give you the best advice and help you choose a course of action if they discover any problems.  Be safe out there!