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What is Hydroplaning?

Car tires can lose traction on wet roads, causing the car to drift, or hydroplane.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 April 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Hydroplaning or aquaplaning happens when the tires of a vehicle lose traction on a wet roadway, causing the car to drift like a sled until the wheels gain traction again. As a person might imagine, this situation is extremely dangerous, since the vehicle is out of the driver's control while it slides. During rainy or slushy weather, drivers need to be aware of the risk of hydroplaning, and it is important for them to drive carefully in these conditions to avoid this dangerous driving situation. There are also some vehicle maintenance tips which can reduce the risk.

The tires of a vehicle are extremely important, since they connect the vehicle with a roadway. The better the traction between the tires and the road, the more control a driver has. Traction is greatly improved by treads that help to grip the road. Treads also wick away water when drivers navigate in wet conditions. When tires travel too quickly, they cannot push water away quickly enough, and they may start skidding on the surface.

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In rainy conditions, people should drive slowly, because high speeds increase the danger of hydroplaning. Drivers should also avoid pools of water and puddles on the roads, as they can be deeper than they look and could cause problems with traction. Drivers should be especially careful on bridges, since water often pools on one section of the bridge. It is also important to keep tires properly inflated, which increases the potential for traction, to check for tread wear, and replace tires in a timely fashion.

If a driver's vehicle starts hydroplaning, she should not jerk on the wheel or slam on the brakes. While a car has no traction, the driver has little control over its trajectory, and these actions can cause the vehicle to move violently and potentially dangerously. The best thing for the driver to do is to let up on the gas and to gently guide the tires with a movement of the wheel, ideally in the direction of the side of the road so that, if the car skids, it will skid out of the way of traffic. If a driver absolutely must brake, it should be done gently; in a car without anti-lock brakes, the driver should pump the brakes.

By using caution in wet conditions or avoiding them altogether, it is possible to prevent this dangerous experience. Drivers should also look out for other drivers who might be in trouble when traveling in inclement weather, as a hydroplaning car could easily slam into other cars, potentially causing serious damage. This situation can also happen to aircraft during taxiing and takeoff, so pilots should beware as well.

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Discuss this Article

anon346583
Post 6

Can the rear tires starting to hydroplane then cause the front to lose control?

anon294163
Post 5

Someone told me that one should never use the car's cruise control in snowy or rainy weather. I do not see this mentioned in your article on hydroplaning.

Could someone check this out for me and let me know if this is a factor? --Sally J.

anon241591
Post 4

In wet conditions a narrower tire with more pronounced treads will general have better traction (it squeezes water out of the way, providing firmer contact with the road).

In general better traction comes from having more of the tire in contact with the road surface.

When discussing tires and traction it is important to understand the difference between wet and dry conditions.

In dry weather, wide treadless tires (racing slicks) will have the best traction (a larger contact patch).

anon124479
Post 3

This should be in all driver manuals and mandatory on tests for licensing!!

anon80705
Post 2

wider tires have a better grip on wet roads as compared to thinner tires?

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