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Have you ever been driving during a downpour and felt your wheels lift and slide across the road, even just for a second? Or maybe you’ve driven through a big puddle a little too quickly and felt your back wheels sway from side to side? If you’ve felt one of these sensations while on the road, chances are your car was hydroplaning — or riding on the surface of the water instead of on the pavement. Learn how hydroplaning works, how to prevent it, and how to handle your car to avoid a collision.

What is hydroplaning?

Hydroplaning happens when a sheet of water comes between your tires and the pavement, causing your vehicle to lose traction and sometimes even spin out of control. It’s most likely to happen in the first few minutes of a light rain, when the rain mixes with oil residue on the road, creating slippery conditions.

Hydroplaning can also happen when water can’t drain off the road quickly enough (during a heavy downpour, for example) or when there are low spots in the road that allow puddles to form. In these situations, your tires hit the water faster than they can push it away, causing them to ride on top of it, which can cause a loss of control.

How can I avoid hydroplaning?

To avoid hydroplaning, take these three tips for a spin:

  1. Maintain your tires. Keeping your tires properly inflated is important, especially in poor weather conditions. If your tires are over- or under-inflated, you’ll lose traction and control more easily than if your tires are properly inflated. Check your owner’s manual and adjust your tire pressure accordingly.
  2. Slow down. When the roads are wet and slick, travel at a slower speed and leave extra space between your vehicle and the one in front of you. The faster your wheels are moving, the harder it is for them to scatter the water and maintain contact with the road — and the harder it will be for you to stop.
  3. Cancel your cruise control. If your vehicle’s cruise control system is running when it starts to rain, turn it off and maintain a safe speed. If you ended up hydroplaning with cruise control running and needed to slow down, you’d have to hit the brakes, which should be avoided (we’ll explain why a little later).

What should I do if my vehicle is hydroplaning?

Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, hydroplaning is unavoidable. If you feel your wheels skidding or sliding, try not to panic. Take these steps to get back on track and avoid a collision:

  1. Take your foot off the gas. When you feel your vehicle hydroplaning, remove your foot from the gas pedal. If you keep your foot on the gas, your vehicle could move suddenly in the wrong direction when your wheels regain their traction. If there’s enough room between your vehicle and the one in front of it, let your car slow down on its own — but if you do need to stop, remember the next step…
  2. Don’t slam on the brakes. When you’re hydroplaning, slamming on the brakes can make your tires lock and cause your vehicle to spin out of control. If you need to stop to avoid a collision and your car has an anti-lock braking system (or ABS), press your foot firmly on the brake pedal (steadily, without slamming it down) and don’t remove it until you come to a stop. If your car has a regular braking system, pump your brake pedal lightly and quickly.
  3. Get a grip. While your foot is off the gas pedal, hold the steering wheel firmly and keep your vehicle pointing straight ahead — steer just enough to keep the car moving forward, without jerking your steering wheel in either direction.

Sometimes an accident can happen, even when you’ve taken all the right steps to prevent it. To learn how your car insurance could come into play in the event of a hydroplaning mishap, reach out to your licensed broker today.