What To Do If Your Car Starts Hydroplaning

Stay calm, reduce speed, and check your tires as soon as you can.

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Since a wet road is more slippery than a dry one, it presents the risk of hydroplaning. Hydroplaning occurs when a car skids on a wet surface because a film of water causes its tires to lose traction. It can happen when your vehicle's tire hits a patch of standing water (such as a puddle) or a steady stream flowing across the pavement.

If you use worn tires or travel at high speed, a layer of water can form between the tread and the asphalt effectively breaking traction with the road and causing it to lose steering response or slide. You might even feel the steering wheel get "lighter" in deeper puddles as your tires float just above the road. You’re experiencing traction loss, the inability of the tire tread to channel away water quickly enough to maintain contact with the road surface. It only takes 1/10th of an inch of water sitting on the road to trigger the potential for hydroplaning.

Hydroplaning might only last a second or two—depending on driving conditions and the state of your tires—but it can be disconcerting nonetheless. Even a moment of hydroplaning could lead to a loss of vehicle control.

Here are some tips on what to do if your car starts hydroplaning so you can get out of the situation as safely and quickly as possible.

Slow down, stay steady

Hydroplaning is a sure sign that you are either driving too fast for the state of the road, your tires, or both. The most effective way to counter hydroplaning is by reducing the speed of your vehicle as much as possible until you regain steady traction.

At the same time, it's crucial not to overreact to the situation and hit the brakes too hard, as that will further destabilize your car. Instead, once you detect that your vehicle is starting to skid along wet pavement, it's time to lift your foot off the gas and gradually begin to slow down. If you are driving a modern automobile with anti-lock brakes, you can gently press the brake pedal—using steady pressure—to help reduce speed.

Steer straight and firmly

You might notice that the steering wheel starts moving on its own when encountering deeper water. It's essential to maintain your grip on the wheel and keep it pointed as straight as possible until you're traveling slowly enough for your tires to grip the road once again.

Inspect your tires

If you discover that your vehicle is hydroplaning regularly, it's time to inspect your tires. Ensure that you have inflated them to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure, and verify that the tread depth is greater than 4/32 of an inch using a tire gauge. With a shallower tread depth, a tire won’t perform optimally in wet conditions. If you're unsure whether your tires are safe to drive when wet, have them checked by a professional mechanic.

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Benjamin Hunting
Benjamin Hunting is a writer and podcast host who contributes to a number of newspapers, automotive magazines, and online publications. More than a decade into his career, he enjoys keeping the shiny side up during track days and always has one too many classic vehicle projects partially disassembled in his garage at any given time. Remember, if it's not leaking, it's probably empty.