Why Do I Hydroplane?

I learned about hydroplaning many years ago, long before I was ever in the tire business.
One of my best friends was on a drive. It was a rainy day, and he lacked experience in such driving conditions.  He lost control of his vehicle, and backed into a tree. His fuel tank erupted, trapping a passenger in the back seat. Have you ever heard the question, “why do bad things happen to good people?”  In this case, the answer was hydroplaning.

What does it mean to hydroplane?
There are super fast boats that race in water, correct that, race on water. They go so fast they actually aren’t in the water at all, but are riding on top of the water. Much in the same way, driving on a wet roadway means we are actually riding on the water ― not on the road. This is hydroplaning.

When a vehicle moves along a roadway, it relies on traction to keep it under control. When that roadway becomes wet, a layer of water actually exists between the tires and the roadway resulting in decreased traction. The vehicle now rides on the water, and no longer on the roadway. The amount of traction lost is based on the depth of the water and the vehicle’s sensitivity to that depth. When the tires can no longer disperse the water, the vehicle is hydroplaning.

Now that we know what it means to hydroplane … How can we stop it?
The answer is we can’t. Luckily, we can control it by taking steps to reduce the effect. There are many variables that lead to hydroplaning, speed, tire tread depth, tire inflation, the tire’s aspect ratio, vehicle weight and the tire tread design. The best strategy for preventing hydroplaning is to reduce as many of these variables as possible by:

  • Slowing down.
  • Avoiding sudden moves or braking when possible.
  • Making sure your vehicle is equipped with narrow and unworn tires. When tires are worn, the grooves become shallow and lack the ability to effectively disperse water.

Let a tire professional help keep you and yours safe.
Having been in the tire business for over 30 years, I have seen many wide-eyed drivers after an unexpected hydroplaning ride. If you are unsure about how your tires will perform next time it rains, I recommend stopping by your local Best-One Tire & Service location. Many shops offer a free tire inspection.

By Jim Channell, Best-One® Tire & Service Expert Panelist