Here in the great Northwest, we are definitely used to the rain. We drive in the rain just about 200 days out of the year, so you’d think we would all be seasoned wet weather drivers. But, even those born and raised here need an occasional refresher on the safest ways to drive in a downpour. Here are our tips:
Slow Down. Posted speed limits are meant for ideal driving conditions― light traffic, dry roads and good visibility. This is rarely the case when it’s pouring down rain, so ease up on the gas pedal and give yourself a bit more time to get where you’re going.
Turn On Your Headlights. As a general rule (and law in many states) turn your headlights on any time you have to use your windshield wipers. All states legally require the use of headlights when visibility is poor.
Replace Your Windshield Wipers. Last year’s wipers won’t clear water from your windshield very well, and could even worsen your view. If you have an older vehicle, you may need to have the entire wiper arm replaced as they can bend over time. This prevents the amount of downward pressure needed to clear the windshield, even with new blades installed.
Beware Of Hydroplaning. When your tires get more traction on the water on the road than on the road itself, your vehicle can begin to slide out of control. All you need is a few millimeters of rain on the road and a speed in excess of 35 mph. When your vehicle hydroplanes, let off the gas pedal slowly and keep the wheel straight until you regain control.
Check Your Tires. Bald tires are incredibly unsafe on wet roadways. When you drive through standing water, the water is displaced by your tire’s treads. When your tire’s don’t have any tread left, the water has no place to go, forcing your vehicle to hydroplane on top of it. Checking to see if you have enough tread is easy. Take a quarter and place it between a few different tread grooves. If you can see the top of George’s head, it’s time to replace your tires.
Know When To Pull Over. When visibility is so poor that you can’t see other vehicles or the painted lines on the road at a safe distance, pull over and wait for the rain to ease up. If you can’t find a protected area, pull off of the road as far as possible (past the end of a guard rail is typically safest), and wait until the storm passes. Keep your headlights on and turn on your flashers to alert other drivers.
Steer Into A Skid. Skidding can be prevented by driving carefully, especially on curves. Brake before entering a curve, then steer and lightly tap your brakes through it. If you start to skid, stay calm, ease your foot off the accelerator, and carefully steer into the skid, pointing the front of your car in the direction you want to go. This will bring the back end of your car in line with the front.
Be Careful On The Interstate. Leave at least three seconds of space between you and the car in front of you. Whenever possible, drive in the fast lane where there are fewer vehicles and less oil deposited on the road. Because of a built-in slope in the road and additional wear, water typically drains towards the slower lanes. Also, avoid lane changes as water builds up between lanes.
Beware Of Oil deposits. Rain is particularly dangerous when it falls after a dry spell, blending with oil and rubber deposits on the road, and creating highly dangerous conditions. This mixture tends to build up around intersections, where cars frequently stop and start.
Respect Deep Water. When approaching a flooded area it’s important not to make assumptions, especially at night when it’s harder to see hazards. If the water is moving and you can’t see the ground through it, your vehicle could be swept away. Stop the car and consider the water level. If you think the water could come up past the bottom of your doors, you should not attempt to drive through it. Look for a detour instead of braving the water. Should you underestimate the water level and become submerged, your engine will stall. At this point, water may enter your engine through the air intake, causing irreparable damage known as “hydro-lock.”
Check Your Brakes. After passing through deep water, test your brakes. Before you get back up to speed, drive very slowly and brake lightly at the same time for a moment or two. This will generate enough heat to dry your pads and rotors. Make sure your brakes are pulling evenly on all wheels before building up speed again.