Aquaplaning is one of those things which everyone has heard of, but which few of us can explain properly . But it's also called hydroplaning, and means the loss of grip between tyres and the highway, generally because there is too much water on the surface of the road.
What are the Consequences of Aquaplaning?
Tyres, rather than touching the road, skim over the water and thus lose contact with the road's surface. Steering will feel light, and there will be less road noise since the rubber of the tyres is no longer touching the Tarmac. Braking and steering depend on this friction between the road and tyres, so it will become impossible to go faster, change direction, or slow down.
Generally, it lasts no more than a couple of seconds, over a puddle, for example, and the car automatically rights itself. But for longer stretches of road under a lot of water, the potential loss of control and skidding which result can be genuinely frightening.
What Causes Aquaplaning?
Aquaplaning usually happens, as one would expect, after a heavy rainfall or a water leak somewhere. The roads are generally the most slippery just after a rainfall or other water source affects the road.
There are some precautions that can be taken to avert disaster long before there's even the smallest choice of it happening. It's important, for example to always be wearing the right shoes for driving.
Other preventative measures include:
Try slowing down ahead of the water if there are any flooded areas on the road, and maybe changing down a gear or two.
Ensure you are keeping your tyres pumped up at exactly the right legal pressure. In Australia, this is displayed in all cars built since 1973, in a prominent position such as the glove compartment lid. If one is going to be driving faster than a normal, suburban speed over a long period, or carrying a heavier load than usual, increase the pressure.
Tyre Tread Wear
Ensure the tyre tread is legal. In Australia, this is a 1.55mm tread depth over the face of the tread in contact with the surface of the road. There is also a tyre tread wear indicator bar - use it.
When it Does Happen?
Unfortunately, even with the above measures, there is no absolute guarantee that aquaplaning will never happen to you. Panic is an entirely understandable reaction - however, it will not help resolve the situation. Instead, it's vital to regain control of the vehicle as quickly as possible.
Most drivers ease off the accelerator instinctively, and want to brake instead. But in most cases, this braking is too hard. This just upsets the car's balance, and can cause sliding and skidding.
Instead, do nothing. Keep pressure on the accelerator in the same place, without braking, and don't use the steering wheel.
All these things will help steering come back sooner rather than later. Correct any steering with small movements, simultaneously dipping the clutch. Hard though it may be, stay calm. It won't be many seconds before the worst is over, the aquaplaning finishes and it's possible to be back in full control of the vehicle.