Here comes the rain: Expert tips for wet weather driving
When it comes to driving in the rain, windshield wipers, headlights and brakes will only get you so far. More than 1 million car crashes occur each year as a result of weather conditions, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Most of them have to do with wet roadways, and many of them could likely be prevented by the right set of tires.
As El Niño looms in the West, and the inevitable April showers approach elsewhere, drivers across the United States should turn their attention to the rubber that meets the proverbial — and also very literal — wet road.
Nearly a quarter of all car crashes are caused by weather, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Of those, nearly three quarters can be attributed to wet pavement. When roadways are slick, dangers such as skidding and hydroplaning quickly become concerns. Tires can be the best defense against such hazards, as a healthy, reliable set of tires will give your vehicle the traction it needs to safely stop and corner on slick roadways. Before the tires can do their job, drivers will need to take a few steps of their own.
Before you hit the road, know what to look for on your tires.
Tire tread helps to channel rainwater safely between your tires and the road — but only if there’s enough tread available to do so. When new, tire tread runs 9/32 of an inch deep. Tires are legally worn out with just 2/32 of an inch of tread remaining, but this doesn’t leave enough depth in wet conditions.
Tire Rack, America’s largest independent tire tester and consumer-direct source for tires, makes an even safer recommendation. “When rain is a concern, as it will be for much of the U.S. throughout the spring, drivers should replace their tires when they reach 4/32 of an inch of remaining tread depth,” says Woody Rogers, product information specialist at Tire Rack. “By the time you reach 2/32 of an inch, your tires won’t have enough tread to avoid hydroplaning.”
To make sure that your tread is deep enough to keep your tires firmly rooted on the surface of the road, Tire Rack recommends a simple quarter test. Place a quarter upside down into the grooves on your tires. If some part of George Washington’s head is covered by tread, then you have at least 4/32 of an inch left. “The difference between 2/32 of an inch and 4/32 is admittedly very small,” Rogers says, “but the impact on safety is quite large.”
If hydroplaning occurs, coast carefully.
Hydroplaning happens when water on a roadway and vehicle speed combine to cause one or more of your tires to lift from the surface of the road. When this happens, the vehicle’s steering wheel will likely jerk, and the vehicle could pull abruptly toward the puddle.
“Slowing down in rainy conditions is always a good idea, but it may not be enough for the surprise waiting up ahead. Having the appropriate tread depth is a must for preventing hydroplaning,” Rogers says. “If you do hydroplane, grasp the steering wheel firmly and avoid slamming on the brakes. Braking could end up worsening the skid, causing you to lose even more control of the vehicle.”
Driving in the rain is never fun, but with the right tires, it can at least be safer. When the rubber meets the road, make sure it’s up for the job. Tire Rack offers more expert tips and finds the right tires for your vehicle at www.tirerack.com.