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Wet-Weather Driving Tips

By Michele Lerner Posted : 08/03/2010

Wet Road SignWhen raindrops hit the windshield, it's your cue to stay alert, slow down and ramp up your safety with the following techniques:

Slow down!

Reducing your speed is important for multiple reasons:

  • Rainy days tend to be darker and sometimes foggy, reducing your ability to see what's ahead.
  • You need more time to stop your car on wet pavement. During the first few hours of a rainstorm, accumulated engine oil and grease are lifted off the road, creating a slick surface until the oil is washed away.
  • Slowing down increases your traction, since more of your tire tread will be touching the pavement.
  • Puddles often build up on the road during a heavy rain. Slowing down in wet weather reduces the chances of skidding or hydroplaning, while making it easier to recover from an unexpected situation.

Keep a safe distance

Never tailgate during a rainstorm. It's not a good driving habit in any weather, but it's particularly risky when roads are wet, since it can take up to three times the distance to stop your car. Be alert for brake lights and turn signals on the cars ahead of you. Make sure you use your own signals, too, so that other drivers can see you and react in time. Stay well back from trucks and buses since the road spray created by their tires can reduce visibility.

Prepare your car for rainy weather

Just as you would replace a leaky raincoat or a blown umbrella heading into damp weather, check your windshield wipers to see if they need replacing and check your tires to be sure they are in good condition. Worn-out wipers will compromise your view through the windshield, and balding tires will greatly reduce your traction. If the tread depth is less than 1/16 of an inch, it's time for new tires. A tire center or your mechanic can check your tread and make sure your tires are properly inflated and balanced.

Help other drivers see you

Check to be sure your headlights, tail lights, brake lights and turn signals are working. Even if you don't need them to see the road, headlights will make your car more noticeable to other drivers.

Know how to handle a skid

No matter how carefully you drive, an occasional skid is inevitable. Don't follow your instinct to slam on the brakes. That could lock your wheels and make the skid worse. Instead, regain control by steering in the direction of the skid while tapping your brakes to gradually reduce your speed. But if your car has antilock brakes (ABS), apply steady, even pressure to the brakes and avoid pumping them.

Know how to handle hydroplaning

If you feel the car starting to hydroplane, or glide on the film of water on the road, don't turn your wheel and don't slam on the brakes, advises Edmunds.com. Instead, take your foot off the gas slowly and steer straight until you feel the car regain its traction. If you have an automatic transmission, slow down by lightly tapping the brakes. If it's a manual transmission, step on the clutch and let the car slow down on its own.

Beware of deep or running water

If you can't tell how deep a puddle is, choose a different route or drive around it. There could be a deep pothole underneath the puddle that can damage your car, or enough water could splash up to hurt your engine. Flowing water can push your car into another car, a tree or other object, or into deeper water. Turn back rather than test your car's limits.

Practice safe driving habits

Driving in the rain can be distracting, even to an experienced driver. When you first get in out of the rain, wipe your shoes on your car mat to make sure they don't slip on the pedals. Use your headlights, windshield wipers and defogger to increase your ability to see. Drivers who are tired or distracted by eating, drinking or talking should pull over and wait for the rain to subside rather than attempt to drive with so many potentially hazardous factors.

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