Over the past month or so, El Niño has been sweeping the nation. No, it’s not a hip boyband, although it did make a famous appearance back in 1998. Reactions to this millennial incarnation of El Niño are mixed. Flourishing gardens, wicked surf, and the perfect atmosphere for days-long cuddle sessions have left many Americans singing El Niño’s praises. But drawbacks to this unique weather pattern are serious, especially when it comes to driving. Slick, puddle-filled highways and byways may be an unfamiliar and dangerous challenge to California drivers.
The days of sparkling, sun-drenched daily commutes are temporarily over, and we could all use a friendly reminder of what to do when the roads aren’t exactly in tip-top shape. With traction and visibility diminished, uneven terrain, and weather-inexperienced drivers in the majority, there are significantly more factors to note when getting behind the wheel these days. Here is the rain-down rundown on how to prepare for the drive and what measures you can take to navigate any slippery situations that may arise.
The basic rules for driving in the rain are: be prepared, be cautious, and be calm. Remember that grip is reduced during braking, turning, and accelerating. Drive accordingly.
- Make sure your windshield wipers work
- Change your wiper blades if necessary
- Check your tire tread
- Check your tire pressure
- Turn on your headlights. It’s the law!
- Turn on your defrosters
When in doubt, try coasting (meaning not applying the brakes OR gas). Coasting is your friend in rainy driving. Driving on the highway and headed toward what looks like a large puddle? Coast. See a lot of people slowing down ahead, but not at a pace that warrants braking? Coast. Going around a sharp turn? Coast. In the rain, it’s important to do one thing at a time. Brake, then turn. Don’t try to do both in excess at the same time, as this can overwhelm the tires when grip is already compromised by the wet road surface. Jamming your foot on the brakes and ripping the wheel to one side is a recipe for a crash.
Smoothness Is Key
When driving in the rain, smoothness is key. Slamming on the brakes, flooring the throttle pedal, and jerky steering inputs are to be avoided. Rather than slamming on the brake pedal, try to apply the pedal quickly, but smoothly. Some driving instructors suggest pretending there is an egg between your foot and the brake pedal. You want to apply the brakes quickly, but in a way that doesn’t break the egg. When turning, you’ll have the best results by turning the wheel smoothly. Jerking the wheel can cause the tires to lose traction–something that is important to avoid in wet conditions when levels of traction are already reduced.
Both Hands On The wheel
Driving in the rain requires your full attention. Keep both hands on the wheel to give you as much control as possible at all times. This isn’t the time to look cool, text your best friend, or eat your burrito.
Hydroplaning is when a car with enough speed goes over a deep enough puddle that it actually skates across the top of the water. It may sound like fun, but it’s mostly terrifying: the loss of traction can make the car skid to one side or the other, and the control inputs–you know, brakes, steering–often don’t work.
If your car begins hydroplaning, don’t panic. Easier said than done, right? But if you can avoid screaming and flailing your arms, you’ll be more likely to regain control of the car. Calmly ease your foot off of the accelerator, apply the brakes gently if absolutely necessary, keep the steering wheel straight, and wait to regain traction.
Drive The Speed Limit, Avoid Deep Water
The best way to avoid hydroplaning is to avoid large puddles of standing water. It’s also important to drive the speed limit, or below in certain situations. Increased speeds increase the chances of hydroplaning. That big puddle ain’t no thing at 5mph, but at 30mph? Hydroplane city!
AWD? Good for you! But what kind of tires do you have?
Rubber, tires, tyres, whatever you call them–they are absolutely critical for driving. And also for driving in the rain! It’s important to drive with tires that have proper tread depth and rain channeling grooves. 10/32” tread depth is ideal for rain driving, 2/32”, not so much. Some tire models are better than others at channeling water, and it’s important to do your research about which tires are best in the rain. Tirerack.com is a good source for this information. Tires that are bald, too wide, or underinflated will be more likely to hydroplane. It’s also worth noting that lighter cars will hydroplane more frequently than heavier cars. One more thing: just because your tires are “All Season” doesn’t mean they perform well in the rain. In fact, All Season tires are often a compromise between wet, dry, and snow capability. The best performing tires in wet weather are often summer tires. So check your tires–is the tread depth adequate, are they under inflated, do they have a good rating in the rain?
Other Driving Tips
Don’t use cruise control. You want to be totally in control of how much gas or brakes the car is getting–you’re the one who can see the giant puddle ahead of you. Don’t text and drive. Like, really. Don’t check to see if your tweet was retweeted. Don’t tweet that original tweet! We know people are always telling you to get off your phone while driving, but it is paramount when driving in heavy rain, on slick roads, or through fog. If you really need to order Indian food, please pull over.
And remember, whether you’re late to a meeting or waiting for an important email, there is nothing more important than your safety.