In motorsports, they say the rain separates the men from the boys. Indeed, driving in the rain is more difficult than if the roads were dry. For one, your vision is impaired. Rain shortens the distance you can see ahead, making your reaction times shorter, and accidents more likely.
Driving in the rain heightens your other senses too. With less visual cues to help in your driving, your senses of hearing and touch take center stage to assist you make sense of the hazardous environment. That is why driving in the rain demands your full concentration.
The incessant rains we are experiencing now are not once in a lifetime occurrences that catch us by surprise. This happens almost every year. And being prepared for it is the easiest way to lessen the impact of inclement weather on our lives. Here are some points to ponder on in the next few days as we continue to experience heavy rains during our drives.
Prepare your car
Having your car in tip-top shape is a surefire way of making sure you get to your destination without hassle. A car that conks out in inclement weather is avoidable especially if your car is properly maintained.
Make sure you have brand new wipers
We often neglect our car’s wipers until the actual time we really need them. The rubber of your wiper blades can become brittle over time because of the heat of the sun as it lays on the car’s windshield. Changing them just before the rainy season starts will ensure better vision on the road when the rains do come. If you are seeing streaks on your car’s windshield now as the wipers pass over it, then it’s time to get a new pair.
Have your windows buffed
Build up of oil and dried up watermarks can make it difficult for you to see in the rain as the water tends to create maps and streaks on the windows. This is even true with brand new wipers installed. Best to schedule a window detailing service soon if visibility remains a problem despite new wipers. And it is not just the windshield that should get this treatment, but all other windows around the car as well. Make sure to apply rain repellent on your windows as well as they will cause rain water to bead and be blown upwards as you move forward.
Measure your tire tread depth
The more worn your tires are, the less amount of water they can displace. If the grooves on your tires have disappeared, your vehicle is no better than a rolling death trap waiting to happen. This is the best time to buy a brand new set of rubber.
Check that all lights are working
Visibility in the rain is crucial. With less than ideal conditions to clearly see the road and to be clearly seen, your car’s lights will function as a beacon to others that will show your position on the road. Your headlights not only work to illuminate the road ahead, but also to let you be seen further by other motorists driving around you.
Now that the pre-fight checks are done with your car, here is what you should do while in the unavoidable circumstance of driving in the rain.
Turn your headlights on the moment the rain starts falling
As mentioned earlier, your car’s lights can help improve your visibility as well as let you be seen on the road. But, do not turn on your car’s hazard lights while driving. This can confuse other drivers as to the direction you intend to go. Hazard lights are meant to be used only while parked and in an emergency. Your car’s driving lights should be enough for following cars to see your position while driving in the rain.
Whether it’s light rain or a heavy downpour, it is always more prudent to drive at a slower speed. Because of oil and dirt that seeps to the surface of the road at the onset of rainfall, there will be less grip between your tires and the car. Water and oil can act as lubricants that make your tires lose contact with the road. This early phase of rain is actually more dangerous as the loss of grip can catch you by surprise.
Standing water on the road that has built up over time after a long downpour can likewise lessen the amount of friction on your tires. The amount of friction determines your tires’ grip and how your car will perform when you steer, brake and accelerate. Without this contact or friction, you can lose control of your car.
Driving over puddles, especially while your front wheels are turned, can lessen the amount of grip of the tires. They become overworked as they now have to provide traction, drive away water and handle turning at the same time.
Driving straight over standing water at speed can also make your car loose as the tires need to displace the water on the road for friction to happen. Too much water on the road and your tires may not be able to do their job properly.
Dealing with hydroplaning
When there is more water on the road than your car’s tires can displace, hydroplaning, or skidding and sliding over a wet surface, occurs. In case you find yourself in this situation you should not panic. Do not brake, accelerate, or turn the wheel suddenly.
If you are driving a car with traction control and ABS, keep stepping lightly on the accelerator while looking for an open space you would want to have your car move to. Keep your eyes on that open space all the time even while the vehicle is turning, so that your hands will steer towards the direction you are looking at. If you are driving a car without traction control and ABS, gently back off the accelerator instead while looking and steering where you want to go.
Be smoother with your controls
Turning the wheel and stepping on the accelerator or brake pedals should be done with even more finesse when it rains. Because of the slippery nature of wet roads, every movement is magnified. Slow and deliberate steering and gentle application of the brakes can make your ride more predictable. This avoids loss of control caused by over reaction behind the wheel.
Keep distance from trucks and buses
Because of their size, the tires of trucks and buses displace more water than normal cars. Driving alongside them in the rain can cause momentary loss of visibility as the water sprayed up by truck tires can completely cover your car’s windshield.
Moreover, because of the spray of rainwater, it will be more difficult for truck and bus drivers to see your car beside them. So it is best to keep a wide gap between yourself and these vehicles.
This also applies to the distance with cars ahead of you. Due to lesser friction on a wet road, your braking distance will also become longer. Avoid tailgating and create at least a 3-second gap between your car and the vehicle ahead to give you and your car time to react and slow down.
Slow down when driving on a flooded road
First of all, know if you really have to cross a flooded street. Flood waters on a road can cover up potholes or open manholes which can damage your vehicle if driven on directly at speed. And they hardly do any good to your car.
Second, the water displaced by your car and tires can spray into your car’s engine bay or electronics and cause the car to stall.
Third, that same water can spray onto oncoming vehicles and prevent them from seeing the road or worse, cause their vehicle to stall.
Fourth, driving into a flood lessens the effectiveness of your brakes. That is why you have to step lightly on the brake pedal as soon as you clear a flood to dry the brake pads or shoes up and give you back proper braking force.
And finally, flood waters that are too deep can lift your car up from the road. And if there is a current, it can actually carry your car away with you as a helpless passenger.
The moment you get to your destination, it would be best to visually inspect your car for any possible issues brought about by driving in the rain. Plastic bags can clog your radiator vents, your number plates can go missing, or your car’s lights might have gotten wet and damaged. Check also if water has made its way inside your car’s cabin. A quick pat on the carpet can help determine this. Inspect other areas of the car like the trunk for water seepage as well.
As we endure the wet weather that is upon us, always remember to be extra cautious whenever you are behind the wheel when driving in the rain. Think twice if you really need to do the drive as the risks and hassles driving in inclement weather may not necessarily be worth it in the end.
Motoring and motorsports are two of Mikko’s greatest passions. Combining more than twenty years of professional automotive photography and videography experience with years of touring car racing competition, and a deep understanding of the car industry, from both the manufacturers’ and consumers’ points of view, have given him a unique and insightful perspective in the motoring beat.