What is hydroplaning and how to prevent it

Wet roads and worn tires are a recipe for a disaster. The risk of hydroplaning grows notably when it rains, and water accumulates on the grooves in the road. Read more about how to avoid hydroplaning and what to do if you find yourself in a tricky situation.

What causes hydroplaning

Hydroplaning, also known as aquaplaning, is primarily caused by poor road conditions and standing water. As the road surface wears out, the grooves or ruts created by car tires get deeper and more pronounced. More water gets collected in the grooves as they get deeper over time, so avoid driving directly on them when there is water on the road. Yet, just a thin layer of water on the road is enough to put you at risk of hydroplaning. 

Hydroplaning occurs when a thin film of water separates the vehicle’s tire from the road. As a result, traction between the tires and the road surface decreases, and the driver is more likely to lose control of the vehicle.

In addition to poor road conditions, speed plays a large role in hydroplaning. The role of tires is to channel water so that they are sufficiently in contact with the road. As driving speed increases, the tires cannot channel water, and it starts to form a thin layer between the treads and the road.

Front angle view of a Mercedes sedan driving along a highway

How to react when hydroplaning occurs

You can do many things to avoid hydroplaning in the first place. Most importantly, avoid standing water and drive mindfully on wet pavement. You should also turn off cruise control when driving on wet roads to prevent hydroplaning in the first place. If, despite your best efforts, your tires lose contact with the road, follow this advice:

  • Stay calm. Keeping a cool head when you lose control of your vehicle might be easier said than done. A panicky driver, however, tends to do just the wrong things in this situation, such as slamming the brakes or making sudden corrective movements, which can worsen the situation.
  • Move your foot from the gas pedal. Slowing down without forceful braking requires taking your foot from the accelerator. Braking all of a sudden can cause your wheels to lock. Instead, apply the brakes gently to regain control of the vehicle. If your vehicle is equipped with anti-lock brakes, those can help you to regain control. (Learn more about braking and stopping distances here.)
  • Avoid sudden movements and braking. Another potential mistake is to overcorrect by steering erratically. Instead, keep a gentle grip on the steering wheel. Keep the steering wheel straight and wait for your tires to regain traction and the vehicle to slow down.
  • Regain control and carry on carefully. Experiencing hydroplaning can be scary, so pull over in a safe spot to calm down if needed. If the poor weather conditions persist, continue your journey at lower speeds and avoid puddles and standing water on the road. Also, remember to keep a good distance from the vehicle in front of you.

How the right tires can prevent hydroplaning

In addition to calm and careful driving, tires have a significant role in preventing hydroplaning. Here’s how your tires influence the risk of hydroplaning:

Tread depth

More tire tread means more traction and control on the road. As the tires wear out, they are no longer effective at channeling water that gets accumulated on the road. You can prevent uneven tire wear by rotating your tires regularly.

Check the tread depth of your tires by placing a penny in the tread with the picture of Abraham Lincoln upside down. If Lincoln’s head remains hidden, at least 2/32 of an inch of tread is still left, and the tires are not too worn to drive with. However, we recommend getting new tires once your old ones have only 4/32 inches of tread left. Tires with a tread depth of 4/32 inches or less are already quite worn and already pose a risk to your safety, for example, when driving in the rain or braking suddenly.

Tire pressure

Under or overinflated tires put you at higher risk of hydroplaning. Improper tire pressure also causes more tire wear, increasing the risk of hydroplaning even further.

Tire pressure guage attached to a tire

Type of tire

Reduced risk of hydroplaning is only one benefit of choosing the right type of tires for the season. Rather than provide better traction on a wet road, using winter tires in the summer can in fact make you more prone to hydroplaning compared to using all season tires during summertime. Meanwhile, all season tires are no match for high-quality winter tires in cold and snowy conditions.

Tire quality

Tire manufacturers design their tires with safety in mind. Premium Nokian Tyres all season tires help you avoid hydroplaning by channeling water on the road and preventing it from forming a layer between the road and the tire’s contact area. Visit your local Nokian Tyres dealer to find safe and comfortable tires for your vehicle.


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