Aquaplaning: How Wet Surfaces Actually Influence Your Driving

  • Author: OPONEO.CO.UK

As the year moves into the summer period, many people will begin changing their winter tyres for summer alternatives. However, there are conditions that can be found throughout the year and, with enough rainfall, aquaplaning is something drivers should be aware of.

Rain is still very much possible in the summer - infact, the Met Office gives an average of 240mm worth of rain during the UK summer season - which is more than enough to cause aquaplaning. Here we will discuss what aquaplaning is, how to drive through it and, perhaps most importantly, what type of summer performance tyres are best equipped to cope with it.

What is aquaplaning?

Aquaplaning, also known as hydroplaning, is a term used for when sufficient amounts of water create a layer between the tyres and the water. This can be a problem when driving, as the water-layer prevents any direct input or control on the road.

A large majority of the feedback you get from your vehicle (in terms of the driver experience, handling and performance) relates to the contact area your tyres have with the road. The faster you drive, for instance, the smaller this contact area becomes - the same is also true for tyres that have worn down to a thinner tread. In theses instances the car feels difficult to control, as if it is gliding on ice, because it cannot respond to your input correctly. Aquaplaning offers this same feeling, as the water layer prevents direct contact with the harder road surface. Even the best car performance tyre can do very little if it’s not making direct contact with the road

Aquaplaning

Even the best performance tyres are hindered by aquaplaning

Normally, when driving in wet conditions, the weight of your vehicle is able to push enough water out of the way. It’s during aquaplaning, however, that the volume of water is too much for your wheels to move aside with force. Instead, it builds up underneath, causing pressure and pushing your vehicle up as a result.

So how much water is needed for aquaplaning to be a risk? There is no one definitive answer as various factors, such as the type of car and the choice of tyres, ensure it is always different. However, at least one study suggests it takes just 2.54 mm (one-tenth of an inch) for 30 feet or more. You also have to consider the environment around you, such as whether or not there is anywhere for the water to run-off to (such as grassland or drainage systems).

How to drive through aquaplaning

If you experience aquaplaning, it is important that you remain calm - most instances of aquaplaning happen for only a few seconds at best, but the wrong response can make things worse.

Whatever you do, do not try to accelerate or brake. Since the tyre’s are not connected to the ground, thanks to the intermittent layer of water, this won’t have the effect you expect. Braking will not be effective, as the tyres can not break against the road, while accelerating will also not work for the same reason. In fact, at increased speeds you’re more likely to encounter aquaplaning, as the higher speed causes the tyre to ride up over the water, rather than forcing the water away.

Next, by releasing the accelerator, you can allow your vehicle to slow naturally. This will give you some control back, as the tyres begin to ‘sink’ to ground level. In moments, contact with the surface should be made, allowing you to gain complete control again.

Choosing the best performance tyres for aquaplaning

As the weather gets better, many drivers will be using summer performance tyres, as these offer numerous benefits for the better road conditions that are expected. Unlike winter tyres, these aren’t designed to cope with the periods of high rain and ice.

That said, some of the leading summer tyres do offer grip on wet surfaces as a major feature. In fact, it’s one of the main categories including in EU tyre labels, so you can readily find a tyre that offers better performance during aquaplaning and similar conditions.

Car tyre

The right choice of performance tyre can make all the difference

As we’ve covered before, the best performance tyres for aquaplaning need to have the right treads or tread pattern. A good tread depth is also sufficient - at least 3 to 4 mm - as this enables the grooves to actually divert or expel water away from the vehicle.

It is also recommended that you choose a directional or asymmetric tread pattern. For the former, the directional design offers liquid expulsion, creating an unparalleled resistance to aquaplaning. By pushing the water out, it’s not building up between the tyre and road surface. For the latter, asymmetric tyres have smaller blocks on the inside, which offers better group for wet surfaces and is suited for cars with bigger engines and more power.

This design is also why it’s important to have a good tread depth. The deeper your tyres are, the more of the tread design there is to provide expulsion. Older tyres will often be worn down, as the tread is one of the first parts to be affected by wear and tear.

For the most part, aquaplaning is not a problem commonly encountered. It is only when sufficient water builds up that it may occur. Yet, due to the high volumes of rain, it is always better to be prepared with the right car tyres.

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