December 19, 2010

Car Talk

How to prevent hydroplaning: tips from Tom and Ray

Syndicated columnists

Dear Tom and Ray:

We recently bought a 2005 VW Beetle and love it. Our one concern is its tendency to hydroplane in the rain. Is there any way to install an aftermarket stability control? In 2005, the electronic stability control was not a feature on the Beetle. If not, what can we do to help reduce the tendency to hydroplane, in addition to slowing down? Thanks, guys.
-- Ted

Ray: Slow down some more.

Tom: There's no way to install an aftermarket stability control system, that we know of. Nor would it prevent hydroplaning. But there are several things you can try, Ted.

Ray: Hydroplaning occurs when so much water collects in front of your tires that it creates a wedge of water, and your tires ride up on the wedge of water and temporarily leave the road.

Tom: It's most likely to happen when you drive into a large puddle at a fairly high speed. And, as I'm sure you can attest, Ted, it causes a loss of control. Not only of the car, but sometimes of your bodily functions. It's scary!

Ray: Normally, hydroplaning is prevented by the tread design of your tires. The tread contains grooves that channel the water through the tire, leaving the surface of the tread firmly on the road.

Tom: So one possibility is that you simply don't have enough tread left. If your tires are old and worn down, and the channels aren't deep enough, you won't be able to move water through the tires quickly enough, and you'll hydroplane.

Ray: Hydroplaning also can be caused by worn-out shocks that aren't doing their job of keeping the tires pressed down against the roadway. That makes it easier for water to push the tires off the road surface.

Tom: And if your tires and shocks haven't been changed since 2005, either or both could be the culprit now. So have your mechanic take a look and give you his opinion on both your shocks and your tires.

Ray: For most people who drive at reasonable speeds with good tires and shocks, hydroplaning is a rare event. But if you live in a place that gets regular flash floods, or where there's particularly poor drainage, you might consider buying tires that are specially designed for their resistance to hydroplaning. Two that we know of are the Michelin HydroEdge and the Goodyear Assurance TripleTread.

Tom: And, like we said, slowing down helps a lot, especially when it rains, Ted.

(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)

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