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What is Hydroplaning? (And How Tires Can Prevent It)

Posted by Agota Szabo on Aug 15th 2023

What is Hydroplaning? (And How Tires Can Prevent It)

What is Hydroplaning? (And How Tires Can Prevent It)

Posted by Agota Szabo at Priority Tire on Aug 15th 2023

Car driving on a wet road

Hydroplaning is an important aspect of everyday driving all drivers must be aware of! It does not just happen on the race track. Hydroplaning, meaning the loss of control over the vehicle on wet roads, is dangerous. There is no question about it.

Yet, when drivers are prepared for it, things can go smoother. Avoiding hydroplaning can be helped by driving habits, tire maintenance, and tire conditions, as they greatly affect the driver's control over the vehicle.

So, what is hydroplaning, what does hydroplaning involve, and how does it affect driving safety? We will answer everything you need to know.


Hydroplaning, or aquaplaning, is a dangerous road hazard that happens on wet roads. In simple terms, hydroplaning may occur when your vehicle loses contact with the pavement, as standing water gets between the tire and the road surface.

In other words, hydroplaning means when a vehicle’s tires lose contact with the road and ride on top of a film of water. Furthermore, hydroplaning can occur at speeds as low as 35 mph. It causes problems on rainy road surfaces since when it rains the roads are most slippery.

It is best described when there is a thin sheet of water between your tires and the road, which cuts off the tire's surface contact. This ruins the vehicle's cornering, stopping, and accelerating, and it can lead to total loss of control. As a result, hydroplaning affects your ability to steer and brake.

How to Avoid Traction Loss From Hydroplaning Fast Facts:

  • Regularly check the inflation levels of the four tires
  • Change tires when they reach the legal tread depth limit
  • Reduce your driving speed on rainy roads to prepare for worse traction

What Is the Meaning of Hydroplaning?

Another way to phrase this question is "What is it called when your car slides on water?". Hydroplaning means that the vehicle is skidding on wet roads. During the drive, the vehicle's tires are not able to keep up with dispersing water and slush from below their footprints. This can be for multiple reasons.


Hydroplaning occurs when tires ride on a thin film of water instead of the road. Therefore, they do not necessarily damage the car as long as it does not result in an accident.

A typical passenger car can start to hydroplane at speeds as low as 35 mph, which does not sound like much. However, as other factors also contribute to hydroplaning, even slow driving can cause accidents. These can range from slightly damaging the car to fatal incidents, depending on the severity.

Yet, the risk of hydroplaning can be reduced by driving safely when you are driving in an area where rain has pooled on the road.


Hydroplaning occurs when your tires lose contact with the road surface. This is caused by water trapped on the road. Driving on water diminishes their wet traction, causing a loss of control over the vehicle. Water on the roadway causes more skidding than snow on the roadway, which means that there is a heightened chance of the car skidding in rain.

Car driving through water

However, hydroplaning is usually caused by a combination of different factors that work together to cause problems. While water is the first ingredient for this disaster, driving havings, tread depth, and vehicle weight also contribute.

Water Depth on the Road

Heavy rains cause water build-up on roads. A car can hydroplane in as little as 1/12" of water. Wet roads are dangerous, but their danger levels will depend on the intensity of the rainfall, the type of road surface, and how good drainage is on these roads.

However, even good tires for rain can fail in the worst weather conditions and cause hydroplaning. Driving through water may cause the vehicle to hydroplane, but that chance increases with the water's depth. In heavy rain, your tires can ride on only water, which causes more problems.

Driving Speed

The tread pattern on tires works to channel water safely through the footprint, maintaining their surface contact throughout the drive. The problem arises when the tire has no time to finish this task. A vehicle traveling at excessive speed on wet or slick roads heightens the risk of aquaplaning. Additionally, on wet roads the chance of hydroplaning increases with the increase of speed.

So, at what speed does hydroplaning occur? Hydroplaning speed essentially starts at 35 mph, depending on the weather conditions. Wet braking is longer by definition, but with good rain tires, your safety can be ensured. Yet, careful and slower driving is necessary. On wet roads, you should reduce your speed by 5-10 mph to ensure your safety.

Tread Depth

While the legal tread depth is 2/32", worn tires will not be able to save you from aquaplaning. But, how do tire treads increase friction on wet roads?

The tread on a tire helps to keep traction, which means control and the ability to stop on a wet surface. Tires use their deep grooves to disperse water from below the footprint. As a result, they maintain road contact and make sure wet roads result in secure performance.

The problem starts when the tread is worn. No matter how good your rain tires are, the risk of hydroplaning is higher when tires' tread depth is missing and they won't offer the necessary traction. As some road surfaces are more slippery than others when wet, this easily results in water planning. Hydroplaning can occur if tires have less than 1/16 of tread (2/32").

Tread depth vs. hydroplaning

The Weight of Your Vehicle

When a vehicle is hydroplaning the weight it holds can greatly affect its performance. Heavier vehicles have an advantage over smaller ones in such situations. Depending on the vehicle weight placed on the tires, they will disperse water differently.

Therefore, heavier vehicles are less likely to hydroplane. On the other hand, a car slides in rain more easily if it is lighter. However, this does not mean it is impossible, just that they are a bit safer than lighter cars.

What to Do when Hydroplaning?

Of course, the best would be to avoid hydroplaning each and every time. Yet, that is not the reality we live in. The next best this is to be prepared and know what to do when your vehicle begins to aquaplane. But, what to do if you hydroplane?

Most importantly, if you find yourself hydroplaning, do NOT follow the advice "When hydroplaning begins, press down on the accelerator and brake hard". This will cause the vehicle to spin and can easily lead to an accident.

What Should You Do When You Hydroplane?

  • If it feels like your tires have lost contact with the surface of the road, you should immediately take your foot off the gas pedal and depress the clutch.
  • Make sure the steering wheel is not moved and keep it steady.
  • Do not step on the brakes suddenly!
  • As long as there is no danger of collision, slowly guide the vehicle until it regains traction and contact with the road.
  • On the other hand, when there is a danger of an accident occurring and if your vehicle begins to skid you should engage the emergency brake right away. When hydroplaning occurs, the rear tires often still have enough road grip to decrease the vehicle's speed.
  • When the vehicle regains traction, reduce your speed and continue driving.
How Should You Slow Down if You Experience Hydroplaning?

A driver can lose control of a vehicle in just a few inches of water. Trying to slow down and stop the car sliding on water should be the driver's top priority. In such situations, step off the gas pedal and depress the clutch. This will help decrease the vehicle's speed. Stepping on the brakes will not help, it will just increase the possibility of an accident.

How to Prevent Hydroplaning?

There are a few simple ways you can avoid hydroplaning even in severe weather conditions. In order to avoid hydroplaning drivers should practice proper tire maintenance is one of them:

  • Check inflation levels of all four tires regularly
  • Inspect the tread and tread depth often
  • Change worn-out tires when they reach 2/32" tread depth

However, let's also talk about cases when you are driving your vehicle and it begins to rain heavily. What steps can you take to avoid hydroplaning?

These are some quick hydroplaning safety tips:

  • Reduce your driving speed
  • Avoid sudden or hard braking
  • Try to avoid puddles and standing water on the road
  • On multi-lane roads, avoid the outer lane
  • When following other cars, stay within existing tire lanes
  • Turn on your headlights to see puddles better
  • Turn off the cruise control in the rain

This is What You Shouldn't Do while Hydroplaning

Tires can easily lose traction in wet weather conditions. When that happens there is also a list of things you should not do, in order to ensure your driving safety.

So, when you are driving on a dry road, and it begins to rain, you should NOT do the following:

Stepping on the Brakes

Wet braking is tricky, and it becomes even more so when the vehicle starts to hydroplane. Do not step on the brakes suddenly. Stoping the tires from rolling during aquaplaning will just cause the vehicle to start to spin.

In a typical passenger car, partial hydroplaning can begin at speeds as low as 35 mph. But, when a vehicle loses traction because it is riding on water on the road, the rear tires usually still have some traction. If you hit the brakes and stop the front tires from rolling, the rear tires will just cause the car to skid.

If you must brake to prevent an accident or collision, use the emergency brakes. This way, the front tires can find traction on their own without disruption, while the rear tires and brakes will slow the vehicle down.


Wet braking can be tricky, but it is an even bigger issue when the brakes are wet. This weakens the vehicle's braking power, as this power does not apply evenly. This can easily lead to wheel lockups, the vehicle pulling to one side, or loss of control over trailers, ruining driving safety.

hydroplaned car after an accident

Turning the Steering Wheel

Keep the steering wheel steady when aquaplaning starts. Again, sudden movements of the steering wheel can cause the vehicle to start spinning since in a heavy rain your tires have no contact with the road surface. Instead, have a firm hold on it and gently steer the vehicle in the direction you wish to go in.

Furthermore, do not let go of the steering wheel! In this case, Jesus should not take the wheel... unless you want to meet him.

Letting Panic Take Over

Panicking is one of the worst things you can do. Losing control of your senses and self-control will cause you to react suddenly. Abrupt movements (especially with the steering wheel and braking) will cause you to lose control of the vehicle. Try to stay as calm as you can to ensure your driving safety.

So, what to do if your car is hydroplaning? Try to stay as calm as you can to ensure your driving safety.

The Importance of Driving on Good Tires

You might do everything correctly to avoid hydroplaning, and your tires will still fail you. Sadly, some tires are just not meant for wet roads. Your tires are not touching the road when your car is hydroplaning, which is why it is important to have good "water tires".

Additionally, the condition of the tires you have mounted on your vehicle will also greatly affect driving safety levels, especially in rainy conditions. Tire tread depth, inflation levels, and footprint conditions will influence how the tire set acts in rain.

Good tires do not have to break your wallet. At Priority Tire, you can easily find cheap tires or big-brand tires for less that ensure your driving safety. 

Keep Your Tire Pressure in Check

Tire inflation is important. Under and overinflated tires are unable to perform at their best capability. Tires with wider footprints hydroplane more, however, that is not a good enough reason to overinflate your tires.

Keep the tires at the recommended psi levels. This will ensure that their traction, road contact, and performance are up to par. Check tire pressure levels frequently and adjust them when needed. This will guarantee the tires are performing as they should, even on wet roads, avoiding situations of your car sliding in rain.

Tread Depth is a Crucial Factor for Wet Roads

State laws govern the conditions tires mounted on a vehicle should be in. They need to feature adequate tread patterns to provide road grip and traction, as well as hydroplaning resistance, to ensure their performance.

Why is there an increased risk of hydroplaning on pavement during rainy weather? Rainy road driving at highway speeds can be dangerous and the pooled water cuts off the tires' contact with the road. Therefore, vehicles need tires that are able to generate traction, expel water, and conquer versatile road types easily. Steering should not be a problem.

However, when the tread pattern fails for whatever reason, the tire will lose traction and road contact. In wet conditions, this easily leads to hydroplaning. In other words, when you hydroplane car safety is compromised.

The Minimum Tread Depth for Safe Driving

The minimum required tread depth on tires is 2/32" in most states. At this point, the tires are considered to be worn out and such tires should not be used on your vehicle. But, why?

Tires use their tread pattern and depth to provide traction and hydroplaning resistance. When that tread wears away, they are no longer able to generate the same number of biting edges. What does this mean for hydroplaning?

New tires, with full tread, channel about 30 liters of water through their footprint every second, at 50 mph. Yet, their tread wears out with regular usage, which diminishes their performance. When this happens, their water-dispersing ability is also ruined.

The Relationship between Tread Depth and Braking Performance

The risk of hydroplaning increases the lower the tread depth is. Additionally, it also weakens the tires' braking power. Therefore, there is a clear correlation between the tire's tread and braking ability.

Tires with 2/32" of tread left on them are unable to provide the necessary friction. Not only wet braking will be compromised, but it will probably be most prominent in wet and winter conditions.

Compared to worn-out tires, ones with 4/32" of tread will perform greatly better. While they will also have lengthened braking distances compared to new tires, this tread depth is still adequate for safe braking performance.

Braking distance vs. tread depth


How much time your car takes to come to a full stop greatly depends on the speed it is being driven and the outside weather conditions. The faster a vehicle goes, the longer its braking distance will be. For example, if a vehicle is going at 60 mph, it will need about 420 feet to stop completely.

At What Speed Does an Average Vehicle Begin to Hydroplane?

A vehicle can start hydroplaning even at 35 mph. When your vehicle loses contact with the pavement and rides on a thin layer of water it is at risk of an accident. Faster speeds and even slightly reckless driving in wet conditions can further increase the possibility of your loss of control over the car.

How to Choose the Best Tires for Wet Roads?

Losing control over the vehicle is never fun, but purchasing the correct tires will greatly increase your chances of hydroplaning resistance. It is not always true that wet roads result is accidents.

By mounting tires that can handle wet weather conditions, you minimize the possibility of hydroplaning. But, what should you look for?

The best option would be to get all season or winter tires. These sport circumferential grooves and detailed sipe patterns handle wet roads well. Yet, for simple everyday driving, even some summer tires would suffice.

However, careful driving and regular tire maintenance are still crucial!

Touring Tires

While touring tires are designed for comfort, they still have to perform in various weather conditions. Yet, these models feature sipes, grooves, and slots that are capable of eliminating water and slush from the footprint.

Performance Tires

Performance tires are manufactured for summer and all season applications. They are control-oriented, as they provide more precise handling and braking capabilities. Stronger braking, even in wet conditions, will increase driving safety levels.


Are Wider Tires Better in Rain?

Yes, wider tires are better on rainy road surfaces. They feature wide grooves and sipes which can channel water and slush from the footprint. This makes sure that a vehicle traveling on wet or slick roads will not fall victim to hydroplaning.

How Long Can You Drive on Bald Tires?

Bald tires are not safe to be used and they should be changed as soon as possible. The tread depth helps a tire have the proper traction. The lack of tread ruins the tire's traction, handling, and comfort, while also making the tire more prone to tire failure. This can have fatal consequences.

How Many Inches of Water Can Cause Hydroplaning?

A vehicle can hydroplane in as little as 1/12" (one-twelfth of an inch) of water. While it is true that deeper water will result in hydroplaning more easily, other factors contributing to the problem will cause hydroplaning.

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