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Driving in Wet Weather

thAs winter approaches we are going to experience driving in rainy conditions. When the roads get wet the water on the asphalt causes tires to lose their traction. Also the first rain of the season causes oils on the road to come to the surface which add to unsafe driving conditions. During the dry months, engine oil and grease build up on roads and when they mix with the water from a rainfall it makes the road extremely slippery. Continue rainfall eventually washes the oil away, but in the beginning it can be dangerous.

Rain also reduces a driver’s awareness; the ability to see clearly through the rain is more difficult. Headlights, windshield, and the reflections on the wet road will also decrease visibility. With this in mind extra care should be used to prevent skidding. While most people know to slow down, there are many other helpful tips to keep you safe.

Allow for more travel time: You should plan on driving slower when the roads are wet, but keep in mind that other people are also going to driving at a lesser speed than normal. Another thing to think about is the possibility that your normal route could be flooded or jammed. Allot time to make any necessary adjustments to your travel itinerary so that you are not rushed.

Brake earlier and use less force: This habit not only increases the stopping distance between you and the car in front, but also lets the driver behind you that you are slowing down. Make sure that you use your turn signals so that other drivers know what you are intending to do. Take turns at a slower speed to make sure you maintain control. Track the car ahead of you by letting them pave a clear path through the water and alerting you to any dangers. Also, give a truck or bus some extra distance. The tires are extra large and can create a large enough spray to block your vision completely.

Don’t us cruise control: When using cruise control drivers tend to be less attentive and normally take their foot away from the pedals. This can reduce a driver’s reaction time. Another factor is if your car does hydroplane, there is a possibility that the cruise control can accelerate causing more of a risk.

Use extra caution with puddles: If you see a large puddle, drive around it or choose a different route. Water splashing up into your car’s engine can cause damage to its internal electric system. Splashing water into your engine and attempting to cross running water can also cause your engine to stall or having your vehicle being pushed sideways, and forcing you to abandon your car. Also, a pothole can be hidden under the water which can damage a wheel or knock out your suspension system out of alignment. The best practice is if you can’t tell how deep the water is, try and avoid it. Another bit of advice, most roads are crowned in the middle, which causes the water to run down to the sides. If possible, try to drive more in the middle of the road to avoid large puddles. If you must drive through a puddle tap your brake pedal lightly to dry off some of the water on your rotors.

 Turn on your headlights: even if it is sprinkling lightly visibility is less. Turning on your headlights will help you see the road and help other drivers see you. Make sure that you do not use your high beams in the rain or fog, it will actually make your view more difficult because the falling water droplet with cause a reflection back at you.

Watch for pedestrians: Pedestrians can become distracted while trying to manage an umbrella or their rain coat. Raindrops tend to deaden sound, this means that the usual sounds that measure car distances can be obscured. If it is raining too hard for you to see the road ahead of you it is best to pull over to the side of the road until it lets up.

Hydroplaning happens: Hydroplaning is when the water in front of your tires builds up faster than what your car’s weight can push it away. This will cause your car to rise up on a layer of water that is between your tires and the road. If you start to hydroplane don’t slam onto your brakes or turn your wheel. This can cause you to spin into a skid. Release the gas slowly and steer straight until the car regains its traction. If you must brake, tap the brake gently, (if you have antilock brakes you can put your foot firmly on the brake, this system will automatically tap the brakes for you).

Check the condition of your tires and brakes: Check your brakes, tire pressure, and tire tread depth regularly. A tire that is worn or damaged will most likely hydroplane on wet roads.  Also a tire that is improperly inflated can cause your car to slide on wet roads. Brakes that are sticky, tend to grab, or are worn down this can reduce the effectiveness of your cars ability to stop or maintain traction.

Check your shock absorbers and front end alignment: Worn shock absorbers will cause our car to move around a lot. If your shock absorbers are bad your car will not follow the form of the roadway properly. Your car will feel unsteady and sometimes a little bouncy. This can great impair your control on wet roads. If your front end alignment is off it will cause your car to pull to one side while driving. Overcorrecting the pull can cause your car to skid.

Check your wipers: Check to see if your wipers are working properly and are in good condition. Brittle or damaged blades can cause a streaky windshield you can barely see out of. If you live in an area that has extreme weather and temperature conditions or somewhere that has excessive rain your blades can wear out faster. Some manufacturers recommend that you change your wiper blades twice a year, in the spring and in the fall; your blades will be ready if you get caught in a downpour.

Freezing rain and snow: Carry snow chains, a supply of salt, sand, or kitty litter (the non-clumping kind). If you are stuck and spinning your wheels on a patch of ice place, some of the above material around the tires to help gain some traction. Give the car as little gas as possible; stomping on the gas will only cause the traction material to fly away.

 Emergency Kit: Roadside emergencies can happen any time, and it doesn’t matter is your car is old or new. Common roadside problems range from running out of gas, getting a flat tire, to a mechanical breakdown. Best case scenario it is just the matter of time out of your day, but sometimes your safety can be an issue. Having a basic emergency kit in your car can increase your safety, get you back on the road faster, and help reduce your stress. A basic emergency kit should help you with simple problems, alert other drivers, and get you help if needed. Here are some helpful suggestions:

Cellular Phone-Make sure that the battery is fully charged and remember if you have to call 911 your location and phone number might not be available to the emergency operator. Give the operator your phone number and the best description of location. If you see a “no service” message on your phone try to walk to the side of the road for a better reception.

First-aid Kit-Choose a kit that can handle not only small cuts and burns, but also one that can handle a major gash. Make sure you know what everything is used for; some ointments are for burns only while others handle cuts and scrapes.

Fire Extinguisher-the cause of a car fire can be from an electrical shortage to leaking oil. If this happens you should get as far away from the fire as possible. If a small flame erupts a fire extinguisher can quickly put it out. Fire extinguisher come in a variety of sizes, there are even models that fit under the passenger seat. It is recommended carrying one that is labeled 1A10BC or 2A10BC.

Warning lights, hazard triangles, or flares-If your vehicle is stuck on the side of the road it is important that you let other drivers know, especially if it is dark. Buy battery operated warning lights that can be placed away from the vehicle so others know about you as soon as possible. Reflective hazard signs and flares are also effective and don’t need batteries.

Jack and Lug Wrench-Almost all vehicles come with these items, but it is best that you know where they are and how to use them. Refer to your owner’s manual for instructions and it wouldn’t hurt to use them once so you know exactly what to do. Being on a dark street is not a good time to try and figure them out.

Flashlight-This is critical if you break down at night. Pick one that is waterproof and is bright. A flashlight with a magnet or a mounting stand can free up your hands.

Pen and a pad of paper-Having a small pen and pad kit in your emergency kit can help you jot down information that you need or even leaving a note on your windshield.

Jumper cables- These are easy to use if you have a second car or a portable battery booster. Check your owner’s manual for instructions.