Driving Your 4x4 in Wet Conditions
Spring is upon us and so are the spring rain showers that will bring beautiful flowers. These rain showers also bring the potential for hazardous driving.
If you have your vehicle in four wheel drive you have the advantage that all four wheels are in drive mode. Meaning, all four wheels are receiving power from the engine at the same time.
Two wheel drive vehicles have only either the front two tires or the rear two tires in drive mode. In these vehicles, when you loose traction on one of the drive tires, there is only one other tire engaged. In a four wheel drive vehicle, loosing traction on one tire still leaves three other tires engaged.
When it rains, particularly when it first starts raining, the oil that has accumulated on the roadway is drawn up to the surface and makes the roads slick. After it has been raining for awhile and the oil has been washed away, this should be less of a hazard. But now puddles of water are a greater risk. In wet conditions the four wheel drive vehicle will be less likely to slide if one wheel catches an oil slick or puddle than a two wheel drive vehicle.
Hydroplaning occurs when your tires are no longer touching the road. A layer of water (or oil, or other liquid) is actually in between the tires and the road. This causes the vehicle to slide over the roadway. Without traction between your tires and the road, you do not have steering control and will not until the vehicle is no longer in the water and can regain traction.
The best way to handle this is to hold the steering wheel straight and release the gas pedal. Do not apply the brakes as this may cause the vehicle to turn. If the vehicle is already turning, steer into the direction of the turn. So, if you are turning or sliding to the right, turn the steering wheel to the right. How far the vehicle is turning determines how far to turn the steering wheel. A minor vehicle turn requires a minor steering turn and vise versa.
Most likely the vehicle will begin to over-compensate and you will have to make adjustments in the other direction also. Once, I was driving on the beltway in a large city and the car I was driving hydroplaned. The car turned 360 degrees but using these techniques I was able to recover from the hydroplane and pull to the shoulder. Thankfully no one was directly behind me. Don’t panic, stay calm and continue to drive your vehicle.
If there is even minor flooding you should beware of driving through the water. One reason is that your engine requires air to continue running. Driving through water throws water up and into the engine and can cause your vehicle to stall. If the water is deep enough to reach the engine it will also cause the engine to shut off. Just think of having to get out and wade through the water if your vehicle stalls.
Flood waters of only 6 inches in depth can cause your vehicle to drift. Usually the water will carry your vehicle to even deeper water. Water only 1 foot deep can lift 1500 pounds. And by 2 feet, flood waters can lift most any SUV.
If you find yourself stuck in water, roll the window down immediately. If you have electric windows you may have to break the window if the engine has shut off. You will not be able to open the door against the weight and pressure of the water. The window will be your escape route.
Most four wheel drive vehicles do sit higher and so lessen the chances of engine stalling from water infiltration. It is dangerous though to assume that just because your vehicle is higher and heavier that flood waters can’t get you. They can.
Remember too, that just because four wheel drive vehicles will go better through bad weather doesn’t mean they stop any better. In fact, because of the heavier weight, they actually take longer to stop. Don’t let four wheel drive lull you into driving fast in bad weather – slow down and keep a safe driving distance between you and the car ahead of you.
Get out and enjoy the nice spring temperatures. Take a ride to visit those beautiful spring flowers. Have a safe and enjoyable trip in your four wheel drive SUV!
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