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What is aquaplaning?

wet road aquaplaning car vehicle novus

Drought one day, raging floods the next. Our unpredictable Australian climate keeps us on our toes, and wary on the roads. As we have seen with the recent North Queensland floods swiftly inundating homes and roadways, it’s a heavy reminder that we all need to remain vigilant, and know what to do if we’re caught on the road in a downpour.

We wish everyone in the Townsville region and surrounds a speedy recovery, as water levels begin to ease and they embark on a mammoth clean up. Queenslanders are a resilient bunch, the Novus crews look forward to helping locals get their vehicles back on the roads safely. We’d like to discuss aquaplaning – what is it, and how it can affect your vehicle?

Aquaplaning or hydroplaning what is it?

You’re susceptible to aquaplaning when your vehicle’s wheels lose traction with the road through being lifted off the surface. This is most commonly caused by excess water coming between the connection of your tyres with the road. As little as 0.3cm of water can induce an aquaplaning situation if the depth continues for several metres and you’re moving at 80km/hr or more. Of course with deeper water over the road, you’re still at risk at low speed.

Aquaplaning can also occur on a dry road in instances when there is a loss of control via braking, cornering or acceleration. Unless you’re deliberately driving dangerously, water on the road is the main cause.

Whether or not you’re a seasoned driver and used to handling your vehicle in wet weather, aquaplaning is common, and an extremely dangerous and frightening experience. Even if just for a few seconds, you can lose the ability to effectively steer, or brake without friction between your tyres and the road. This can quickly and easily send you into the path of oncoming traffic or cause you to leave the road.  

Hydroplaning is exactly the same as aquaplaning – there is no difference. Thankfully, there are ways to handle this scenario, and some helpful ways to prevent it.

car close novus vehicle

Are some vehicles more susceptible to aquaplaning?

Tyre size and tread patterns play an important part. Particular tyre tread patterns can be more effective at channeling away water than others. Perhaps surprisingly, all-wheel-drive vehicles are more susceptible to aquaplaning as their computerised diffs could shift power from the front to rear tyres at the wrong time. Hydroplaning is more likely to occur on vehicles with narrow tyres, and heavy vehicles are less prone to losing their relationship with the road through aquaplaning. There are other environmental factors such as the road width, depth, surrounding vehicles and the type of road surface, all which could impact your car’s performance during wet weather.

How do you know if your car is aquaplaning?

If you find yourself in an aquaplaning situation on a wet road, this is generally what you will experience.

  • The road noise becomes quiet as you’re no longer in direct contact with the surface
  • Your engine revs louder as though you’ve dropped gears
  • You will feel the steering become ‘light’ and relatively non-responsive
  • The rear end of your vehicle will begin to drift, or fishtail from side to side


This can often occur when we least expect it as we make our commute to and from work with a million things on our mind. It’s important when you get into the car in wet weather to remind yourself of how to react if this occurs so you can be prepared.

How to respond if your car is aquaplaning

  1. Do not panic! Easier said than done as we’re snapped into the unexpected reality of a momentary loss of control; but it is imperative not to accelerate, slam on the brakes or oversteer to try and correct your vehicle. These actions will likely make the situation worse.
  2. Switch off cruise control immediately if it’s on – don’t use the brakes to turn it off.
  3. Hold your steering wheel straight and steady while easing your foot off the accelerator. As you slow down, you should feel your wheels regain traction with the road surface, and your braking / steering functionality returned.
  4. You may be in an aquaplaning scenario where you need to brake to avoid a collision. If your vehicle has ABS brakes, you should brake normally; but as gradually as possible. If you have a standard braking system, you should always pump your brakes as calmly and gently as you can to avoid further loss of control and skidding.
  5. Maintain slow, deliberate and calm movements until you regain total control

All of this can occur in a matter of a few seconds, so you should always have your wits about you in the wet.

wet condition aquaplane novus

How can you prevent aquaplaning in wet weather?

Drive to the conditions

The higher your speed, the more likely an aquaplane. Keep your speed under 80 km/hr if you can, and maintain good distance from other vehicles.

Keep your tyres in tip top condition

Tyres and treads in poor condition are more likely to struggle to clear enough water off the road and maintain their ‘grip.’ Your tyre pressure should always be kept at its ideal level, and tyres regularly rotated so they wear evenly.

Never use cruise control on a wet road

While it’s not necessarily cruise control that can land you in trouble, it does slow your reaction time, and give you another step to do in order to regain control. The quicker, more smoothly and efficiently you can react, the faster you’ll recover. Driving without cruise control also makes us concentrate that little bit more.

Follow the leader’s tracks

The vehicle in front of you will be making ‘tracks’ in the water. Their tyres have already worked at dispensing some of the water over the road, if you follow in their tracks, you can reduce your chances of aquaplaning. This is particularly effective if you’re behind a large or heavy vehicle – but remember to maintain a good distance between you.

Drive smoothly, whether wet or dry

Steering, braking, accelerating and driving smoothly at all times can preserve the overall health and safety of your vehicle, and helps you to keep cool, calm and collected in unexpected situations.

Drive with your lights on in the wet

Sometimes the earliest indication for other drivers of a car that has begun to lose control, is their headlights veering. Driving with your headlights on in the wet helps to keep you well visible and gives other road users the time to react accordingly to help avoid a collision when they notice you’re in a bit of trouble. If any of your vehicle lights are not working, you should get them restored immediately for safety precautions.

Can an aquaplane incident damage my vehicle?

In most cases, a minor aquaplaning situation won’t cause damage – just a big fright! But on other occasions if you’ve hit a large pothole under the water, or left the road, you may experience problems with your wheel alignment, tyre condition, and even your windscreen could crack or become ill-fitted. Any jolt to your vehicle can affect the integrity of your windscreen.

If you have any concerns, it’s always best to seek out professional advice to ensure your vehicle is in optimal health…and ready to survive the next deluge.

All the best on the roads! Drive safe and stay dry everyone.

It is always important to be aware of the type of glass you have in your car. If you are unsure, or want to alter your auto glass, contact us to discuss the glass service options suited to your vehicle.

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