Unless you’re driving in a desert, it is inevitable that you will sometimes encounter wet and rainy conditions that make driving challenging. Read our top tips for staying safe when the roads are wet and hazardous.
Preparing to drive in the rain
- Plan alternative routes - Use main roads wherever you can, as they are less likely to be flooded. Have an alternative route in mind in case of road closures, accidents or floods.
- Ensure that your tyres have enough grip - Regularly check that your tyres have the recommended legal tyre tread depth of at least 1.6mm, across the central three-quarters of each tyre around its entire circumference, to ensure you obtain sufficient grip on the roads.
- If the weather is particularly wet, it is wise to ensure you have extra grip for safety. If using summer or all-season tyres, at least 3mm is recommended; for winter tyres, at least 4mm.
- Check your windscreen wipers - Ensure you can both clearly see and be seen. Ensure your windscreen wipers – both front and rear – are fully functional. If they squeak as they wipe, leave streaks or don’t clear the glass in a single swipe, they may need replacing. Make sure that your windscreen wipers are turned off before starting the ignition, to preserve the blades and lessen the chance of a blown motor fuse if they are exposed to frost.
- Fill up fully with fuel - When driving in the rain, you will be using your lights, heater and wipers more than normal, which will reduce your fuel economy. Traffic will also be slower-moving and accidents more likely, which could mean that you use more fuel than normal. Ensure you have plenty in the tank for your journey to allow for these conditions.
- Check your lights and indicators - Ensure all your headlights, taillights, sidelights, brake lights and indictors are working, so you can signal clearly and be seen in the rain. If visibility is reduced you will have to utilise dipped headlights, so don’t forget to check those as well!
Driving safely in wet weather
It’s important to reduce your speed in wet weather to leave more space between vehicles, giving more leeway if something unexpected happens and to reduce the likelihood of hydroplaning.
When the roads are slippery, the Highway Code observes stopping distances at least double. Staying at least four seconds from moving traffic ahead is therefore wise to ensure you have longer to react to a hazard.
Watch the road closely in case spray from other vehicles reduces your visibility suddenly. Consider others too and avoid driving too quickly through puddles near to cyclists or pedestrians.
Stay in control to avoiding having to brake or accelerate harshly braking and carry out manoeuvres very slowly and with extra care.
Pedestrians, bikes, motorbikes and horses are harder to spot in the wet, so look out for them closely. Also watch carefully for signs warning of hazards or temporary lower speed limits.
- Using your lights in wet weather - Keep your headlights on dipped beam so that other drivers can see you easily but not be dazzled. If visibility is very low (less than 100m) then The Highway Code states you should use your full beam headlights and you can also switch on front or rear fog lights. However, if visibility improves beyond this you must switch them off, as they can mask your brake lights and dazzle drivers behind you, so keep aware of changing conditions.
- Controlling your car on slippery roads - If your start to lose some control of your car due to wet weather, don’t instantly brake, as this will affect the car’s balance. Instead, should your tyres begin to lose traction, ease off the accelerator and allow the speed to decrease naturally until you feel back in full control. Similarly, if you find your steering becoming unresponsive as the rain prevents your tyres from gripping, reduce acceleration and gradually slow down until you can steer properly again.
Driving through water
If you must drive through a puddle, use the highest part of the road, judging by the edge of the kerb. Avoid driving through if it looks more than 10cm deep, as the air intake in many vehicles is low down at the front and even a small amount of water in the engine can cause damage.
Watch out for objects that may cause damage to your wheels, tyres or suspension, so you can avoid them and use a safe path across. Drive through slowly but steadily in a low gear and with engine revs up to maintain your momentum. Once you're safely through the water, test your brakes as soon as you can.
Be particularly careful with floods on bends. If you can't see where you're going to come out of the water, think twice about starting to drive into it.
If the water is clearly too deep for your car, find another route. Don't gamble driving down flooded roads: it only takes 1ft of water to float a car. Furthermore, if you damage your engine by driving through water and a new one needs to be fitted, your insurance policy may not cover the bill.
What to do if you hydroplane
Driving through water can cause hydroplaning, as your tyres lose contact with the road. If your steering suddenly feels light, take your foot off the accelerator, hold the wheel lightly and allow your speed to reduce until your tyres regain their grip and you feel in control again.
Do not brake until you’ve regained control. At that point it’s a good idea to gently brush your brake pedal to create some friction and heat – and therefore evaporate off any outstanding moisture.
What to do if you break down in the rain
Wet weather causes more breakdowns as damp conditions increase issues with electrics and engines.
Should your car break down, pull over to a safe visible place, turn on the hazard lights, and wait for help to arrive. If your engine cuts out after you have had to navigate deep water, don’t try and restart it, as engine damage may occur. Instead, stop and call for professional assistance.
Keep the bonnet shut while waiting, as the engine will be more difficult to start if the electrics are soaked with rain.
Top wet weather driving tips
If you are going to be out in your vehicle in wet conditions, follow our top ten tips to stay safe.
- Check your car's lights, tyres and wipers are in working order
- Ensure you are fully fuelled
- Check weather reports for the areas you will be driving
- Plan your route and make sure you have a "Plan B"
- Drive more slowly and carefully
- Give cars in front plenty of space to ensure sufficient braking distance
- Use your lights correctly according to the prevailing visibility
- Don’t brake harshly if you lose control of your car due to slippery conditions
- Only drive through water if you can see it is safe to do so
- If you break down, keep the bonnet shut and wait for professional help
Have the right car hire excess insurance
With the challenges of driving in bad weather, if you are hiring a car and are likely to face them, you should consider car hire excess insurance to cover you if you have an accident whilst driving.
While many car hire companies offer cover, taking it out with them could be far more expensive (and less comprehensive) than cover provided by an insurance provider - such as insurance4carhire.com. Find out more about our policies and what car hire excess insurance is.
Please note that all legal requirements referenced in this article were correct as of 12th January 2019 and apply to the United Kingdom only. If you are driving elsewhere, it is important to look up the applicable legal requirements.
About the author
This is a marketing article from insurance4carhire by our car hire excess insurance business unit director, Adam Summersby. Adam is a respected leader with 11 years’ varied experience in niche personal and commercial lines insurance, including caravan, site operators and excess reimbursement, with proficiency in leadership, sales and account management.