With torrential rain on the forecast for the near future here on the east coast, it's important to know how best to navigate the situations that can arise due to bad weather. Rain in particular can be severely dangerous, as it obstructs your visibility, reduces the friction your tires have with the road's surface, makes it harder to hear what's going on outside of the car, and more. It's important that both you and your vehicle are equipped to handle the situation, as weather conditions are one of the top reasons that car accidents happen, especially to those who are inexperienced with handling the particular weather that accompanies any climate. For example, if you'd recently moved here from Arizona, you'd simply have less familiarity with handling road conditions that arise here in Pennsylvania, as the climate is simply entirely different. At Castle Car Company, we want to make sure you get the most out of your vehicle, so in light of the incipient rain, we've decided to write a guide on how to handle driving in a few situations that Pennsylvania drivers are all too familiar with. Make sure to read to the end, as a lot of this information may be things that you already know, we aim to provide some tips and tricks that even the most experienced driver will be able to apply next time things get bad outside.
1. Windshield wipers are critical!
Rain, snow, sleet and hail can occur quickly, with very little warning. When this happens, your windshield wipers may be the only thing keeping you safe. When windshield wipers start to degrade, it's best to get them replaced immediately. On the plus side, windshield wipers are generally quite cheap to replace, generally the entire cost of the repair will be less than $40, with between 8 and 15 of that going towards labor. If you do it yourself, you can save those few extra dollars, though be warned that windshield wipers can be SURPRISINGLY hard to replace. It really depends on the specific setup that your vehicle uses, and while it shouldn't require the use of any tools you don't have, they're often finicky to install at best. Leaving it up to a professional isn't a bad idea, but your own mechanical skills will play a role in how well they stay attached to the arm that holds them. Windshield wipers that have gone too long without replacement can leave streaks, making visibility even worse given how much precipitation can obstruct your vision to begin with, making bad weather driving much worse. In addition, wipers that have been left on for MUCH too long can start to lose the rubber along the surface that actually cleans the windshield, leaving scratches and creating pools of water where normal wipers would simply clear the area. Old windshield wipers can also make chattering and squeaking noises, which are annoying on their own, but indicate a deeper need to replace the parts. Simply put, if they're not 100% effective, it's time to replace them.
2. Maintain speed control!
While everyone is aware of the present danger snow can present on the road, rain can be every bit as dangerous, and the apex of this danger isn't when you'd intuitively think it would be. Hydroplaning is something to keep in mind, for which speed control is essential, but the most dangerous part of a rainstorm when it comes to driving is actually when the rain first starts to fall. The first 10-20 minutes of driving on newly wet roads is the most dangerous, the explanation for which is that the vehicles passing over the road drip oil and other car fluids onto the roadway. Usually, they'll simply dry up and remain on the surface of the road for as long as conditions remain dry. When the rain starts, however, oil and other substances rise to the top of the water, meaning that this oily slick is the first thing your tire is touching when it rolls over that portion of road. This means that those first few minutes of a rainstorm can create areas of roadway that are entirely oily, and as you can imagine, your tires' friction against these surfaces drops exponentially. This doesn't mean that you should slow your vehicle to a crawl, however, as this makes you a danger to other drivers who are maintaining a higher speed. As always, your best bet is to try to keep with the flow of traffic, but if it feels like you're losing traction, it's best to lower your speed incrementally so as not to alert other drivers, giving them time to adjust to your new speed. While you're more responsible as a person for slowing down, this will not help you if you get hit by a car that wasn't paying attention, so be sure that you're paying attention to the speed of other drivers around you.
3. Bad weather? Headlights on.
Even if it was bright and sunny moments ago, be sure that you turn your headlights on when the rain starts. Gray and white cars are more common and popular than ever before, and given the lighting conditions in your average rainstorm, your car can pretty easily blend in with the roadway if a driver is glancing your direction. Nothing else looks like a set of headlights, and while they're also for improving your vision, a key feature of the headlights is that other drivers are more easily able to see you. Many, many accidents could have been prevented if a driver had their headlights on, so make sure to keep yourself off that list by doing what those drivers didn't.
4. Make sure your tires are the best they can be.
We've talked a lot about how road conditions can affect your tires, but it's equally important to know how the tread of your tires affects your time on the road. There's no replacement for having good tires, and while this can be a surprisingly costly expense, the safety and ride quality that new tires can provide definitely justify the expense. Besides the fact that you can receive a ticket for your tires not having enough tread on them, even a little bit of moisture on the road can be devastating for vehicles with no tread. If your tires are well worn enough, your tires can even spin on entirely dry roads, meaning you have a lot less control even under ideal conditions. Rain and snow only make this worse, and while experienced, careful driving techniques can counteract this to a point, simply put, you need good tires with good tread. Tires can be made for a wide variety of different focuses, whether it be grip, noise reduction, ride comfort, speed or cornering, all of those have significant advantages over a tire without tread. If your tires are worn enough, even an extremely cheap set of new tires will be better than your current ones, so be sure to get those changed out before the season with the most severe road conditions.
5. Understanding hydroplaning.
We mentioned it earlier in this guide, but hydroplaning deserves some explanation. Under normal circumstances, when you encounter a puddle on the road, your tire will push most of the water out of the way as your treads make contact with the road. However, if the water is deeper than 1/10th of an inch, and you're going too fast, generally above 35mph, your tires will instead skid across the top of the water, the surface tension of the water keeping your vehicle "afloat" for a moment as you maintain speed. This is extremely dangerous for a number of reasons, the most significant of which being that you lose the ability to turn during this time. When your tire passes over the puddle, the most dangerous part of the process is actually when you regain traction. While you're hydroplaning, turning the wheel can be dangerous, as you won't actually readjust the direction of the vehicle, just the wheels. When you regain traction, your car will suddenly shift in the direction the tires are pointing. If you've turned too far, this can lead to sliding, drifting, or even a rollover. When you start to hydroplane, which you'll definitely be able to feel, make sure that you take your foot off the gas, but don't hit the brakes. Braking will only complicate the situation without slowing you down. Keep your wheels as straight as you can, and if you must turn, turn the wheel only about halfway as far as you normally would. Assuming it's not a huge puddle, the jolt of regaining traction won't throw your car off too far, meaning you'll be able to bring it back under control before any issues arise.
6. Some final tips.
When the elements have taken over the roadway, it's important to ensure you have enough distance between yourself and the next driver. As things get worse, it's advisable to double or triple the distance you'd normally put between yourself and the next driver in front of you and behind you. Keep in mind that even if your driving is textbook perfection, it only takes one other driver making one mistake to cause an accident, and the closer you are to that other driver, the more likely your insurance company is going to have to hear about it. When merging, take extra steps to ensure that you're clear before you merge, as other drivers may not have their lights on, and given visibility, it may be more difficult to see them. Turn signals are also a huge help, so make sure you're using them during bad weather, though you should be using them at all times anyways. Finally, if conditions get too bad for your driving experience level or your vehicle itself, it can be advisable to simply pull over. You may be late for something, but late is always better than dead or injured, and nature does not adhere to your timetable. Take the time you need, wait for conditions to get better, then get back on the road. If you are going to pull over, make sure you get entirely out of the roadway, and turn off all lights. Many accidents have occurred due to one car pulling over to wait out conditions but leaving their lights on, so another driver with bad visibility simply follows the red lights of the car in front of them, leading to a car that's entirely off the roadway being hit by a well-meaning driver. If you're going to pull over, pull the whole way over and make it clear that you're no longer driving.
With all these in mind, you should be much better prepared to take on the elements, no matter what they may be for your area and climate. If you're looking for something that's a bit better suited to bad weather, we've got quite the variety of off-road and reliable vehicles on our lot, and would be happy to put you in any of them! Check out our inventory and give us a call at 724-657-1551 if you'd like more information about any of them!