Arrive Alive

Here’s what happens to your car’s tyres in wet weather - and how you can keep safe

As large parts of South Africa remain in the tight grip of several cold fronts – bringing torrential rain, damaging winds, icy conditions and disruptive snowfall that’s led to the weather service issuing flooding warnings – drivers are forced to navigate wet roads and unfamiliar conditions as they get to work, school and home.

Driving on wet surfaces, under poor visibility, and in weather conditions such as snow are largely unfamiliar to South African drivers and could lead to unsafe situations. This, coupled with poor vehicle and tyre conditions, increases the risk of danger on the roads.

Local tyre manufacturer, Dunlop, compiled essential tips, outlined below, to help drivers navigate these conditions safely.

Flooded roads

Avoid driving on flooded roads. Listen to news alerts in your area to find out if your route is flooded. Identify alternate routes, and factor in additional driving time for traffic also using these routes, as well as for driving slower in inclement weather.

Driving through flood water is very challenging and dangerous task and great skill is needed for your safety and that of others on the road.

Proceed with extreme precaution and preempt the dangers you may encounter. For example, before attempting to drive through it, try to gauge if the water is shallow or deep, if it’s moving or stagnant, or if there are any obstacles or debris in the water.

If the water is too deep, swift-moving, or you cannot see the road beneath it, it’s best to use an alternative route.

Aquaplaning

If your tyres have poor grip with the road in wet conditions, the driver can lose control of the vehicle in what’s called aquaplaning, or hydroplaning. This happens when the water sits between the car the road, so there is nothing for the vehicle to grip on to, rendering the driver powerless to control the vehicle.

Vehicle capability 

It is important that a vehicle owner understands their vehicle’s water-wading capabilities. Bigger vehicles like Trucks and SUV’s will have a higher tolerance level for water, as opposed to smaller passenger cars. This is crucial so that the vehicle’s engine air intake system is not jeopardised. Ensure that you keep the vehicle in the centre of the road, which is the highest point. Avoid aggressive acceleration or braking as this may cause your vehicle tyres to lose traction. As a safety precaution, once you have safely navigated the water tap your brakes lightly with the aim to dry and eradicate any water in the braking system, to ensure that your braking system works optimally.

Check tread depth

The gaps in the tread pattern on your tyre serve to guide water away from tyre while driving on a wet surface. If you do not have adequately defined gaps - essentially poor tread depth - the water cannot be diverted away. Therefore, the water rolls around the wheel, with no grip and traction to the surface, leaving you with loss of your vehicle’s steering control. The legal limit for tyre tread is 1.6mm. 

Roads with snow and ice

South Africa does not regularly have snow and icy road surface conditions, and driving on these surfaces demand a set of driving skills that many people may not have. In other countries where snow and ice are common, tyres and vehicles are tailored for their regional conditions. In general, the South African tyre market does not have a wide range of tyres specialised to tackle icy surfaces. Avoid snow and icy roads where possible to avoid placing yourself in a situation you cannot navigate. Tyres with poor traction due to shallow tread depth, can skid on icy surfaces.

Pressure

Ensure your tyres are correctly inflated. Over inflated tyres means that there is “less” of your tyre that has actual contact with the road, reducing the surface area for grip and traction. 

Defensive driving

Practice simple measures to keep safe. Reduce your speed, turn your lights on, or hazards where necessary, and ensure you allow for a greater distance to other cars. Avoid harsh braking except in emergency situations. 

Potholes and water pooling

With potholes a regular challenge on roads, heavy rains may lead to the development of new potholes – sometimes overnight. Water collects in them, and drivers may assume they are driving over water, when in fact, it’s a pothole. When hit, the sidewall of a tyre acts a shock absorber, but it can also lead to tyre damage. Avoid driving in the outer lanes, as water tends to pool in there. Stick to the centre lanes where the road is less likely to be flooded.

Windshield wiper blades

Ensure you have wiper blades that function effectively. If your car generally sits in harsh conditions, such as direct sunlight, this could lead to blades warping, leading to ineffective water clearing from your windshield. Regularly inspect your wiper blades so that you’re able to effectively dispel water from your windshield, giving you better visibility.

Spare wheel

If you are using a biscuit wheel – these are the narrow tyres kept as spare tyres in some vehicle models – the narrow surface area does not offer great capacity to expel water. Drive more carefully, and avoid flooded roads.

Be proactive with tyre care

Much like making a dental appointment is a routine preventative practice to ensure there are no issues building up, so too is a tyre check up to ensure your tyres are in good health and able to withstand harsh conditions. However, this is not a reason to be on the road in torrential rain or drive in flooded areas. Check for any signs of wear and tear, and make sure your tyres are properly inflated according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Be prepared for emergencies 

Always carry an emergency kit in your vehicle that includes essentials such as a spare tyre, jack, flashlight, blanket, and first-aid supplies. Additionally, ensure your mobile phone is fully charged in case you need to call for help.

Visit your local tyre dealership, such as a Dunlop tyre fitment centre, for expert advice.
 

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