The British Summer can be a challenging time for motorists, with changeable weather meaning drivers must be adaptable to a variety of driving conditions. While we all hold out for sunshine, rain is far more likely – but the Trust My Garage blog can help you make sure you drive safely in wet weather!
Why can rain be dangerous for motorists?
Rain is not only an inconvenience for motorists; it can also be a dangerous problem. The Highway Code states that in wet weather vehicle stopping distances are double those required for dry conditions, as tyres have less grip on the road.
Drivers should always take additional precautions when on the road in wet conditions, such as:
- Maintaining a safe distance from the vehicle ahead of you
- Ensuring your vehicle’s steering is responsive – if it becomes unresponsive you should ease off the accelerator and gradually slow down
- Keeping lights on where appropriate to be visible, as the rain and spray from vehicles may make it difficult to see and be seen
- Being aware of the dangers of spilt diesel that will make the surface very slippery
- Taking extra care around pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and horse riders
A major issue on very wet roads is aquaplaning – an issue caused when a layer of water is allowed to build up between a vehicle’s tyres and the surface of the road beneath. At this point, the tyres cannot grip on the road and this causes a lack of traction which means the driver loses control and is unable to steer, brake or accelerate.
To avoid aquaplaning it’s important to check your tyres (read on for more tyre tips!), not drive too quickly and don’t make sudden manoeuvres that enable water to build up between your vehicle’s tyres and the road. If you’re following a vehicle you can also follow their “tracks” from a safe distance to remain on the part of the road where water has already been displaced, providing more grip.
How can I prepare myself?
Before setting off on any trip be sure to plan the route you’re going to take, and an alternative if you think there could be issues due to poor weather. Using a sat-nav with traffic updates can also help you adjust your route if there are long delays or hazards ahead, but it’s worth keeping traffic alerts on your vehicle’s radio system too, in case there are any sudden changes to the road conditions.
If a problem occurs once your trip is underway you can also find a safe place to pull over – such as a roadside refuge area or lay-by – park up and turn off the engine completely, remove your keys from the vehicle ignition and use your mobile phone to calculate an alternative route.
If you have concerns about your driving ability in poor conditions, it’s always better to wait until you feel safe on the roads. Although it may seem inconvenient your safety and the safety of any passengers you may also have is of utmost importance – as well as that of other road users.
How can I prepare my vehicle?
Prior to setting off it’s important to check your vehicle is in a safe and roadworthy condition. One of the most crucial things to check is tyres, so this is what you need to know:
- Make sure your tyre pressures are correct. It’s easier than you might think! You can check and correct your tyre pressure at most UK petrol stations using a pay-per-use air and water station, or you can purchase your own tyre pressure gauge – the choice is yours.
- If you aren’t sure what pressure is correct for your vehicle’s tyres you can refer to your Owner’s Manual. Details should be provided in either/both BAR and PSI, and you can adjust your pressures to the recommended figure.
- Tyres should meet the legal minimum requirement of 1.6mm across the central three-quarters of the tyre and in a continuous band around the whole of the tyre, or risk a £2,500 fine and three penalty points per tyre – or worse!
- For optimum safety it is recommended tyres have a minimum of 3mm depth of tread across the central three-quarters of the tyre and in a continuous band around the whole of the tyre.
- There should be no cuts or bulges in the side wall of the tyre, as these can increase the chances of blowouts while on the road – if any bulges, bubbles, cuts and tears are visible you should speak to a professional to arrange a replacement
- You should also check for punctures prior to setting off – they can either be repaired or the tyre can be replaced, but it’s important to identify any issues and have a professional assess the best course of action.
Wipers play a huge role in ensuring good visibility in inclement weather, so checking their function is a must before driving in wet weather. While they should ideally be replaced six-monthly to yearly, if you notice a decline in visibility you should change them sooner. Factors such as streaking, smearing, skipping and squeaking indicate that your blades should be changed to retain good vision of the road – and don’t forget to check your rear wiper too!
Another area that should always be thoroughly checked is your vehicle’s lights. A sudden heavy downpour can cause quickly darkening road conditions, so functioning lights play an important role in keeping your visibility levels up and keeping you easily identifiable to other motorists.
Before setting off on a journey, turn on your vehicle’s lights and either walk around the vehicle to conduct a check or ask a passenger to check all your lights are working correctly – be sure to press the brake too and check that all three lights are working. If any lights are dim or aren’t working, including fog lights and number plate lights, you should get them replaced as soon as possible.
If you are stopped by police for having faulty brake lights, you could receive:
- A verbal warning
- A Roadside Prohibition Notice – which gives you 10 days to get it fixed
- A £60 fine and 3 points on your licence
- Worst case scenario – they could tow your car away!
It’s also a good idea to familiarise yourself with your car’s ventilation system. Wet conditions can cause a car to steam up, making visibility difficult and driving hazardous. Many people think air conditioning is only for hot days, but this is not the case! Using your car’s air conditioning in conjunction with the heater may seem an odd thing to do, but it can actually remove moisture from the air, helping to demist your vehicle quicker than using the heater alone.
Most importantly during extreme weather conditions it’s important to stay warm and dry, so it’s a good idea to ensure your car is kitted out with emergency supplies such as blankets, first-aid kits and extra food and drink if you’re undertaking longer trips.
In need of a professional?
If your car is due its MOT or a service, make sure to take it in to a garage to get it ready for the road. If you’re looking for a reputable, local, independent garage you can head to the Trust My Garage website and use our handy ‘Find a Garage’ map to locate your nearest TMG member, operating to a Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI)-approved code of conduct. You can also check out our latest TV advert below:
Our ‘What to do when…’ series can provide some further tips and insight across other areas of motoring and vehicle maintenance to help you ensure your motor is running at its best! You can check out our other posts in the series here.