When searing summer heat gives way to fall's natural air conditioning, we all breathe a sigh of relief. But there's one variable that makes autumn driving a little tougher: rain. More than 30 U.S. states get at least four inches of precipitation each fall, and wet roads can make even the simplest journeys unpredictable.
How can you navigate rainy fall highways with ease? Start with these five steps.
1. Keep your tires fresh
Well-maintained tires are more reliable on rainy roads. At least once each month, check your tires for visible signs of damage. Use the penny test to check your tread depth, too -- if you're below 5/32 of an inch, it's time for new tires. Tread depth is one of the most important factors in avoiding hydroplaning; once it falls below the recommended level, your grip and hydroplaning resistance deteriorate dramatically.
2. Have the right mentality
We all know it's important to slow down in rain, but many people don't know why. Sure, it's easier to stop suddenly at lower speeds, but you'll also be safer while you're in motion: As speed increases, your tire's contact with the road decreases. A new tire running at 75 miles per hour only has about 47 percent road contact in an eight an inch of water. At 45 mph, that number leaps to 74 percent. A worn tire at 75 miles per hour has a shockingly low contact rate of just six percent.
3. Beware of hydroplaning
When your car drives over more water than your tire tread can disperse, hydroplaning occurs. We've all experienced that helpless feeling of skidding and sliding across standing water, and it's a leading cause of accidents in rain.
The faster you drive and the shallower your tread, the more likely you are to lose control in rain. Hydroplaning can start at speeds as low as 35 miles per hour and it's most dangerous at speeds above 55, according to the National Safety Commission. That's not very fast. But remember what we said about tread depth? This is where it really comes into play: on worn tires, hydroplaning can begin at a speed threshold seven miles power hour slower than on fresh ones.
4. Avoid driving in ruts
When you're driving on well-worn roads and the rain is piling up, you might be inclined to drive in ruts if you can see them. But while they may appear to offer better traction, in fact the opposite is true: Water tends to build up more quickly in those ruts. Do your best to avoid them and carve your own path through the rain.
5. Drive the right tires
It's vital to take good care of your tires, whatever you may drive. But you can set yourself up for success by choosing the right tires in the first place.
Nokian Tyres crafts high-quality tires aimed to provide peace of mind in all conditions. That includes heavy rain. The tread patterns of our all-season tires like the Nokian eNTYRE 2.0 and Nokian zLine A/S are designed to remove rain from the road's surface and channel it away before it causes havoc. If you live in an area with unpredictable fall weather, consider an all-weather tire like the Nokian WR G4 -- it's designed to work not only in rain, but also in snow and ice (slushplaning can be a real problem, too).
But even if you don't choose our tires, choose to drive safely when rain soaks the road. Because there's nothing better than enjoying a blustery fall drive from the safety of the driver's seat.