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Driving To Survive A Sudden Summer Storm

Forbes logo Forbes 4 days ago Jim Gorzelany, Contributor

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It’s shaping up to be a hot wet summer. Phoenix was slammed with monsoon storms over the weekend, and parts of Illinois and Wisconsin are still waiting for floodwaters to recede from last week’s torrential rains. What’s more, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts an especially active hurricane/tropical storm season for the Atlantic Basin this year.

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Automotive experts are always quick with tips on how to negotiate snowstorms and icy conditions come wintertime, but motorists should be just as cautious when driving in wet weather – perhaps even more so, as severe storms can develop suddenly, with strong winds, heavy rains, and flash flooding.

As would be the prudent course of action in the dead of winter, the Red Cross advises those hitting the roads this summer to check the weather forecast for their entire route before heading out to help be prepared for, and possibly re-route to avoid severe storms. If local authorities are telling residents to stay off the roads, don’t risk the trip in the first place. Always let someone know your destination, selected route, and estimated time of arrival, carry a “disaster kit” in the trunk with a flashlight, emergency radio, first-aid kit, water, and high-protein snacks.

Check your car’s tires to ensure they’re up to the task, no matter what the forecast. Visually inspect each tire for uneven wear, cracks, or other signs of damage. Ensure there’s adequate tread left to effectively displace water and maintain optimal grip over wet roads by sticking a penny head first into the tread grooves; if any part of the tread is covered by Lincoln’s head you’re good to go. If you see a series of horizontal warning bands appearing across the tread, have the tires replaced.

When the rain begins to fall, turn on your car’s headlamps and, of course, the windshield wipers. Slow down, leave plenty of room between your car and the traffic ahead, and drive with extreme caution to avoid hydroplaning, which is when your car loses traction over standing water. The risk of hydroplaning increases along with your vehicle’s speed. Avoid sudden maneuvers and high-speed turns to prevent skidding over slick surfaces that your car’s stability control system may not be able to prevent.

Stay in the right-hand lane of traffic, both to have easy access to the road shoulder in case you need to pull over, and to avoid those piloting big 4×4 trucks and all-wheel-drive SUVs who somehow think they can violate the laws of physics. Sending the engine’s power to all four wheels might enable a vehicle to go faster on wet pavement, but it does little to augment its braking abilities.

If you do feel a loss of friction or begin to skid, don’t try and overcompensate with sharp and sudden steering maneuvers. Rather, stay calm and steer in the direction you want to go, maintaining a light and steady foot on the accelerator. Slamming on the brakes is usually counter-productive when a car or truck is sliding sideways.

Be especially cautious when approaching standing water. Dips in the road, viaducts and areas adjacent to rivers and streams are especially susceptible to flooding during or after a downpour, and you should never assume that what at first glance looks like a puddle is shallow enough to negotiate.

if your car suddenly becomes submerged to a modest degree, stay calm, remain buckled in your seat, and call for assistance. Tow trucks are setup to drive through about 18 inches of water to pull submerged vehicles to dry land, but don’t expect drivers to sacrifice their own safety or the integrity of their equipment negotiating levels deeper than that.

If the water is substantially deep, you’ll need to escape – the car should remain afloat long enough to accomplish this. Your car’s power accessories should continue working for at least a minute or so to allow you to unlock the doors and open the windows. Unbuckle your seat belt (and those of children or other riders who need assistance) and exit through the open windows, swimming to safety in the direction of the current if you’re in deep water.

If the windows won’t open, try kicking one out, though be aware it will take considerable effort. Those living in flood-prone areas might want to consider carrying a small hammer or car window-breaking tool in the glove compartment for this purpose. If you can’t leave via a window and water is entering the cabin, wait until the pressure is equalized on both sides of the door (usually when it’s as deep inside as it is outside) before attempting to open it.

Once things begin to dry out, never try starting a car that’s been submerged in water without having a technician perform a thorough inspection. In addition to the obvious damage done to upholstery and carpeting, flood water is a corrosive and abrasive mixture of water and dirt that works its way virtually everywhere within a vehicle. Extensive disassembly may be needed for a thorough cleaning and mechanical reconditioning. Depending on the model and age, the cost to restore a flood-damaged vehicle could exceed its value, in which case the owner’s insurance company would consider it “totaled.”

As the old saying goes, you can’t outsmart Mother Nature. 

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