It was heard countless times during weather conversations this brutal winter— “I’ll never complain about the rain again.” It looks as though Mother Nature is putting Pittsburghers to the test, as thunderstorms have rolled into the region and look to remain a temporary fixture for the next couple of days.
However, the unfortunate reality of the situation is that driving in thunderstorms and other inclement weather can be just as challenging as driving in the snowy, icy stuff. Here are some tips to make sure you’re safe going from point A to point B in the midst of April showers.
First and foremost, you never know when bad weather will strike. It’s important to keep a mental inventory on your vehicle at all times—ensuring that all headlights, tail lights, brake lights, and turn signals are in working order. Also, check your tires on a regular basis. Bald tires significantly reduce your traction on wet roadways and offer little resistance to hydroplaning. When your tires run over water, the water is displaced and it needs somewhere to go quickly. The best place is between the treads of your tires. If your tires are bald, the water has no place to go and you end up riding on a layer of water, like a boat. Additionally, when you begin your journey in the rain, it may sound silly but we suggest scuffing the soles of your shoes on the rubber matting or carpeting of the car before you start the engine. Your shoes will most likely be wet and are liable to slip off the pedals.
Further, replace your wiper blades regularly—at least once a year. Wiper blades in poor condition don’t clear water from the windshield very well and can distort your view. Older vehicles may need to have the whole wiper arm replaced. The arms can bend over time and sometimes can’t keep enough downward pressure to clear the windshield, even with new wiper blades installed. Wiper blades will often clear light rain from the windshield with a few sweeps, then run on an almost-dry screen and leave smears of drying dirt. Don’t be afraid to use your windshield washers liberally: the fluid is cheap, and the safety benefit is high.
When you’re on the road, slow down! This should be obvious to most experienced drivers, but it is also very important. People are so used to driving certain speeds on certain roads that sometimes they forget the need to slow down when inclement weather presents itself. Also, don’t follow large trucks or buses closely. Splash and spray from these vehicles can obscure your vision, creating a potentially disastrous driving situation. Keep your distance and your windshield wipers on when other traffic is in front of you. If the rain becomes too heavy, consider pulling over (ideally at rest areas or other protected areas) and waiting for the rain to ease up. If the roadside is your only option, pull off as far as possible, preferably past the end of a guard rail, and wait until the storm passes, seldom more than a few minutes. Keep your headlights on and turn on emergency flashers to alert other drivers.
Additionally, rain or high humidity can quickly cause windows to mist up inside your car. In a car equipped with air conditioning, turn up the heat and direct the airflow to your defrosters with the AC switch engaged. In a car without AC, the procedure is the same, but you may need to open your side windows to get the air moving. Most modern cars have a built-in rear window defroster that easily clears a misted rear windshield by heating up electrodes embedded in the glass. If you don’t have one, put your defroster on high and its hot air will eventually follow the inside of the roof down to the rear window. If the car has swiveling dashboard vents, adjust them so that the airflow strikes the upper edge of the side windows. The airflow will clear the side windows first, finally traveling to the rear of the car. If all else fails, a rag or article of clothing will work as well; you’ll just need to clear the window more often.
Finally, losing control of your car on wet pavement is a frightening experience. You can prevent skids by driving slowly and carefully, especially on curves. Brake before entering the curve. Steer and brake with a light touch. If you find yourself in a skid, remain calm, ease your foot off the gas, and carefully steer in the direction you want the front of the car to go. This procedure, known as “steering into the skid,” will bring the back end of your car in line with the front. For cars without anti-lock brakes, avoid using your brakes. If your car has ABS, brake firmly as you “steer into the skid.”