While good for gardens and reservoirs, the first rains after a dry spell can be hazardous for motorists, warns the Tyres Equipment Parts Association (TEPA), a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI).
Vishal Premlall, national director of TEPA, explains that rain mixes with oil and debris on the road, causing a particularly slick road surface, which can put you at higher risk of losing control over your vehicle.
According to TEPA, there are four simple rules for driving in wet conditions – slow down, turn your lights on, never overtake when visibility is impaired, and keep more distance between you and other vehicles.
“These four actions are essential safety tips when driving in rain. However, there is a lot more to know about vehicle safety when it’s raining,” says Premlall.
He explains that there are many components that, if poorly maintained, can have a negative impact on the way a vehicle performs in wet conditions. These include tyres, windscreen wipers, brakes, shocks and suspension.
When it comes to tyres, tread depth is everything, says Premlall.
“Tyre tread helps to disperse water effectively and stop the vehicle during both routine and emergency braking. If the tyre tread is low, aquaplaning can occur. This happens when the tyres lose grip on the road surface and instead slide on a film of water on top of the road.
“It is a very dangerous situation as aquaplaning dramatically reduces a driver’s ability to steer and brake.
“Also check that your tyres are not wearing unevenly. Sometimes you can’t see this from the outside as the tyres wear off on the inner edge when the vehicle’s wheel alignment is out.”
Les Richardson, TEPA National Vice Chairman says that tyre pressure is also important and should be checked regularly at a cold temperature or before driving too far on your journey. “Correct tyre pressure keeps the optimum tread area in contact with the road surface to improve handling and responsiveness. It also helps in getting the best fuel economy from your vehicle.
“Remember, warm air expands and by checking tyre pressure when the tar and conditions are hot, could result in an over stating of the current pressure. The cold rainy conditions may then cause your tyre to be underinflated,” Richardson explains.
He says fitting a tyre pressure monitor could pay dividends in maintaining tyre pressure and, at the same time, optimising fuel consumption. “With an early indicator of loss of pressure, you will be able to stop and change the tyre without irreparably damaging your tyre and/or vehicle, and even more important, risk yours and the lives of your passengers,” he explains.
Drivers of cars fitted with a space-saver spare wheel, or “marie biscuit” as it is colloquially known, must remember these tyres are smaller and thinner than the other tyres and are only designed to get you to a safe place in order to get a regular tyre fitted. If you have to fit a space-saver spare, you need to modify your driving style, especially in rain, exercising greater caution and reducing speed.
Other vehicle parts that play a role in how your vehicle will perform when the heavens open up include windscreen wipers, brakes, shocks and suspension.
In wet weather your braking conditions and stopping of the vehicle are not the same as they would be in dry conditions.
Avoid harsh or sudden braking in wet conditions. It is best to slow down and try to look as far ahead on the road as possible, rather than hitting the brakes because you suddenly see a car in front of you. Braking suddenly on a wet road can cause your car to skid.
“In addition, a cracked windscreen and headlights not working properly are cause for concern. Poor lighting and unfocused headlamps are a recipe for disaster in the rainy season not only for the driver but for other road users as well,” says Premlall.
TEPA recommends visiting one of their many accredited fitment centres to have your vehicle checked by experts, for any wear and tear that can affect performance when driving in wet conditions.
“Don’t gamble on your vehicle’s condition because in doing so, you not only compromise your own life but also that of your family and other road users. A simple once-over and the right advice at an accredited tyre and fitment centre will enable you to keep a grip on things in wet weather and arrive at your destination safely,” concludes Premlall.