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View Full Version : Hydroplaning Accident - Buying a Safer Car



Andrew Joiner
11-16-2017, 12:53 PM
My wife totaled our 2006 Scion XB. Tires had good tread but may have been underinflated. She was driving at or under the speed limit. She was passing a semi in a heavy downpour, hydroplaned and bounced off the semi and the median. She's OK but afraid to drive in the rain now.

We are grateful and consider this a valuable learning experience. We now promised each other not to pass semi's in the rain. If the semi's are averaging 55 on a 65 posted freeway we'll go 54 and arrive a little late!

Doing the research I learned underinflated tires contribute to hydroplaning. Most or all cars have a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) now. So any new car would feel safer to her if she can easily check pressures.

We want economy and reliability. We loved the XB for it's MPG and big interior volume.

Were testing the 2018 Honda Fit and 2018 Subaru Impeza. We have new studded tires sized for the Honda. I like the idea of AWD and all season tires and no twice yearly tire swaps on an Impreza.

Consumer Reports dinged the Impreza recently for radio and back up camera problems, otherwise the Impreza seems like a no-brainer for us.

Anyone with experience or ideas? Thanks

Peter Christensen
11-16-2017, 1:14 PM
All season tires are really 3 season tires so that is the reason for good winter tires. If you only see snow once or twice a winter then I understand. We put the mounted studded tires on in mid October and take them off at the end of March. One thing to look for is that when tires are rotated or seasonally changed the TPI system has to be reset. Some cars, like a Smart I had, can be done from inside the car by you. Others like our Nissans need a special electronic tool that plugs into the car to reset the system. You get charged extra every time they use it because they never include that in the free rotations or changes. Keep that in mind when you're looking at cars.

David Bassett
11-16-2017, 1:25 PM
... Doing the research I learned underinflated tires contribute to hydroplaning. Most or all cars have a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) now. So any new car would feel safer to her if she can easily check pressures. ...

Tire pressure monitors differ. We've had several cars with the feature and each was different. *BUT* in each case they were really tire going flat monitors and allow the tires to be under-inflated without complaint. One, in a VW, basically compared tires to detect any one with less pressure. As near as I can tell, it'd let you go flat if all four tires were equal and in step. (Well maybe not all the way flat, but it certainly focused on detecting outliers.)

Bottom line, you still need to check your tire pressure regularly.

George Bokros
11-16-2017, 2:27 PM
TPMS usually have a window of about 5 psi under inflated before they react. In my opinion they are government mandated waste of dollars. Some are part of the valve stem which are costly to replae when you purchase new tires. Some like on four Fords my family owns are on bands around the inner circumference of the wheel which do not come into play when purchasing new tires.

Stan Calow
11-16-2017, 2:45 PM
It helps if the system shows you which tire is low. Not all do.

Pat Barry
11-16-2017, 2:59 PM
Thank goodness she's alright.

Pat Barry
11-16-2017, 3:02 PM
It helps if the system shows you which tire is low. Not all do.
My Chevy Silverado does tell me tire pressure for each tire and it will report which one is low, however, the system needs to be re calibrating when changing / rotating tires and not all the tire shops seem to know how to do this. I even had the dealer not perform the procedure once and had to bring it back in for them to fix it.

George Bokros
11-16-2017, 3:04 PM
My Chevy Silverado does tell me tire pressure for each tire and it will report which one is low, however, the system needs to be re calibrating when changing / rotating tires and not all the tire shops seem to know how to do this. I even had the dealer not perform the procedure once and had to bring it back in for them to fix it.

My friend's wife drives a Caddy and it has the same problem. When you rotate the tires the system must be updated as to which tire went to what new position. Knowing which tire is low is nice but is it really necessary, takes five minutes to check all four of them.

John Lanciani
11-16-2017, 3:17 PM
Subaru Impreza-Crosstrek-Forester family is pretty hard to beat for the price to safety ratio, especially if all wheel drive is desired.

(Switched from Honda to Subaru 2 years ago and I don't regret it for one second)

Jerome Stanek
11-16-2017, 4:01 PM
how long had it been raining before this happened and how long had it been that it rained last. Here if it hasn't rained for a few weeks the roads get very slick the first hour or so of a rain

George Bokros
11-16-2017, 4:03 PM
how long had it been raining before this happened and how long had it been that it rained last. Here if it hasn't rained for a few weeks the roads get very slick the first hour or so of a rain

This can happen anywhere Oil dripped from cars makes the roads slick like ice.

Andrew Joiner
11-16-2017, 4:38 PM
Subaru Impreza-Crosstrek-Forester family is pretty hard to beat for the price to safety ratio, especially if all wheel drive is desired.

(Switched from Honda to Subaru 2 years ago and I don't regret it for one second)

Great info on the TPMS problems.
The rain was not the first of the season, so probably not oil related.

Thanks John. Yes, the Impreza is probably the lowest price AWD hatchback and until the 2017 model change got good reliability scores. The radio and back up camera issues don't bother me much.

Mac McQuinn
11-16-2017, 5:04 PM
Sure glad your wife is OK, my wife and I totaled a vehicle last year, pretty traumatic event.
Lots of variables here, Tires, Pressure, Highway surfaces, climate, etc. I personally don't trust the TPMS systems, I don't feel they're sensitive enough to provide accurate feedback. Get a quality tire pressure gauge and use it, I check both of my vehicles once a week. Safety, tire life and performance are worth the effort IMO and it doesn't take but a few minutes. Highways are always much slicker right after repaving, rain, plus texture and varying temperatures play a role here. Manufacturer's tires differ immensely in the ability to achieve traction in all conditions. Do research and buy the best tire you can afford. I'd rather have great tires on a average awd vehicle rather than bad tires on a vehicle with great awd system.

The new Subaru Crosstrek is getting some great reviews, seems the vehicle is selling very well due to this and the latest changes to the vehicle Subaru has made. Even so, I personally would negotiate a tire exchange on any new vehicle to get the best performance possible.
Mac

Matt Day
11-16-2017, 6:49 PM
Iím glad your wife is okay! That sounds scary.
My brother is a car guy and I distinctly remember asking him about tires years ago. I was researching tires and didnít want to break the bank, but he reminded me the only thing between you and the road is your tires. Why save a few bucks there?
At any rate, my point is, even if there was plenty of tread left, it still may have been a poor tire.
On our Foresters (Ď04 and Ď14) I use highly rated name brand All seasons (specifically good in water) and put on Blizzaks or X/Ices in the winter. Winter tires and Subaru AWD is pretty amazing in the snow.
Clearly Iíd choose the Subaru. And try to get better tires worked into the deal, as the stockers are lacking.

Myk Rian
11-16-2017, 9:14 PM
One trick I learned when in a hydroplaning situation (front wheel drive) is to keep your foot on the gas, and drive through it.

Jim Becker
11-16-2017, 9:19 PM
Certain tire formulas and models are more susceptible to hydroplaning than others, too...DAMHIKT!

'Glad she's ok. Look, I'm a Subaru fan and am glad that we have two of them in addition to my Grand Cherokee. My younger daughter drives our 2011 Outback limited that previously was Professor Dr. SWMBO's vehicle. (She has a 2016 now) Darling daughter isn't necessarily a fan of the brown color of her ride, but it was very interesting about a week or two ago when she straight out commented that she was very thankful to be driving a Subaru during a heavy, heavy downpour that occurred as she was driving home from campus to go to work. Some folks think that AWD only benefits in the winter months, but honestly, it's a boon when things are very wet, too. No, it doesn't mean folks can speed and do crazy things, but the distribution of power can be very helpful from a stability standpoint.

The Impreza is a great vehicle, although "we" prefer the larger Outback because of our own physical needs. She may also want to test drive the Forester as it has about the best visibility of all of them.

Ronald Blue
11-16-2017, 9:26 PM
Thank goodness the only thing hurt was the car and your wife's confidence.

I can't comment on any TPMS besides what I have experience with. I do believe that they all have probably improved since they were first implemented. On both my GM vehicles they tell each tires pressure in one pound increments. I have had one tire go down on my truck. It began alerting me at 4 PSI low. I haven't done the rotation myself so apparently my dealer resets the positions.

Matt Day
11-16-2017, 9:29 PM
Good point about the visibility in the Forester Jim. When we shopped around I was amazed at how open the Forester felt and how easy it was to see all around (included behind you). Admittedly it's not the coolest looking car from the outside, because most of the sleek and sporty SUV's have very short windows which greatly inhibit visibility.

Mike Cutler
11-17-2017, 7:38 AM
Andrew

I am glad that your wife is okay. Crowded between a semi and the median must have been pretty frightening for her.

I personally like the TPMS system, as long as it gives the driver the necessary info. My Mini Coopers will tell you which one is low, but not the pressure. My truck tells you the pressure in each one, and will display which is low. Are they accurate? No, they're not, but the can be used for trending. My preference would always be the ones in the valve stem, if any at all. Any new car is going to give you a wealth of info. The new Scion, or whatever replaced it, will be much more advanced than a 2006 model.

My personal belief is that it is the type, composition, and geometry, of a tire that has the most significant effect on handling. I gave up on "All season" tires many years ago and now have different sets of wheels and tires for each car and the truck. Both Mini Coopers have Winter/summer sets and the truck has the sets for towing and non towing. I also want to get a set for winter for the truck.

Ole Anderson
11-17-2017, 8:54 AM
GM sends me a monthly report via email of my Acadia's status including pressure in each tire with a yellow check on any item that is out of range. TPMS are most valuable when you get a fast leak that compromises tire pressure while you are on the road. Gives you a chance to pull over before you ruin a tire and rim. I find the TPMS pressure numbers to be quite accurate, within the accuracy of my gauges. This is a live time report from FL while my car sits in the garage in MI.

Tom Stenzel
11-17-2017, 9:26 AM
The important thing is that your wife came out of it OK. Vehicles can be replaced.

My '97 Saturn SL1 would hydroplane on tires that were inflated OK and still had tread considered to be OK. I think the weight of the car and the width of the tires was the cause. Driving it for 18 years and several sets of tires the behavior was consistent. Usually the tires were overinflated a few PSI to help keep the rims from getting bent from our bumper crop of Detroit potholes. Once the tires started lifting at 65 mph the search for replacements would start. On the roads I drove and with the traffic the car rarely got to 60 mph anyway.

The 1st generation xBox (I liked those cars!) weighed about the same as my Saturn. With the crash standards now the same size vehicle has gained weight, the second generation xB weighed about 700 lbs. more than yours. It makes a difference.

The one car in the fleet here with TPMS is the Wife's '15 Dodge Journey. It displays the pressure in each tire. From 30 to 37 psi they read head on. Haven't tried other pressures.

-Tom

Jim Becker
11-17-2017, 9:38 AM
The TPMS on my Grand Cherokee is pretty close to accurate for all four corners. One thing about inflation that sometimes gets forgot is that it has to be adjusted as temperatures change seasonally. That's actually on my agenda for this morning...

More and more vehicles now have TPMS that indicates pressure for each tire and it's truly a good benefit.

Nathan Johnson
11-17-2017, 9:39 AM
One comment on Subaru...
I recently leased a 2018 Outback. I really like just about everything about this car, but the seat is a problem. On a 10 minute test drive the issue didn't come up, but what I've now discovered is at about the 30 minute mark of sitting in the car my neck stiffens up and my left hip starts going numb. I think it's mostly due to the depth of the seat pad...its shorter than my previous vehicles and provides less support to the back of my legs.
Googling after the fact turned up quite a few complaints on Subaru seats, so all I'd say is make sure you do an extended test drive in the Impreza or Forester and make sure it's not an issue. I'm well aware this could just be my issue, but I thought it was worth noting.

Mike Ontko
11-17-2017, 10:27 AM
Glad to read that nobody was hurt in the accident. We replaced my wife's Honda Civic last year with a 2013 Honda CRV. She does a lot of highway driving in this Pacific North-'wet' weather, and the assurance of a slightly heavier vehicle with a wide wheelbase has brought peace-of-mind. It has the TPMS system, but nothing in my mind replaces routine checks or fluids, lights, and tire pressure. And, as a former motorcycle commuter of 15 years, the importance of good rubber and plenty of tread are paramount--any related costs (within reason of course) are entirely worth it. The CRV also has a backup camera but neither of us find it to be of much use because it's too hard to gauge distances.

Honda has also built a solid reputation over the years in engine design and in auto manufacturing, if that helps your decision making any.

michael langman
11-17-2017, 11:38 AM
I'm glad to read your wife is ok.
The biggest thing about driving in the rain, especially heavy rain is to slow down.
Light cars can be pushed around by the air waves of a big truck too.

Mac McQuinn
11-17-2017, 11:41 AM
Regardless of a vehicle's reputation in regards to reliability, it's only as good as the dealer you're purchasing from. I've personally seen Factory trained Master Technicians who could not decipher a dip stick, set a torque wrench or read a tire pressure gauge. Do your due diligence, bypass the sales people by interviewing the service manager and advisors. Determine if specific Master techs have updated credentials, awards, etc. Look at their work area and how they conduct themselves when working on a customer's vehicle. Research feedback focusing on the service end. Those are the people who will maintain your vehicle and keep it safe to drive.
Mac

Mac McQuinn
11-17-2017, 11:59 AM
Nathan,
Which trim level did you lease? Leather and A few extra adjustments can make a difference. I have a 2017 OB 3.6R Limited and while I've certainly sat in more comfortable seats, I find them decent enough for roughly 250 mile intervals. I drive a bit and currently have 25K on a 12 month old vehicle. Physical make-up and limitations can play a role here also, seat comfort is pretty subjective. It's odd you mention the lack of thigh support as the 2015 and newer Outbacks have additional length over 2010-14, my guesstimate is 1-1/2".
I've been looking at the 2018 Crossrtrek recently which is based on the Imprezza platform, I feel they're slightly longer in the seat base than the Outback, my inseam is 33" as a baseline.
Mac

Perry Hilbert Jr
11-17-2017, 12:02 PM
HMMMMMM> Underinflation leads to hyrdroplaning, and yet to get more traction on sand or in snow, leave some air out of the tires. Seems contradictory. Of course some cars hydroplane easier than others. And in some situations, vehicles will simply hydroplane despite the best precautions. Glad your Mrs. is fine. My 74 Ford truck was prone to hydroplaning with the all season tires. When I switched to mud and snow tires, all that stopped, except when I intentionally wanted to slide.

Nathan Johnson
11-17-2017, 12:52 PM
Nathan,
Which trim level did you lease? Leather and A few extra adjustments can make a difference. I have a 2017 OB 3.6R Limited and while I've certainly sat in more comfortable seats, I find them decent enough for roughly 250 mile intervals. I drive a bit and currently have 25K on a 12 month old vehicle. Physical make-up and limitations can play a role here also, seat comfort is pretty subjective. It's odd you mention the lack of thigh support as the 2015 and newer Outbacks have additional length over 2010-14, my guesstimate is 1-1/2".
I've been looking at the 2018 Crossrtrek recently which is based on the Imprezza platform, I feel they're slightly longer in the seat base than the Outback, my inseam is 33" as a baseline.
Mac

Mac,
I was previously driving a Chevy Malibu, and the seat depth was 1 1/2 inches greater than the Outback. I've never really had comfort issues with a vehicle seat prior to this.
It is a 2.5i base model, with the manual seat. The lack of angle adjustment for the seat bottom certainly could also be a factor here. It's just not something I even considered since I've never had issues previously and it didn't surface on short test drives. I'll play around with some pad options and see if I can improve it.
And my post wasn't to slam Subaru. As mentioned, I like nearly everything else about the vehicle. Just a heads up to sit in it thoroughly and ensure there are no issues.

Edwin Santos
11-17-2017, 1:11 PM
TPMS are most valuable when you get a fast leak that compromises tire pressure while you are on the road. Gives you a chance to pull over before you ruin a tire and rim. I find the TPMS pressure numbers to be quite accurate, within the accuracy of my gauges.

I think they're equally valuable for alerting you to an insidious slow leak that can cause underinflation, which can cause overheating, and failure. These slow leaks are difficult to notice unless you're in the habit of inspecting your tires with a gauge daily.
I can't believe anyone would think TPMS is an example of useless government mandate.

Stan Calow
11-17-2017, 2:59 PM
Andrew Consumer Reports has some interesting comments on the current Impreza that might be worth a look.

Andrew Joiner
11-17-2017, 4:14 PM
This from the tire shop we use:
"Regardless of TPMS, we recommend tire pressure checks every 30 days. Properly maintained tire pressure decreases tire wear and improves vehicle safety, handling, braking and fuel mileage. Come in anytime for a free air check."
It's probably for their liability, but it sounds like you can't trust TPMS. I have a tire gauge I trust so I'll use more often now.

Jim Becker
11-17-2017, 4:54 PM
Andrew, the shop's advise is good for sure. TPMS isn't a "be all, end all" thing and doesn't replace routine monitoring with a quality pressure tester. TPMS may not always be exact, but it's a nice feature to have, both for its warning ability and for the simple push of a button or three to check more frequently without getting too dirty or cold. :)

Greg R Bradley
11-17-2017, 4:59 PM
I was initially skeptical of TPMS and the early systems were vague. The latest ones seem to be excellent. My 2017 Honda Ridgeline not only shows me the pressure in each tire, it is accurate to 1lb plus or minus, which is about as accurate as the good gauges used in the car shop I also own. It completely removes the need to check it with a gauge. This surprised me based upon my experiences with TPMS systems even 5 years ago.

Nathan Johnson
11-17-2017, 6:04 PM
I was initially skeptical of TPMS and the early systems were vague. The latest ones seem to be excellent. My 2017 Honda Ridgeline not only shows me the pressure in each tire, it is accurate to 1lb plus or minus, which is about as accurate as the good gauges used in the car shop I also own. It completely removes the need to check it with a gauge. This surprised me based upon my experiences with TPMS systems even 5 years ago.

This has been my experience with my last two GM vehicles also.
I could use TPMS to monitor the pressure and then fill as necessary. Even more handy when the sensors were reading the right wheels, but not a huge issue if I had to verify with the gauge.

Jason Roehl
11-18-2017, 8:25 AM
One comment on Subaru...
I recently leased a 2018 Outback. I really like just about everything about this car, but the seat is a problem. On a 10 minute test drive the issue didn't come up, but what I've now discovered is at about the 30 minute mark of sitting in the car my neck stiffens up and my left hip starts going numb. I think it's mostly due to the depth of the seat pad...its shorter than my previous vehicles and provides less support to the back of my legs.
Googling after the fact turned up quite a few complaints on Subaru seats, so all I'd say is make sure you do an extended test drive in the Impreza or Forester and make sure it's not an issue. I'm well aware this could just be my issue, but I thought it was worth noting.

Did you still have your wallet in your back pocket? I used to really suffer on long trips in small-medium-sized vehicles until I learned to remove my wallet. Problem solved. Also, if the seat allows, raise the front edge to meet the back of your thighs to take some of the pressure off your buttocks.

Jason Roehl
11-18-2017, 8:27 AM
HMMMMMM> Underinflation leads to hyrdroplaning, and yet to get more traction on sand or in snow, leave some air out of the tires. Seems contradictory. Of course some cars hydroplane easier than others. And in some situations, vehicles will simply hydroplane despite the best precautions. Glad your Mrs. is fine. My 74 Ford truck was prone to hydroplaning with the all season tires. When I switched to mud and snow tires, all that stopped, except when I intentionally wanted to slide.

Heavy vehicles with narrow tires don't hydroplane easily. I've also found that underinflated tires don't do well on snow--makes them wider and they don't cut through the snow then. For sand, yes, tires must be deflated so they don't sink and then can't climb out of their own hole.

Curt Harms
11-18-2017, 8:44 AM
HMMMMMM> Underinflation leads to hyrdroplaning, and yet to get more traction on sand or in snow, leave some air out of the tires. Seems contradictory. Of course some cars hydroplane easier than others. And in some situations, vehicles will simply hydroplane despite the best precautions. Glad your Mrs. is fine. My 74 Ford truck was prone to hydroplaning with the all season tires. When I switched to mud and snow tires, all that stopped, except when I intentionally wanted to slide.

Gotta be a little careful about underinflating though. I believe underinflation is thought to have been a contributing factor if not the primary factor in Ford Explorer rollovers, softer tires "rode better". Firestone was blamed at the time but after more research, perhaps the tires were not as responsible as first believed. At least that's what I've read.

Nathan Johnson
11-18-2017, 9:15 AM
Did you still have your wallet in your back pocket? I used to really suffer on long trips in small-medium-sized vehicles until I learned to remove my wallet. Problem solved. Also, if the seat allows, raise the front edge to meet the back of your thighs to take some of the pressure off your buttocks.

No, I stopped sitting on my wallet years ago. It's not good for you.
There's no angle adjustment on this seat bottom.
Good thoughts though.

Jim Becker
11-18-2017, 9:40 AM
Yea, there is less seat adjustability on the lower trim levels of most vehicles, including the Outback. I find the seats in Professor Dr. SWMBO's 2016 Outback Limited with Eyesight to be "nearly" as comfortable as those in my Grand Cherokee Overland Summit. The biggest difference is I can get more seat height in the Jeep so as to be in a slightly more "chair like" position. Our 2011 Outback Limited that my daughter now drives isn't quite as comfortable in the seat department as the 2016. It's going to be interesting to see how the new Ascent (3 row mid-size SUV) feels in the seat department...it's being officially announced on the 28th at the LA show.

----


On the subject of under-inflation and hydroplaning, under-inflation tends to have the tires run on their edges with the center "bowing up" slightly and that allows more water to sit under the tread. With so little contact with the road, the risk for hydroplaning is increased.