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Driving in the rain

SUNDAY MAGAZINE
By -Michael Mwai | April 14th 2013

By Michael Mwai

The bravado of unskilled drivers has led to the loss of lives on flooded roads. During the rainy season, remember that road conditions can change in a few minutes as water levels rise, and take the necessary precautions

While rain is a blessing, it has a way of causing more tears than cheers if the volumes exceed what we need for a good planting season.

On one such morning, I left before first light for a business meeting. To avoid traffic, I decided to use a temporary road (bypass) but my usually uneventful trip was cut short by a slippery stretch made worse by the heavy rain.

My heavy rear-wheel-drive vehicle lost traction momentarily and spun out of control. Before I could say “mama mia”, I was sliding into the nearby ditch, where my short journey ended.

Fortunately, I had road rescue cover and was pulled out with no visible damage save for a slightly bruised ego.

While I have attended several 4x4 driving courses with Land Rover and Isuzu, I did not apply any of those skills this fateful morning. While most off-roading tips are meant to be applied while driving a rugged 4x4, a little common sense can be used to steer a rear- or front-wheel-drive vehicle out of trouble.

A key skill is to drive as slow as possible or as fast as necessary. Stay in the centre of the road, and if your vehicle is equipped with Electronic Traction Control or Anti Skid Control (ASC), use it. It should kick in automatically in modern vehicles, but some older models have a switch near the gear shifter.

The rains are here and we all might, at one point or another, encounter dangerous road conditions occasioned by flash floods. How you react will determine your chances of survival or cost of repairs.

The first thing to do: Do not panic. Panic hinders logical thought. Quick reaction could save you, but what is more important is your knowledge of the terrain you are about to encounter, and your vehicle’s real abilities.

 

BE CAUTIOUS

While most new roads have better drainage systems, the older networks are prone to flooding and damage from standing water. Be careful when you approach water, whether it is moving or still. If in doubt, turn back and choose an alternate route.

If the road is familiar and it is safe to get out of the vehicle, put on your gumboots and reflective jacket and, using a stick, determine the deepest point before driving through. If it is deep, only proceed in a large 4x4 that has good wading (fording) depth. The Toyota Land Cruiser and Land Rover Discovery have a fording depth of about 600-700mm.

As you drive through, maintain a steady speed, creating a small bow-like wave so that the water does not enter your engine bay. Too large a wave will send the water into your engine, stalling your progress.

Beyond the forces of nature you are likely to encounter various technical hazards including:

 

Loss of traction from aquaplaning

This is when water comes between your tyres and the road surface. In such a scenario, do not try to be a hero. Speeding through still water is dangerous and rude; you will soak everybody on the roadside and your vehicle will lose contact with the surface, resulting in loss of steering control. Drive slowly over wet surfaces and hold your steering wheel lightly as you reduce acceleration, allowing the wheels to regain grip.

 

Loss of stopping power from failed brakes

After getting out of a flooded section, you might be tempted to speed off. That would be a mistake. Having water between your brake pads and discs means no stopping power. Pump your brakes lightly to squeeze the thin film of water out and ensure that your ABS is working before speeding off.

 

Engine failure through water intake

Most vehicles have their air intakes positioned under the bonnet. Drive slowly through water, but more importantly, do not attempt to wade through water that is above the headlights, as it will enter your engine, and cost thousands in repairs. Turbo and super-charged engines are more susceptible to flood damage.

 


 

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