Portland receives about 42 inches of rainfall every year and an average of 154 days of rain. That is a lot of rain, and subsequently, one would’ve been led to believe that PDX drivers would be adept at handling rainy weather. Sadly, however, that does not appear to be the case. This is evident in how often the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODT) feels the need to remind the Portland drivers, via a number of different initiatives, about the importance of driving safely in the rain.
Yet, for all that, it barely seems that they have been able to drive the point home. According to a Safewise Report, Oregon ranked as the fifth worst US state when it came to driving in the rain. Surely, it is time that PDX drivers got the message—for their own safety, as well as that of others!
Why Is Rain So Dangerous to Drive In?
For all the talk about the dangers of driving in snow and in wintry conditions, it was found from the data published by NHTSA that the likelihood of a car crash during rainy weather is far greater than if you were driving in the winter—in sleet, ice and snow. According to the NHTSA data, as much as 46 percent of weather-related road accidents occur during rainy weather. In comparison, wintry conditions are responsible for no more than 17 percent of these accidents.
This, of course, is partially explained by the fact that drivers are more wary about hitting the road during the winter months than they are in rainy weather. Which also tells us that most drivers feel confident that they can manage rainy weather and the slippery roads. In other words, they do not respect the rain enough.
That this is a folly on their part is revealed by the somewhat gory statistics (published by the U.S. Department of Transportation) that wet pavements cause on average 950,000 road crashes each year, leading to about 4,700 deaths and more than 384,000 cases of injuries. One can only hope that this will make the drivers respect the rain and take all the necessary precautions before they head out for a drive during a rainfall!
Ways to Prepare Your Vehicle for the Rainy Season
Pressure and Tread: Tires with proper tread and pressure are key to driving safely in wet weather. Your tires lose traction when traveling on wet, watery surfaces and a worn tire is the last thing you want on such conditions. Perform the penny test to check the tread and if you find that the remaining tread in your tires is below the top of Abe’s head, it is time you replaced them. To check the pressure, use a tire gauge. If you don’t feel confident about the results, engage the service of a certified auto repair shop to do the job for you.
Be sure that your wiper blades are in tip-top condition. Visibility during rainy drives is especially important. If your wiper blades are in bad shape, replace them immediately. Also, do not forget to top off your wiper fluid, especially if you use the water repellent type.
An extremely important thing when driving through rain are properly working headlights. If the visibility is low, law in all states require that you turn on your headlights. So, before you get your car on the road, make sure the headlights are working properly. If the bulbs appear to be less bright than normal, have a professional take a look at them. And while you are at it, take time to check the brake lights, taillights and turn signals as well.
Properly working brakes are a must when you are driving on wet, slippery roads. So, make sure your brakes are working alright before you hit the road under cloudy skies. It is also important to see to it that your brake fluids are in good shape and always make sure to use genuine brake fluid for your car. For instance, if you own an Audi, only use the exclusive Audi Brake Fluid and not some cheaper substitute. Don’t forget, factory recommendations are that the brake fluid be flushed every two years, check your records and make sure that sometimes over looked service has been done.
We recommend that you get a technician to check your car battery as well. Your battery is made to work harder when starting the car in wet and chilly conditions.
A leaking sunroof during a rain is not only bothersome but can be dangerous as well. The leaks mainly result from blocked gutters and blocked outlets. Many Volkswagen models, for instance, are available with optional regular panoramic sun / moonroofs. So, if you own any of these models and if you suspect your roof to have a leak, get it checked by a VW repair shop.
During the rainy season, it is important to have a properly working defroster to keep the windshield clear as to not hinder your view.
Tips to Remember for Driving Safely in the Rain
- Drive slower and always keep a distance of at least 3-4 seconds from the car ahead of you. Add an extra second for each additional challenge. So, make it 5 seconds if it’s raining or 6 if it’s raining plus you are driving at night or at low visibility… and so on.
- Always keep your headlights on if you are driving at low visibility as also when your windshield wipers are in use, whether or not your state law requires the latter.
- Stay away from standing water or deep puddles. Or if you must drive through them, make sure to slow down as much as possible. This way, you won’t risk damaging your car’s brakes or engine and more importantly, losing control of your car.
- Drive in center lanes and if possible, try to not get boxed in by too many vehicles on either side of your car.
- Beware of hydroplaning. On wet, slippery roads, your tires gain more traction on a thin film of water (mixed with other liquid buildups such as engine oil, lubricants, etc.) than on the road itself. The result is that your car starts to ‘hydroplane’, i.e. slide uncontrollably. Hydroplaning can occur at any speed above 35 miles per hour. So, again, be on your guard and drive slowly.
- Use the right technologies. For example, never use features such as cruise control, forward collision warning system, etc, when driving in rainy conditions. Cruise control will make your car go faster when it starts to slide or hydroplane. On the other hand, more advanced technologies such as traction control and ABS or Antilock Braking System are helpful when driving through rain.
During rain, try to stay away from driving altogether unless necessary – but let’s face it, in Portland it rains so regularly in the fall and winter that avoiding driving during those times would be very difficult. So, when you must drive, please keep all the above in mind to avoid any potential disaster. Also, remember to stow a few safety items in the car such as an umbrella, flashlight, gloves, chains, blankets as well as a pair of jumper cables.
Owner, Hillside Imports
Rene Rodriguez has over 25 years of experience working exclusively on VW and late model Audis. As Hillside Imports owner, and service writer, he’s dedicated the past 20 years to educating consumers about safety, reliability and performance.