PH Blog: rain stops play


Unless wind speeds have exceeded 125mph, the weather is not an adequate topic of conversation in the United Kingdom. But when it rains for a month even determined meteorological avoiders like myself find it hard not to drop 'it's rather wet out there' into the odd sentence.

Bimbling 'lemming' not far ahead...
Bimbling 'lemming' not far ahead...
Unless you are filming very powerful cars on a race circuit, rain doesn't help driving. The general reduction in grip levels can be fun in some cars (no Trent/Garlick - not an invitation to fly the flag for MX-5s...), but in general, road conditions deteriorate and, more importantly, so do the driving standards. It's all very well enjoying the added slitheryness of your little roadster, but if the roads are clogged with lemmings unable to travel at anything above 27mph, your chances of enjoying that loose chassis are low to zero.

What a month of rain has confirmed is just how little the average UK motorist knows about the performance of his or her car in the rain. The same non-enthusiast who, in the dry, will happily scratch about on trunk roads above the national speed limit and hack down the M40 at 99.8mph in his Audi A4 2.0 TDi, immediately assumes that a single downpour transforms his car into a Ford Anglia on crossplies. With faulty rear brakes.

If people knew just how effective a modern chassis, on healthy premium rubber was on a damp or wet road, they'd be astonished. Of course there's less grip, but the drop-off isn't anything like as pronounced as most of the population assume it to be, and because people have no understanding or experience of grip limits, they just slow down to laughable speeds.

Wet weather shouldn't stop your fun, in theory
Wet weather shouldn't stop your fun, in theory
A few days ago I followed a car I have seen several times driven locally at a decent lick. It was raining and this car was now barely trundling. And yes, it did contain the same driver. By all means take 10-15 per cent off your speed, but 50 per cent? That's madness.

Should this read like a rallying call for people to drive much faster in the wet, I apologise, because it certainly isn't meant to be. That would be madness. We just don't need to slow down to the degree that we do.

The most dangerous aspect of wet roads is the unpredictability of surface changes: fresh rain on dry surfaces leeches out lubricants and other slippery stuff, downpours are sometimes absorbed by the drainage system, but they also tend to leave random lakes that a 285/35 P-Zero is notably incapable of handling.

I haven't driven much over Christmas partly because there hasn't been much need and partly because of all the reasons listed above. If lemmings are a frustration on a dry summer's day, they're too much to handle in a deluge.

Car getting muddy? Get a muddy car...
Car getting muddy? Get a muddy car...
But it's the other aspects of a sodden journey that I find almost more depressing. I hate getting wet walking to the car. I hate the way that water then spreads itself over the upholstery - and leaving the door ajar for a nano second always soaks the door trim. I hate the way that water then evaporates and coats itself onto the glass. Lots of hate there.

Living in the sticks, water means mud. Everything I climb into gets muddy - it's unavoidable and quite depressing in a car with 10 grand of light grey Nappa leather. Buying a loaf of bread leaves me looking like a failed Wipeout contestant.

Oddly, none of this seems to matter as much when you're driving a shagged-out old Range Rover -my wheels of choice in these conditions. The teddy bear seats are never too cold, the mud is indecipherable on top of the seven layers of older mud and a bit of water on the electric window switches tends to make them work a little better.

But no need to get too depressed about all this. Right now I'm dreaming of summer time. Blue skies, dry roads and something fast.

The DRIVE videos resume soon.

Here's to 2013, it's going to be fun.

Chris

Comments (127) Join the discussion on the forum

  • ajb101 08 Jan 2013

    I'm Spartacus said:
    Agreed. I've never understood why people buy them. I had a set of four Falkens on my Focus which cost £75 a corner. The best tyres I've ever had fitted to a car I've owned. Fantastic in the dry or wet and a reasonable life span for a softer tyre. £75 a corner was a bargain in my opinion. On the other hand my sister had new tyres fitted to her Punto not long ago which cost £50 each for budgets. I'd rather spend the extra 50% for a quality product personally than pay a nearly as large amount for crappy plastic tyres.
    I bought an MR2 a while back, it only cost me £800, I then spent the same again on a set of ROTA rims with Falken 451 or 452 rubber, I forget the wheel widths but the tyres were 245/35R17 up front and at the rear they were 295/35R17 (or very close to that in terms of the side wall specifications the widths are correct.)

    This set up was marvellous, without any suspension tweaks the handling was brilliant and when it did step out, it did it in such a predictable manner it was a blissful experience. Because it was a REv1 SW20 MR2, it had no power steering... so low speed was 'interesting' biggrin

    I like Falken, good price, good tyre.

    Anyhow, just thought I'd share biggrin

    Edited by ajb101 on Tuesday 8th January 10:32


    Edited by ajb101 on Tuesday 8th January 10:33

  • I'm Spartacus 05 Jan 2013

    zebedee said:
    Unless they are cheap modern tyres, which most people do drive around on, and really aren't very good.
    Agreed. I've never understood why people buy them. I had a set of four Falkens on my Focus which cost £75 a corner. The best tyres I've ever had fitted to a car I've owned. Fantastic in the dry or wet and a reasonable life span for a softer tyre. £75 a corner was a bargain in my opinion. On the other hand my sister had new tyres fitted to her Punto not long ago which cost £50 each for budgets. I'd rather spend the extra 50% for a quality product personally than pay a nearly as large amount for crappy plastic tyres.

  • zebedee 04 Jan 2013

    I'm Spartacus said:
    the point is that modern tyres, [] mean that as long as you drive responsibly and with a bit of thought and consideration you should be fine.
    Unless they are cheap modern tyres, which most people do drive around on, and really aren't very good.

  • I'm Spartacus 04 Jan 2013

    I think the point Harris is trying to make is that other road users make the roads less safe during theses conditions by overcompensating due to the fact that they don't understand the limits of their cars.

    In my last post I told how my car was written-off on Wednesday by someone who clearly didn't understand how her car performs in the wet. If she had just driven in the way she would have in normal conditions she would have probably just pulled up safely, but because she panicked and took avasive action she slid across my lane and took me out. This is obviously just me guessing about what happened, she was probably on her phone or driving too fast, or both, but the point is that modern tyres, suspension etc. mean that as long as you drive responsibly and with a bit of thought and consideration you should be fine.


  • Zumbruk 04 Jan 2013

    That Rangie isn't muddy. There isn't even any mud on the roof.

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