We can always say that the Philippines has 2 seasons: rainy and sunny. However, if there's anything recent weather phenomena has shown us, there's a third: storm season.
This is the time we really dread. Driving around is harder, driving reasonably fast is downright dangerous and every time we wash our cars, mother nature makes quick work of negating it... not to mention the muddied puddles that will get splashed on your ride along the way. If that wasn't enough, when a really strong rainstorm or monsoon takes hold, our cars are pretty much left at the mercy of floods.
More to the point, breaking down in the middle of a downpour -whether it be mechanical, electrical or even just a simple flat tire- is one of the most miserable moments for any car nut. To help avoid that, here are a few tips when it comes making sure your car is ready to take on the elements.
We provide some simple steps to weatherproof your car so you don't get stuck out in the rain.
Start with your tires. Just make sure your rolling stock are relatively new or have enough tread to disperse water. Aquaplaning at speed on an unexpected or unanticipated puddle is not fun. Also, changing a flat in a downpour is not something you would ever want to experience; again, take my word for it. It's just a miserable feeling.
Regular maintenance is paramount, so change your oil, get new spark plugs, make sure your valve clearances are right to spec, and all that basic engine maintenance stuff. Fluids (coolant, engine oil, transmission/gear oil, brake fluid, washer fluid, etc) should be topped up to recommended levels; your car really can overheat even in cold, wet weather.
Water plays hell on electrical systems and electronics, so it's always a good idea to sort everything out. Make sure all the terminals are properly connected, covered and/or sealed. Have a competent electrical shop check your alternator, starter and battery system. Have spare fuses on hand as well as spare relays, just in case.
Of course, mechanical maintenance is very important. Like a changing a flat, having to step out because you broke down is just as bad. Just make sure your seals for the engine are okay, and everything is in good working order. Have the belts adjusted so that they don't squeal when they get wet.
Some think that A/C systems need to be worked on only during summer. Well, try driving around with a failed A/C in the rain and it becomes apparent its more important in this weather; fogged up windshields in rainy weather poses an extra challenge, especially if you can't open the windows in a rainstorm. A simple check, cleaning and maintenance work of the A/C system at your local shop should do.
Lights, brakes and wipers -as well as other typical consumables in a car- should be checked and replaced as needed. Replace faulty brake lights, fog lights and headlamp bulbs. Old worn-out wiper blades should be replaced, and it might be worthwhile to get a bottle of Rain-X or similar product. Brakes should also be checked and replaced.
Check your rubber seals and grommets. See if your window seals, door seals and other rubber components are doing their job. Also, check if the rubber grommets on the floorpan and firewall are still okay.
Have a basic toolkit handy in the car. Screwdrivers, a few wrenches, a jack, flashlight, jumper cables, tow cable, hammer, pliers, an early warning device and a few other things. A first aid kit might also be worth keeping on board.
There will come a time, particularly after the recent wave of floods and 'catch basin' streets, that you may need to ford a flooded road to get home or wherever you need to go. It's easy to surmise what a typical compact car can go through, but for high riding vehicles like SUVs, crossovers or pick ups, the one thing to keep in mind is your ground clearance as well as your air intake's clearance.
We like to describe floods as either gutter deep, knee deep, chest deep or 'lagpas-tao' (deeper than people), but how does that translate to your car? It's good to know how much your car can actually take if its absolutely necessary for you to go through a flooded area. Find out how high your intake actually is.
New pick ups can cross waters up to 800mm deep (like the new Ford Ranger or Chevrolet Colorado), or about waist deep. Any deeper and you would need a modified 4x4, depending on the modifications.
The general technique for crossing a flood is actually quite simple, but harder in practice. Once you enter the water, you're pretty much committed. Use low gear with moderate to high revs, and don't overtake the 'bow wave' you will create when you enter the water. The middle of the road is usually the best place to be, as it tends to be crowned, therefore slightly higher.
After getting past the flooded area, do a slow-speed test of the brakes. Water is a natural lubricant, and soaked brakes need to dry off a bit before resuming.
You, the driver
The cheapest preparation you can make is in the way you drive; it's free.
Keep your speed manageable in a downpour; we've found that 60 km/h maximum works well in a moderate or heavy downpour. Hydroplaning isn't as bad an issue at this speed yet. Nevertheless, find a speed that you're comfortable with; each and every driver is very, very different.
Turn on your headlamps, front and/or rear foglamps. Never turn on your hazards unless you're stopped; it's wrong, it's contagious, it doesn't allow you to signal, and it's an extra distraction to everyone else around you... as if the rain wasn't enough.
If you're waiting to cross a particularly flooded area, pull the car aside, step outside, and observe the other vehicles. If you think your car has a reasonable shot at making the crossing, by all means go. We would usually lean on the side of caution because at the end of the day, the driver is responsible for whatever happens behind the wheel.
Lastly, save your aggression on the road for another time. There are a lot of aggressive drivers out there; be honest with yourself, you might be one of them. Doing it in clear weather is already dangerous, but doing it in rainy weather makes it far worse. Save it for another time.
Check out some wet weather driving tips - Driving in a Downpour.