Skid row: How do you control a skidding car?

While the winter might be firmly in the rear view mirror now, spring showers still means that the risk of skidding on the road is quite high.

However, did you know that nine out of every ten drivers in the UK don’t know how to correctly deal with potentially dangerous skids?

That’s according to vehicle hire company Flexed anyway, who conducted research into whether or not drivers were properly equipped to cope with situations on the road. In total, 36 per cent of people said that they had no idea how to cope with a skidding car.

While 56 per cent said that they did, all of them turned out to be incorrect, with only a tiny eight per cent of respondents to Flexed’s survey correctly identifying how to control a skidding car.

Losing control of your vehicle can be quite scary, and as a result it’s easy to panic and make the wrong move by accident if you don’t know what to do. So how exactly do you get yourself out of a slippery situation?

We’ve outlined the five most common types of skids and how to recover when they happen in order to better prepare you for the roads, so read on!

Wheelspin

Wheelspin occurs when you try to accelerate too quickly or enthusiastically for the surface under your car.

Anybody who’s ever driven on a beach or on loose gravel will probably be familiar with this; you step on the accelerator and raise the clutch as you normally would, but instead of setting off, your wheels spin round and just digs you further into the sand. Darn.

While wheelspin is pretty harmless on dry, flat tarmac, in turns or on low-grip surfaces it can be a different story and can lead to your car drifting off to the side of the road, sinking into the surface below it and other problems.

Luckily, however, it’s also pretty easy to avoid. In order to manage wheelspin, all you have to do is go a little easier on the accelerator. It’s really that simple; all you have to do is back off the accelerator until your tyres get traction, then ramp it up slowly and more cautiously next time.

In snowy, muddy or sandy situations, it can sometimes be helpful to try and set off in second gear instead of first by revving your engine higher, but with a little more care on the accelerator and clutch you’ll be mastering it in no time.

It’s also interesting to note that some modern cars with traction control won’t allow your tyres to spin and will cut off the throttle if it sense you’re about to lose control. Regardless, it’s always beneficial to learn how to control your car, just in case you get caught out.

Wheel Lockup

Though virtually all cars these days come with anti-locking brakes (ABS) as standard, certain older or custom cars don’t, potentially leaving a driver susceptible to the wheels locking up.

Wheel lockup is pretty much essentially exactly what it sounds like; if a driver brakes too aggressively or suddenly for the surface they’re on, the brake pads will clamp down on the wheels and stop them from moving altogether.

While this sounds like it might be a good thing, remember that if you’re too quick with it, the car will still move even though the wheels won’t.

This means that you’ll essentially be skidding down the road, with no control over your pace or your direction, and it can result in potentially life-threatening injuries if you collide with another vehicle or obstruction.

Like wheelspin, however, locked wheels are a fairly simple problem to fix. All you have to do is let go of the brakes long enough to allow the wheels to start turning again. It might sound counter-intuitive, and we know that in a panic it’s all too easy to floor the brakes, but keeping a calm mind can go a long way to helping you regain control.

Also bear in mind that while ABS systems won’t allow your wheels to lock up, on loose or slippery surfaces this can also adversely affect how quickly it takes you to slow down, so you should always ensure to leave proper distances between your car and others to compensate.

Understeer

It might sound like an overly technical term, but understeer is actually pretty simple and also a frighteningly common occurrence on roads in low-grip situations.

An understeer skid happens when your car’s front tyres lose grip on the road, usually due to driver’s travelling too fast to cope with oncoming bends. As the front wheels are responsible for steering your car in the direction you’re going, a skid like this will often result in “pushing”.

This occurs when your car keeps going in the direction you were originally travelling, while the loss of grip to the front means that you can’t steer your car around the bend and you’ll end up crashing straight into the barrier.

If you think you’re approaching a corner too fast, the solution is to let off your accelerator and only gently apply the brakes if necessary, while ensuring that you keep your eyes on where you want the car to go.

A common mistake is to try and compensate with more steering if you enter an understeer skid. It seems like the natural thing to do – “The car won’t turn round the corner, so I’ll turn the wheel more!”

Unfortunately, the problem needs to fixed with the pedals and not with your hands. Steering too sharply in a skid can cause your front wheels to go sideways, which will only send you further into the skid and contribute to loss of control.

To be on the safe side, it’s always important to be mindful of your speed when travelling around bends, and to always make sure that you’re keeping the right speed for the conditions around you.

Oversteer

Whereas an understeer skid happens when the front tyres lose grip, oversteer happens when the rear tyres fail to grip the road.

It can seem and look pretty dramatic when professional drivers like Ken Block drift their cars around corners using controlled oversteer, but keep in mind that they’re highly-trained professionals. On the road, going round a corner, the last thing you want to encounter is an oversteer skid.

The same sidewards action that makes drifting look so cool is unfortunately the same sidewards action which will cause the rear of your vehicle to slide out, putting you out of control and potentially sending you into the nearest ditch.

Like understeer, oversteer occurs fairly often when drivers travel too fast for their conditions and apply their brakes hard while turning a corner. This shifts the vehicle’s weight onto the front of the vehicle, leaving the lighter back end to squirrel out.

You can counter it in much the same fashion you can with understeer; relax your foot off the accelerator and gently guide your car around the corner, avoiding the temptation to slam on the brakes or otherwise try to force your vehicle to slow down.

Counterskids

Unfortunately, it can often be hard to keep a level head when your car enters a skid, and your natural reaction might be to try and over-correct your steering in order to get yourself back on the straight and narrow.

Counterskidding is what happens when a car that oversteers through a corner tries and fails to appropriately navigate through the corner, usually as a result of over-zealous steering correction.

In this instance, the rear end of the vehicle will skid back and forth sideways, which is often known as “fishtailing”. The problem with this is that with each skid, the rear end will gain more and more momentum until your car spins out in the middle of the road.

The key to correctly getting your way out of skids is to keep a level head, back off the accelerator and gently guide your car in the direction that it wants to go, rather than incorrectly trying to apply opposite steering.

Rather than slamming your steering wheel on full lock, ensure that your tyres correctly follow an oncoming turn all the way through, until the tyres are pointed in the direction that you want to travel.

Like other skids, all it takes to keep your car from bouncing back and forth is just keeping calm and ensuring not to make any sudden actions with the steering or brakes.

With just a little thought and some good advice, you can go a long way in making yourself a safer, more able and responsible driver on the road.

However, if you’d like to improve your skills even more or to try out some of these techniques in a safe environment, you can always sign up for an advanced driving course. Not only will you learn how to be a better motorist, it can also save you money on your insurance, giving you more spare change for new toys!

For more news, guides and blogs, keep your eye on the Perrys website. If you’d like any more information on our cars or the services we offer, get in touch with us today!