How to deal with a skid

Nobody sets out to lose control of their car, but it’s easy to do just that – and especially once temperatures start to plummet. Diesel spills, freshly surfaced roads, ice, surface water – all are reasons why your car might run away with you, usually on a bend – but not always.

Two ways you can protect yourself is to ensure your tyres have a decent amount of tread on and are properly inflated, while driving a car with Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) can also make a huge difference. However, even with these in place you could still lose control of your car. 

To help give yourself a fighting chance you could always have a go on a skid pan

If you should lose control, don’t brake, accelerate or turn away from the skid. Mad though it may seem, you need to lift off the accelerator and steer into the skid.

That may sound crazy, but by doing this the rear tyres will slow their rotation enough to regain their grip. Your car will stop sliding and begin to straighten, so you can straighten up the steering wheel.

To help give yourself a fighting chance you could always have a go on a skid pan. Either that or keep this copy of FirstCar in your glove box, so can you throw it open at this page the next time you lose control of your car…

Understeer or oversteer?

Reading the rules about what to do when your tyres lose grip is all very well, but how will you instantly know whether it’s your front or your rear wheels that are sliding? It all sounds highly complicated. Much more complicated, in fact, than it is.

Once you’ve experienced understeer and oversteer for yourself, it all starts to make sense – which is why it’s worth spending some time on a skid pan. Oversteer is much rarer than understeer in road cars, as manufacturers tend to set up their cars to understeer – because it’s easier to control. 

How to fix things:

Understeer

The front tyres lose traction, and the car pushes wide in a bend. The more you turn the steering wheel, the less the tyres grip, the more the car refuses to turn… and you can end up in a full-blown slide across the road.

The remedy

The simplest way is to gently lift off the throttle and briefly straighten the front wheels. As the car slows, the wheels should regain their grip and you’ll be able to steer back on course. You might need to apply the brakes (gently) to help the tyres grip the road, before you can again turn into the corner.

Oversteer

The rear tyres lose traction, which can be harder to sort. When a car oversteers, the back swings wide and if your natural reaction is to lift suddenly off the throttle, it can make things worse. The back will swing wider still and you could end up spinning.

The remedy

The trick is to steer gently into the slide, which is simpler than it sounds, because it’s what comes naturally. If, for example, the rear wheels start sliding out to the left, the nose of the car will point too far to the right… well, you’re going to turn the steering wheel left, aren’t you? Which is exactly the right thing to do. At the same time, you can gently back off the throttle.