Rock Talk

What Should I Do If My Car Starts Sliding

Last updated on December 10, 2019 at 04:41 pm

Most of us have been there: driving in the winter or trying to beat a snowstorm home when your car starts sliding and you lose control. Panic sets in. Before that happens, here’s what to do if you’re wondering “what to do if my car starts sliding?”

When in doubt, stay home. The best and most guaranteed way to avoid slick winter driving is to just stay home. Reschedule any plans you had, make some hot cocoa, binge watch your favorite shows or build a snowman. Waiting until the roads are safe is a lot easier and smarter than dealing with an accident.

Still, you may occasionally find yourself caught unawares or in a situation where you must drive through the snow or ice. Here’s what driving school instructors and professional rally drivers have to say:

“[In] winter driving, you’re more likely to slide, you lose traction on your tires, so make sure to drive slower than usual,” says Casey Atkinson from Willie Driving School. He also advises to always, always, always make sure your tires and windshield wipers are in good condition. Slick roads aren’t made any easier if you can’t see and your tires are bald.

If you have the option, take a front-wheel drive vehicle on a snowy day. According to Lionel Firn, a one-time Northern England Stage Rally and National Peugeot 205 1.6GTI champion and founder of DriverSkills Driving Academy, “You get a lot more grip, mainly because the engine is over the driven wheels and the heavy weight of it pushing down gives you better traction.” But don’t worry if a rear-wheel drive vehicle is your only choice; it’s okay. Just add weight to the trunk via bags of sand, cinder blocks or other heavy items.

When you’re on the road, take it slow! And don’t think all-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, traction control or snow tires mean you can zoom along. Most of these features are actually useless when cornering or braking. Mark Stohlberg, vice president of training at MasterDrive Experience, Colorado’s driver safety program, explains it perfectly. “It’s like giving someone the best skis on the market,” he says. “It’s not going to make them a good skier.”

Even following the guidelines above, there’s still a chance that your car could slide. Let’s be clear here: this information does not guarantee you’ll avoid an accident. The only tried and true way to avoid accidents on slick roads is to stay off of them.

Over at The Art of Manliness, Wyatt Knox, former U.S. Rally Champion and director of special projects at Team O’Neil Rally School, provides tips on how to recover from some of the most common slides:

Understeer
What it is: Your front tires have lost their grip on the road.
Why it happens: Usually due to too much speed when coming into a corner.
How to fix it: Take your foot off the gas and apply brakes gently. Slightly steer where you want to go. (A slight steer will have more impact than a bigger steer.)

Oversteer
What it is: The opposite of understeer – your rear tires lose grip with the road. The back of your car will start to slide sideways.
Why it happens: Most often this happens due to wheelspin, or when your tires spin without getting any traction. This can also happen if you’re going too fast and apply brakes while turning a corner.
How to fix it: This varies based on your vehicle. If driving a rear-wheel drive car, just take your foot off the gas and gently steer where you want your vehicle to go. If driving a front-wheel drive car, take your foot off the brakes and gently apply gas.

Counterskid aka Fishtailing
What it is: The back end of your vehicle skids back and forth and tends to build momentum the more it slides. If you’re unable to correct the first couple of skids, you’ll most likely generate enough energy to make the third skid very difficult to recover from and it could be very violent.
Why it happens: You attempted to correct an oversteer (see above) and failed.
How to fix it: Avoid over correcting! Look down the road to where you want your car to go and steer just enough so your tires point in that direction.

Be safe out on the roads and always err on the side of caution! Happy (and safe) driving!

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2 thoughts on “What Should I Do If My Car Starts Sliding

  1. Some excellent advice here. I always think the best drivers are those that understand the reactive elements (i.e know what to do when it all goes wrong) but combine that with the forward planning and observation to reduce the chances of that happening in the first place

  2. Advanced driving is all about being defensive to ensure a skid does not happen in the first place. However, if the worst happens then it’s good to know what to do. A skid pan is a great place to learn reactive driving skills…Fun too.

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