A successful driving experience for most people is all about getting from point A to point B as safely and efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, Mother Nature sometimes has a tendency of getting in the way of that, especially during the winter months. Suddenly losing control of your vehicle because of a slippery section of the road and having your vehicle begin to skid or slide is the type of surprise no one really wants. If this happened to you, would you know what to do? As a long-time driving instructor with Young Drivers of Canada, here’s what we recommend to drivers.
To start, it’s important to understand that skids can be caused by more than just snow and ice. They can also be caused by fallen leaves, gravel, wet pavement and more. Anything that reduces friction between the tires and road surface can reduce the traction your tires need to help keep your vehicle on the road and on course.
So what can you do to control your vehicle if you begin to skid? Well, it depends on the vehicle you’re driving and the type of skid you’re in. Here are some common situations.
Front-wheel-drive vehicles, which are the most common vehicles on our roads today, will tend to understeer in slippery situations. This is when the front wheels are turned, but the vehicle still continues to plow straight ahead. This is usually caused by too much speed when turning a corner and/or by sharp steering.
When this happens:
- Ease off the gas. Don’t hit the break suddenly.
- Look well ahead.
- Turn the wheels to straight if the road allows for it. In this case, abandon the turn you were intending to make and go around the block instead. Turning the steering wheel further may cause your vehicle to lose control again if the wheels have regained their grip on the road.
- Keeping your wheels straight will allow them to continue to roll and regain traction.
If you find yourself in an oversteer situation in your front-wheel drive vehicle – resulting in your back wheels going too much to the left or right (also known as a ‘fishtailing’) – a very gentle tap on the gas can pull your vehicle out of that rear wheel skid. This is because your front wheels would still have traction and the power to move comes from your front wheels.
The most common type of skid you get with a rear-wheel-drive vehicle is an oversteer. Oversteering is generally caused by travelling too fast going into a corner, harsh braking just before turning, or rough steering as you begin to turn. It usually will only take two of these three errors for a rear-wheel skid to occur in good weather, and doing any of these actions alone on a slippery road surface will likely cause your vehicle to lose traction and slide.
When this happens:
- Look well ahead.
- Come off all pedals.
- If time allows, shift the gear selector into neutral (or press the clutch in a manual transmission vehicle). Shifting into neutral removes the power being sent to the wheels and will allow all the wheels to all move at the same rate of speed.
- Be prepared to steer quickly to regain control.
- Abandon the turn. Continuing with the turn will most likely cause your vehicle to continue to spin out or fishtail.
But remember: these are tips to help control spin out situations. Several factors will influence if, when, and how spin outs happen and some or all of these tips may not apply to your specific situation. If weather conditions are too treacherous, the safest course of action is to wait it out and get on the road after plows, salters, and sanders have cleared the roads and conditions have improved. If you are not confident with your winter driving skills, consider taking lessons with a trained, licensed driving instructor so that you understand how to properly correct understeering and oversteering situations in your vehicle or any vehicle you may use.
This said, the best way to control a skid is not to get into one at all.
Avoid spin outs by:
- Making sure you have proper tires on your car for seasonal conditions and that any tires on your vehicle have a good tread depth;
- Maintaining your car properly; and
- Driving according to weather conditions, including driving slowly, leaving extra space, accelerating gently, braking early, and steering smoothly.