You’ve seen these small Japanese sports cars entertaining the wild notion of drifting, but for all its frills and thrills, a drift is just an intentional, controlled skid. Accidental skidding can be scary and is something to avoid, especially when you’re in icy or wet environments. There are preventative measures you can take to minimize the chances of skidding, but for those situations where you’re caught off guard and start to lose control of your car, there are maneuvers you can use to your advantage, and hopefully come out of the skid in one piece. The most important thing to do though, in the event of a skid, is to stay calm and apply what you’ve learned from these tips and other, more experienced drivers.
There’s understeering and oversteering, and to squash whatever rumors some people might tell you, it doesn’t matter what kind of car you have. While it depends on the situation, any car can understeer or oversteer. In a nutshell, understeer is when your car doesn’t turn after steering inputs. Oversteer is when your car turns too much. In other words, the rear tires lose traction and because your front tires are turning the rear end sort of pivots on the front half of the car. Hydroplaning can cause either of these, which is when water gets between the tires and the ground, making the tires completely lose traction. You can tell you’re hydroplaning if you go through a puddle or over wet pavement, and your engine keeps building revs but you aren’t going any faster.
Whether you’re understeering, oversteering, or hydroplaning the best thing to do is to take your foot off of the throttle and to not hit the brakes. If you hit the brakes, the car could spin out a lot faster. The car will behave unpredictably while hydroplaning for a few moments, but if conditions are right the tires will stick again and you’ll be in full control. During oversteer, after you release the throttle, brakes, and disengage the clutch (in a manual transmission-equipped car), the steering will become responsive. If you’re understeering and you release the throttle, the car will slow down enough via engine braking so that you’ll probably be able to steer it again.
In order to mitigate the possibility of skidding, it’s important to keep up to date with your tires and brakes. Make sure your tires are appropriate for the environment. Although we said to not hit the brakes in the event of a skid, having a properly operating braking system is paramount to controlling your speed so that skidding may never happen in the first place. It’s also important to learn your car from the tires all the way to the engine. If it’s FWD, learn how you can operate a FWD car appropriately during a skid. The same goes for RWD and AWD.
Skidding is dangerous but can be avoided, though not 100% of the time. A good way to learn how your car operates when it loses traction is, when it rains, take your car to an empty parking lot, turn the steering wheel to full lock, and hit the gas. You’ll learn how your car feels in a skid, in a controlled environment with next to no physical danger. Of course do this after gaining permission from police officers, etc.
Avid Formula 1 fan and motorcyclist, I enjoy chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and long rides to the beach.