Every year, there are 200,000 accidents in the U.S. due to bad winter weather. And it’s no wonder – spinning out can send anyone into a brake-slamming, white-knuckle panic. But if you’re able to stay calm and execute a few simple counteractions, you can steer yourself back to safety. “If you’re using good technique, it’s the same whether it’s ice or pavement,” says Mark Cox, director of the Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. “It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.” Here, Cox explains the two most common skids – and how to come out of them alive.
Skid #1: Oversteering
The sensation of spinning out – when the backside of your car fishtails – is a loss of traction on the rear wheels, or what’s known as “oversteering.” Your instinct will be to hit the brake or at least lift your foot off the gas – but don’t. Either move will create a redistribution of weight toward your front wheels and send you spinning even more. Instead, Cox says, smoothly accelerate. “It’s counterintuitive, but that will transfer the weight back to the rear wheels where you need it,” he says. “Then you want to turn into the skid, which actually just means keeping the front wheels pointed in the direction you want to go.”
Skid #2: Understeering
When you’re trying to turn but your front wheels don’t turn with you, that’s “understeering.” Here, too, you’ll be inclined to brake and keep turning, but that will only make it worse. “At that point, you’ve turned the wheel past the point where the tires can grip the road,” Cox says. To regain traction, lift your foot off the gas and steer back toward straight ahead. “That allows the front tires to start rolling again, which, combined with the decreasing speed, should let you smoothly try to steer again,” he explains.