Churchill magazine

What to do if your car goes into a skid

Updated on: 24 September 2020

car skid

A skid is a loss of traction from a vehicle’s wheels, which can cause it to move uncontrollably. A front-wheel skid (more likely in a front-wheel drive car and also known as under-steer) either occurs under heavy breaking, where the front wheels lock up, or when trying to take a corner too quickly for the road conditions.

The steering wheel may also feel strangely light. When this happens, the car will typically carry on in a straight direction regardless of how you try to steer it.

No back up

A rear-wheel skid can occur under heavy breaking in both front- and rear-wheel drive cars, especially if there is a fault with the rear brakes. It’s more common for it too happen when driving round a corner too quickly. In this case, it’s likely to happen in rear-wheel drive cars and is also known as over-steer. It may feel like the car is going to spin round, but unlike in a front-wheel skid you have the ability to control the front wheels.

How to react

If you experience a front-wheel skid, it’s important to keep the wheels in the direction of the skid. However, with a rear-wheel skid, you need to steer into it for example, if you go round a corner and the car slides out to the right you need to carefully steer right towards the skid to counteract the effect. In both cases remove your feet from the pedals in order to allow engine braking to take effect.

Early detection, staying calm and smoothness of movement are all vital and will give you the best chance of successfully dealing with a skid. 

Risky business

Brakes and tyres are less effective on wet or icy roads, so bad weather conditions dramatically increase your chances of skidding. Avoidance is your best plan. If a forecaster predicts extreme weather conditions, don’t travel unless it’s absolutely essential. Be aware of the dangers of driving through standing water.

Make sure you know how deep it is and that it could cause your car to aquaplane (where a layer of water builds up between the tyres and the road, causing a loss of traction and the vehicle to become unresponsive to steering, braking or accelerating.) If this occurs while travelling in a straight line, ease off the accelerator and don’t turn your steering wheel or apply the brakes. Where braking is unavoidable, lightly pump them.

If your rear wheels aquaplane and cause an over-steer, steer in the direction of the skid until they regain traction then rapidly steer in the opposite direction to straighten. Be aware that if the noise from your tyres is very quiet or the steering feels light, you could be driving on ice so take great care. Leave plenty of room between you and the vehicle in front in bad weather and slow down.

Effective maintenance

Keeping your car in a top mechanical state will help guard against skidding. Don’t allow your tyres to become worn, do ensure your brakes are working effectively and check the tyre air pressure weekly.

A vehicle fitted with an ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) or ESC (Electronic Stability Control) system will help prevent skidding, but you should also fully understand how to control the car yourself. Gentle manoeuvres, with smooth movements and no sudden braking, acceleration or sharp steering are the key to safe driving.

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