What to Do When Your Car Starts to Skid

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English: Skid steer loader, Toyota Jobsun 4SDK6

What do you do when your car starts to skid? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

here are few things that can make a person panic faster than the feeling of their car skidding out from under their control.  Whether you have been driving for a week or a lifetime, road conditions can send you skidding across the road and leave you stranded in a ditch, or worse.    To maneuver out of the skid, we have to overcome the natural instinct to slam on the brakes, turn the wheel, or become fixated on the telephone pole we are about to ram into.  But the key to regaining control, keeping your car on the road, and keeping you and your passengers safe is to know what to do when your car starts to skid.

Skidding is caused by a lack of friction between the tire and road.  If the road is covered with snow and ice, it will be difficult for the tires to get enough traction to stop, turn, or accelerate as expected.  If the road is covered with water, the tires can float on top of the water, eliminating the necessary friction and making it impossible to steer or stop.

The best way to ensure you and your car remain unscathed is to remain in control of your vehicle.  When the road conditions are not optimal, drive slower and allow additional room to stop between your car and the car in front of you.  Remember that water can be just as damaging as snow or ice and can send you skidding off the road just as fast.  But if you find yourself slipping and sliding and skidding into the ditch, here are the 3 things you need to do when your car starts to skid.

1.     Don’t Panic

This is the most important thing you can do.  Staying calm enables you to act rather than react.  Most people hit their brakes when they start skidding.  They don’t think about it and they drive the same way regardless of road condition; if they feel out of control, they try to slow down.   But most of the time, your normal reaction will actually make the skid worse.

Stay calm, gently take your foot off the accelerator, and steer the car in the direction you want to go.  Avoid anything sudden or sharp.  Think slow and steady.

2.     Find a Target

One problem many drivers encounter when they try to steer out of a skid is that they fixate on what they are about to hit instead of looking at where they want the car to go.  This can cause a kind of paralysis that experts call “target fixation” that limits your ability to do what you need to do to get out of the skid.  Instead, pick a point further down the road in the direction you want to go and make it your target.  Keep your focus on the target as you steer the car out of the skid.

3.     Determine the Type of Skid

There are a few different kinds of skids and understanding which skid you are in will provide important information on how to get out of it.  If you are in a front wheel skid, the whole car will start moving in the wrong direction.  The most common cause of this kind of skid is taking a corner too quickly.  To correct, turn into the skid and accelerate gently.  Continue to do this, avoiding the brakes if possible, until the car is headed back in the right direction.

If the car is in a rear wheel skid, it will fishtail and the back of the car will slide from side to side.  It isn’t always as easy to steer out of this kind of skid and you don’t want to use the accelerator at all if you can help it.  To correct, use your target to keep you from overcorrecting as you steer out of the skid.  Use your brakes lightly and sparingly to help you maneuver.

 

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