Three life-saving manoeuvres that can help you avoid disaster
Picture this: You are driving down a highway at a fairly good speed in your favourite car, enjoying the drive on a rainy day, and you enter a curve only to see a cow in the middle of your path. Your instinct is to slam on the brakes, which could lead to the car either spinning out or sliding straight ahead into the bovine barrier.
All this could happen in just a few seconds. However, if you knew the right technique, you could have averted an accident. These days many cars come with driver safety aids such as ABS, which would be useful in such situations, but we’re going to tell you just how to control a skid even if you didn’t have any such driving aids.
Here’s a look at the three kinds of skids and the technique you should use to recover from it.
Front-wheel skid or understeer
A front-wheel skid occurs when you lose traction to the front wheels of the car. A front-wheel skid can occur if your car’s front wheels are turned to the left or right and you hit the brakes hard especially on a wet road or snow. You will find that the car, instead of turning, will carry on going straight ahead towards the edge of the road, with the front wheels locked and sliding sideways.
A mild variant of this is called understeer where the car will tend to try and go ahead in a straight line, even as you turn the car to the left or right, resulting in a much wider turning radius than you intended.
Technique 1: How to recover from a front-wheel skid
To recover from a front-wheel skid, first take your foot off the brake pedal and the accelerator. Turn the steering wheel back into a straight line to help the wheels regain traction and gently tap the brake rapidly (don’t slam the pedal again) to slow the car down. If you have a car that is equipped with ABS (anti-lock braking system), you can press and hold the pedal firmly, as the ABS system will automatically release and engage the brakes rapidly as needed.
Rear-wheel skid or over steer
A rear-wheel skid can result in the rear of the car sliding out in either direction, resulting in the car either going sideways or into a complete 360 degree spin, depending on the severity of the skid. A mild variant of a rear-wheel skid is over steer, where the car turns far more enthusiastically into a turn then you wanted it to – a situation often known as fishtailing and quite a common occurrence especially in rear-wheel drive cars or cars that have more weight distribution towards the rear.
Technique 2: How to recover from a rear-wheel skid
Recovering from a rear-wheel skid involves two slightly different approaches, depending on whether your car is a front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive model.
In a front-wheel drive model, if your car happens to fishtail or spin out, the first thing you have to do is take your foot off the brake. Then turn the steering wheel in the direction of the skid or the direction you intended to go (for instance, if you are taking a left hand curve, and the rear of the car slides out towards the right, you should turn the steering wheel towards the right – a technique that is also called applying opposite lock). And if the car is a front-wheel drive, this would be the right time to get back on the accelerator gently, so that the front wheels can pull the car in the direction you wish to go.
In a rear-wheel drive car, the tendency to oversteer or fishtail is far greater and can occur even with too much acceleration (enthusiasts and rally drivers sometimes deliberately do this to get around a corner faster or to dramatically “drift” the car through a corner). Here again, one needs to get off the accelerator or the brakes, and turn the car in the direction of the skid. Gently tap the accelerator once the car is pointing in the direction you intend on going to regain traction and then stop if you must.
Total wheel lock up
A total wheel lock up can happen under panic braking in a car that does not have ABS. This is a situation that can happen if you suddenly see an obstacle on the road in front of you when you are driving in a straight line at high speed. Slamming on the brakes will result in the wheels locking up and the car sliding forward straight towards to obstacle. Steering will be futile if the wheels remain locked.
Technique 3: How to recover from total wheel lock up
This is where ABS is really, really useful. If your car has ABS, you won’t encounter this problem as the brakes will apply and release rapidly, allowing for some traction to the front wheels and therefore the ability to steer the car even under panic braking. In ABS equipped cars, you will feel the brake pedal pulsating under your foot.
However, if your car does not have ABS, you will have to simulate the working of ABS, by quickly taking your foot off the brake pedal and then reapplying it rapidly (pumping the brake pedal). This will allow brief moments of traction to the front wheels, giving you enough time to steer and avoid the obstacle.
Other driving aids such as electronic stability control and traction control also help in controlling skids by automatically moderating power supplied to the wheels from the engine, in conjunction with ABS. Therefore, if the car you are buying offers these safety features as options, it is worth investing in them.