How To Handle a Skid in a Front Wheel Drive Car

Published: 17th April 2009
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The majority of cars nowadays are front wheel drive. This is because they are both mechanically easier to design and dynamically the handling is regarded as more benign, in the event that the driver enters a skid. In essence, there are three ways a driver can skid the wheels, whilst accelerating, under braking or during cornering and the recovery from each does differ.



Skidding a front wheel drive car under acceleration


If the road surface is slippery, due to ice or rain, or you have applied excessive throttle, then the front wheels are very likely to skid. In high powered front wheel drive cars this can also result in

the steering wheel tugging in either direction making the car hard to hold steady in a straight line, and this is known as torque steer.



To prevent the wheels from spinning in this situation you need to gently lift off the throttle, the front wheels will regain traction and forward drive is restored. This type of skid is normally avoidable and can be anticipated if for example, you are pulling out of an uphill junction and the road is wet or if there is snow on the road. However, if you are on ice and the level of grip is very low it would be better to attempt to pull away in second gear by slipping the clutch slightly. This should reduce the torque through the front wheels and give you better traction.



Skidding a front wheel drive under braking


If you lock the front wheels up under heavy braking then your ability to steer will be lost and, if this occurs on ice or slippery roads, so will your ability to slow down. To come out of the skid gently release the brake pedal until the skid stops and the front wheels start turning again then reapply the brakes using less force.



Normally there will be no need for the procedure above as most modern road cars are fitted with antilock braking systems called ABS, which will carry out the same process hundreds of times a second, so that you can maintain steering control whilst under heavy braking. This is normally felt as a judder through the brake pedal accompanied by a loud graunching noise. Whilst ABS is an important safety aid it can't work miracles and it will still take longer to stop on a wet road than on a dry one.



Skidding a front wheel drive car whilst cornering, causing understeer


When cornering a front wheel drive car, the front wheels have to cope both with supplying the power and applying a turning force. If you enter a corner too fast, the front wheels will lose grip and start to skid, this problem is more likely to occur at night, where the light from your car headlight bulbs may not show up the tightening radius curve of a bend. The car will want to carry straight on regardless of how much steering input you use, and this effect is called understeer.



Often when an inexperienced driver feels their car start to understeer they will panic and try to resolve the problem by braking harshly. This will only worsens the understeer, and makes you more likely to plough on into the path of an oncoming car or straight off the road and into a hedge. You must avoid this temptation to brake aggressively and instead if you start to feel the car understeer gently lift off the throttle, grip will return and the steering will take effect again.



Skidding a front wheel drive car whilst cornering, causing oversteer


There is one other type of skid that can occur to a front wheel drive car when cornering, and that is called oversteer. It is very rare for a road driver to experience this type of skid, as oversteer will normally only occur at very high cornering speeds, when the driver has sharply lifted off the throttle mid way through the corner. When a car is oversteering the back wheels slide out towards the outside of the turn, and this is counteracted in a front wheel drive car by pressing hard down on the throttle which will pull the vehicle out of the slide.



Whilst it may seem more natural to depress the brake if a front wheel drive car is oversteering this would be serious mistake. Braking would place more weight over the front wheels of the car, causing the rear wheels to skid more, the oversteer will worsen and it is very likely that you will spin off the road and into the nearest hedge backwards.

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