Car Skidding: What It Is, How to Avoid It, What to Do If It Happens

What should you do if you find yourself driving a car in unideal conditions that may lead to a skid? Car Skidding: What It Is, How to Avoid It, What to Do If It Happens will explain what car skidding is and how it occurs, what you can do to prevent it, how to react if you begin to skid, and the difference between a two-wheel versus four-wheel skid.

Quick Answer

A car skid is an occurrence in which a car’s tires are sliding and unable to build their standard traction on the road. There are steps you can take to avoid a car skid, and things to do if it happens. 

  • Be aware of dangerous weather conditions including: snow, ice, and rain. Over-braking, over-correcting, and driving too fast are other common causes when experiencing a car skid.
  • Allow your car to stop gently by taking your foot off the accelerator very slowly to avoid a hazardous car skid. After avoiding a skid, if it is necessary to continue driving uses the gear shift in your vehicle to control your cars hard acceleration.
  • When experiencing a car skid keep focused, and steer in the direction of the skid. Do not over-correct because this could cause your car to flip or spin uncontrollably.

A car skid can be dangerous for the driver and those around them. Several different things impact the outcome of a car skid, but if you know what to expect you may be able to avoid an accident.


What is Car Skidding

A car skid is a condition where one or multiple tires do not have a grip on the road. This scenario can feel scary to the driver, as if they may start spinning out of control or crash.

In the instance of a skid the driver of the car does not have control over the direction the vehicle is heading. The overall handling of the car becomes compromised.

Car skids can vary in significance including, severe skids and subtly skids that are hardly recognizable to the driver. he car itself has characteristics that can promote or prevent a skid including, tire traction, and gear.

Why Does a Car Skid? 5 Most Common Causes

Most car skids result from a combination of factors. For example, a rainy day and over-aggressive accelerating. To avoid a car skid, it is important to know what the underlying causes are. Drivers can practice defensive driving when experiencing conditions that commonly lead to a car skid. The five most common causes of a car skid are:

  • A slippery road due to ice, rain, snow, or slush. When the road is slick it is difficult for a car’s tires to gain traction. This is the most common cause of car skid.
  • Poor, low-grade, or worn out tires. A higher quality tire set can help prevent a skid. Michelin tires were ranked best overall tire in 2020, followed by Goodyear, Cooper, and Bridgestone. Tires that have worn off their tractions are called, bald. Bald tires are a leading cause of tire related skids.
  • The driver brakes suddenly. When a driver presses down on the brake abruptly the car’s tires can lock up, enacting a car skid.
  • Over-aggressive accelerating. When a driver pushes down on the accelerator rapidly their vehicle may experience a skid. This is because when a car builds speed suddenly, and the wheels may not have time to compensate for this rapid speed increase. The wheels will turn, but won’t connect with the road to build traction.
  • The driver takes a sharp turn. The front wheels of a car can skid when the driver goes into a curve or turns at an angle that is too sharp for the vehicle. Often, this occurs in combination with over-aggressive accelerating.

How to Prevent A Car from Skidding

To prevent a car from skidding there are a few simple things you can do. When you drive defensively you can stop a skid in its tracks. The most ideal way to control a car skid is to know how to avoid it.

Drive with the weather in mind. Poor weather conditions often attribute to a car skid. Pay attention to the condition of the road. If it is raining be aware of hydroplaning. Hydroplaning is when a car slides uncontrollably due to a wet surface.

Ensure you keep space between you and the car in front of you. Allowing space between vehicles will permit drivers to have time to stop without causing a skid. In poor weather leave 8 to 10 seconds between you and the car in front of you.

Check your tire treads regularly. The treads on a car’s tire are the raised portion of the tire’s exterior. Treads are responsible for traction between the wheel and the road. To check your tire treads, place a penny facing head down into your tread groove. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head your tire tread is worn and should be changed.

Watch your speed when taking turns. Car skids do not occur simply from taking a turn. However, when that turn is coupled with bad weather or high speeds it can result in a skid.

Utilize your vehicles gear options. When a car is functioning properly the wheels will be spin and build traction on the road. Many cars offer a range of gears to promote positive traction. You should drive in a high gear when there are variables in play, such as snow, that could cause a skid.

What To Do if Your Car Skids

If you find yourself in a car skid there are steps you can take to ensure your safety and regain control. There are also things you should avoid doing.

Steps to Take While Experiencing a Skid

Doing these key steps when experiencing a car skid could be the difference between a serious accident and a close call. The actions you take will be essential to the outcome. Here is what you should do:

  • Take a deep breath, and do not panic.
  • Gently remove your foot from either the brake or the gas pedal, while keeping your hands placed on the wheel.
  • When you are not accelerating or braking allow your vehicle to coast.
  • Scan the road for hazardous and decide which direction you want to go to avoid an accident.
  • Once you have removed your foot from the pedal’s “turn into your skid” by gently turning your steering wheel in the direction you wish to go.
  • The natural reaction of most drivers is to overcorrect by turning their steering wheel sharply. Do not overcompensate by making a hard turn, this could cause your car to spin or fishtail.
  • Once your car is aimed in the direction you wish to go straighten your vehicle by turning the steering wheel. Make sure to keep your hands at ten and two while straightening your vehicle to maintain control.
  • Slow to a halt once you are able to find a safe place to stop, and assess the conditions.
  • Determine if the skid was related to the car, weather conditions, or a bit of both.
  • Proceed on your drive, if necessary, practicing caution based on what you assessed.
  • If the skid was weather related shift into a higher gear for the duration of your trip.

Things to Avoid Doing While Your Car is Skidding

There are things a driver can do that will make a car skid much more dangerous. Outcomes such as, a car accident, totaling your vehicle, injury, or even death can occur when a skid is not properly handled. The following reactions will create a more dangerous situation.

Slamming on your brakes: When you thrust down on your brakes you are activating your anti-lock braking system. The anti-lock braking system typically works in favor of protecting you from a skid. Unfortunately, if your brakes are worn slamming on the brakes can have the opposite effect during a skid. Slamming on the brakes can also cause the front wheels of your vehicle to lock up, creating a spinning motion when the back wheels continue to shift, resulting in a skid.

Jerking the steering wheel: Another move that can cause trouble is jerking the steering wheel. Similar to slamming on your brakes, jerking the wheel can cause the front wheels to change direction, while the back wheels continue on their path. This creates either a spinning motion or a fishtail.

Hitting the accelerator:  People often hit the accelerator when they start to skid, as an attempt to gain traction. Hitting the accelerator will not help your vehicle gain traction, instead hindering your car from building traction between the road and tires.

Driving too fast: Driving too fast for the road conditions is the most common cause of a car skid. Pay attention to the speed limit and road signage.

How to Regain Control of a Skidding Car

Regaining control of your skidding vehicle can help prevent an accident. To regain control of your car if it begins to skid follow these easy steps.

Step 1: Stay focused – Take your foot off the pedals, and keep your hands on the steering wheel.

Step 2: Steer into the skid – Determine the best direction to go and lightly turn your wheel towards your desired destination.

Step 3: Steer away from the skid – Once you are positioned towards your target turn the wheel back slightly so that you do not over rotate.

Step 4: Traction control – Your cars traction control system should kick in when the throttle input and torque are not aligned with the road. You should check if your cars make and model has traction control in advance.

Step 5: Use your anti-braking system – To enact your anti-braking system lightly tap the brakes. If you do not have an anti-braking system once your car has slowed you can gently press your brake.

Step 6: Slow to a stop – Eventually when you are not accelerating your car will slow to a stop. You can somewhat control your stop by gently turning the wheel where you would like to go.

Step 7: Drive smoothly – Once you have regained control drive smoothly by lightly using the accelerator and brakes, gently turning the steering wheel when needed, and driving in a slow coast for the duration of your trip.

If you find yourself in a car skid remember, don’t panic. You now know what to do, and also what to avoid. Follow these easy steps to regain control.

Front Wheel Versus Four Wheel Skidding

There are four different types of drive including: front-wheel, rear-wheel, all-wheel, and four-wheel. It is important to know how your vehicle stands up in comparison. I will compare and contrast the most popular style, front-wheel drive, to the more superior style four-wheel drive.

Front Wheel Skidding:

– Less likely to fishtail and skid compared to rear-wheel drive; however, more likely compared to four-wheel and all-wheel drive.

– The engine is limited to powering only the front axle.

– Limited ability to traverse.

– Electronic stability control available in model made after 2012.

– Better traction when turning, and accelerating compared to rear-wheel; however, inferior traction to all-wheel and four-wheel.

– Motors weight and position promote traction on sand, ice, rain, and snow to help prevent skids.

– Potential for torque steer. Torque steer causes the car to gravitate towards one side.

– Wears out faster than other options.

– Front tires become compromised more easily because of added pressure.

Four Wheel Skidding:

– Less likely to fishtail and skid compared to front-wheel, and rear-wheel drive; however, more likely compared to all-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is not as commonly found compared to four-wheel drive.

– The engine is able to power both the rear axle and the front axle.

– Made to traverse water and other skid hazards.

– Electronic stability control available in models made after 2012, and select models prior to 2012.

– Better traction when turning, and accelerating compare to rear-wheel and front-wheel; however, inferior traction to all-wheel.

– Longer lasting and more durable.

– Tires wear out consistently.

Wrap up

It may be time to check your tires and evaluate your vehicles performance in key skid hazards before you hop in for your next drive. Remember, snow, ice, and rain can all be big contributors to a car skid; however, in most cases there will be a couple of influential factors. Keep your eyes peeled for road signs, and if a skid can’t be avoided don’t forget to stay calm, steer into the skid, and regain your control. Road safety is a top priority for me, and it should be for you too. If you feel passionately about preventing car skids please share your story in a comment below!

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