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excel at winter driving

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excel at winter driving

Driving in inclement weather is always a challenge, but perils like black ice and snowstorms make driving in winter even more treacherous. This MasterKit will help you hit the roads with confidence, by teaching you how to outfit and operate your car for safer winter driving.
winter driving on a snowy road
Article / 3 MINS

What to Do When Your Car Starts Skidding

Losing control of your car can be a panic-inducing experience. Here's what to do when your car starts to skid.

Few things scare a driver like going into a skid on a slick road. You feel the car start to turn without your input, your stomach drops, and you're overwhelmed with panic as you fearfully ask yourself, "What do I do?"

A lot of drivers learned what to do many years ago in driver's ed: Steer into the skid, get your wheels aligned with the direction of the skid, and then turn out of it. If that advice has felt completely counterintuitive, you’re not alone. But the real issue is that it’s outdated.

The advice to "steer into a skid" comes from a time when cars often had rear-wheel drive and lacked many of today’s automotive advances. Today's cars, however, tend to be front-wheel or all-wheel drive. They lose traction in different ways than the old Chevy you might have learned to drive in, so you need a new strategy.

So Where Should You Steer In a Skid?

Most driving instructors today recommend against "steer into the skid" advice. Instead, take these four steps to recover:

1. Keep your foot off the gas: The most common reason for a loss of traction is driving too fast for the road conditions. The instant you feel your car begin to slide, take your foot off the gas. This does not mean you should slam on the brakes. In fact, slamming on the brakes can shift the car's weight and make things even worse. Just take your foot off the gas to slowly bleed some speed off your car. In some cases, that's all it takes for you to regain control.

2. Keep both hands on the wheel: This one's obvious but easy to forget in a panic that your steering wheel is the tool that will allow you to regain control of the car, and you'll have the most control over it with both hands in place.

Pro Tip: You may have been taught that, in addition to letting up on the gas, you should shift the car into neutral. This is terrible advice because you're taking a hand off the wheel when you absolutely don't need to and putting your car into a gear where you have even less control. Don't do it.

3. Look where you want to go: This can be tough advice to follow when your car is careening out of control. If you see a telephone pole in your path and want to avoid hitting it, you’re probably going to stare straight at it and be too panic-stricken to stay focused on driving. The bad news is that you tend to steer toward where you're looking, whether you consciously intend to or not. So, don't look at the thing you want to avoid hitting. Instead, look where you want to go.

4. Steer where you want to go: The final step in getting out of a skid is to actually steer the car where you want to go. Combine this move with the previous step, and look down your intended path. Then, gently steer the car there. Don't worry about steering into the skid, and don’t jerk the wheel. Smoothly steer your car in the direction you want it to travel.

The cause of any skid, whether it happens on a snowy road, a dry gravel road, an icy road, or during a heavy rainstorm, is a loss of traction. No matter what driving conditions you’re facing, the advice remains the same. Drive slower than normal, and allow more room between yourself and the car ahead of you. That two-second defensive driving rule should expand to eight to 10 seconds instead. If your car does start to skid, take your foot off the gas, keep both hands on the wheel, look where you want to go, and then steer there.

The cause of any skid, in any driving condition, is a loss of traction. Learn the right way to regain control.
Pro Tip: It can be tempting to take your teen driver to an empty parking lot, or go there yourself, to practice skid recovery. Driving instructors, on the other hand, discourage this. The most obvious reason: You could wreck your car. In addition, while you certainly want to be confident in your ability to get out of a skid, you also don't want to be so over-confident that you drive carelessly to begin with.
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