Road conditions change with the weather, and it can go from good to bad in a hurry without any notice. When the roads get slippery, it is easy to lose control of your vehicle and go into a skid – but sometimes it is just as easy to take control back and recover from the skid if you know what to do. First, a few prevention pointers, because it is usually much easier to avoid a skid than to recover from one.
The first rule of skid prevention is of course to simply slow down. Most skids are caused by driving too fast for the road conditions, and not allowing enough distance bewteen your vehicle and those other vehicles on the road. Slowing down also means taking your foot off the gas before you need to put on the brakes – letting your vehicle coast to a slower speed before braking lets you maintain much more control in slippery conditions, and also saves fuel. When the roads ice up, or the rain is heavy, leave more space and drive slower – your life is on the line!
Traction is the keyword when it comes to skids, and your tires are often the culprit if they are worn, or improperly inflated, or are designed for hot summer days instead of snow, mud or rain. Tires that are properly inflated will respond much better to icy or wet roads, often preventing skids all by themselves. Other handling related equipment such as shocks, struts, tie rod ends, and alignments can help as well, but usually to a lesser extent. Making sure all of these components are in good working order before you need them can be very helpful.
Tires come in a lot of shapes and styles, and some are much better at holding the road when things get slippery than others. Tires rated for mud and snow are usually the best for rain as well, and offer the best traction in any weather. Studded snow tires are available, as are tire chains for extreme conditions, but most of us don’t need to go to that extreme. A good set of all season radials can get most of us through the occasional storm safely, and they also are a good compromise when it comes to fuel efficiency – the more aggressive tires have less fuel economy.
Any vehicle can go into a skid, so preventing and correcting skids in bad weather is a set of skills we should all practice developing. The best way to learn to do this is to go out in the snow to an abandoned parking lot and practice spinning out a little at slower speeds to see how it feels and see what works for you. There are some general rules for skids that help you recover, but nothing beats first hand experience and practice.
Recovery depends upon the type of vehicle you are driving. In a rear wheel drive vehicle that is spinning out, the rear of the car will usually pull toward either the driver’s side or the passenger’s side, and you should cut the wheel in the same direction to pull out of the skid. Don’t hit the brakes, as that will just lock up the front wheels even more and prevent recovery. Front wheel drive vehicles are the opposite of rear wheel drive vehicles and you can often recover by giving it a little gas – yes, gas – instead of braking. All wheel drive vehicles also need a little gas to gain a foothold before braking. Four wheel drive vehicles usually handle the same way, but once again, don’t hit the brakes when skidding – hit the gas, just a little, to get the front tires moving again. It also helps to straighten out the wheels, as when they are turned hard there is just no opportunity for them to gain traction.
There is just no substitute for slowing down ahead of time, and leaving lots of room to stop. Preventing a skid is preferable to recovering from one, and much more likely.