Ways You Can Lose Control Of Your Car In Winter – Wheel Spin, Aquaplaning, And Braking On Slippery Surfaces

Winter presents challenges for drivers because of rain, snow and ice on the road. This type of weather can make your car behave differently to the point that you lose control. Understanding what can happen in the winter, and knowing how to regain control whenever it does, will help you stay safer on the road.

Five of the ways you can lose control of your car in winter are:

  • Wheel spin
  • Aquaplaning
  • Braking on slippery surfaces
  • Understeer
  • Oversteer

This week we’ll look at the first three, and next week we’ll look at understeer and oversteer.

Wheel Spin

Wheel spin usually happens when it is most inconvenient, such as when you are taking off at a T-junction to move onto a main road. It is when your wheels spin in a relatively static position, instead of gripping the road and moving you forward. Rain, ice, snow, or bad road surfaces can all increase the likelihood of wheel spin.

If you’re driving an automatic car make sure you engage the winter setting to help the gearbox apply power to prevent spinning. In a manual car you will have to do this yourself by easing off on the accelerator until the spinning stops. To prevent it in the first place you can take off without using the accelerator at all – just slowly release the clutch until the wheels start moving and then gently apply power. It is a slow way to take off, but there is less of a chance that your wheels will spin.


Aquaplaning is caused by surface water on the road. When your car hits it you lose grip, and your car starts to almost float on top of the water. Without the grip of the tyres on the road, you have no control.

Prevention is always better than cure, so make sure your tyres are not over worn. Having a good tread depth is essential to preventing aquaplaning. Also, when you are driving, anticipate the road surface, and try to avoid driving through large amounts of standing water too fast.

Sometimes it is not always possible to avoid standing water, though. To correct aquaplaning the first thing to do is not to panic, and don’t apply your brakes. Instead lift your foot off the accelerator to gently start slowing the car. It is a frightening experience but it usually doesn’t require much reduction in speed for the tyres to get their grip again, and for you to regain control. The key is to do this as smoothly as possible.

Braking On Slippery Surfaces

Ice, water, and snow on a road can make your car act differently when you brake. This used to be a bigger problem than it is today, but ABS brakes have made modern cars much safer. ABS prevents your wheels from locking and skidding, which gives you better control when stopping, even when the surface is slippery.

When your ABS engages your brake pedal will feel different. It will vibrate, which does feel a bit strange. You should continue to press hard on the pedal though, confident that your ABS will bring your car to a stop as soon as possible.

On next week’s blog we’ll look at two other ways you can lose control of your car during winter – understeer and oversteer.

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