Ways You Can Lose Control Of Your Car In Winter – Understeer And Oversteer

Last week we began looking at five ways that you can lose control of your car in wintry weather conditions. The scenarios last week were wheel spin, aquaplaning, and braking on slippery surfaces. This week we are going to look at understeer and oversteer.


Understeer is when you turn your steering wheel, but the car doesn’t change direction like you want it to. It might turn more gradually, or it might not turn at all, continuing straight ahead. Basically your front wheels are not gripping the road so are not able to efficiently turn the car.

This is another driving scenario that is helped by technology that is in today’s cars. In many modern vehicles the on-board computer of the car senses understeer and makes adjustments to mitigate it.

Understeer is caused by a combination of speed and lack of grip. If you experience understeer there are a number of things you can do to regain grip. The first is to gently start lifting your foot off the accelerator. This will gradually slow the car to help the wheels find a surer purchase on the road. The other thing you can do is reduce the sharpness of the turn you are trying to make. Very often this only requires a gentle adjustment for the car to start responding properly again. Once you have it back under control you can make your turn tighter.

Preventing understeer involves anticipating the road ahead – the sharpness of the turn or bend you are about to negotiate; whether it gets tighter or wider part of the way through; the road surface; etc. You should then enter the bend or turn at a speed that is appropriate for the conditions.


Oversteer is not as common as understeer, but it is a problem that is faced by many drivers during winter. Generally it only applies to rear wheel drive cars. When your car oversteers it will start to spin. Essentially the back wheels lose grip and starts to slide left or right.

Again, modern technology mitigates the problem through traction control. This is where the computer in the car makes adjustments to prevent oversteering in the first place, and to help the driver to correct it quickly and bring the car back under control.

If you are in a car that is oversteering it is important not to panic. You also have to do something that is a bit counter-intuitive – you should look in the direction that you want to go. That might sound logical, but when in a car that is spinning the temptation is to look in the direction that the car is actually going rather than the direction that you want it to go.

You should also begin to gradually reduce your speed. Usually the best way to do that is to ease off the accelerator. The final thing you should do is stop the spin and bring the car back under control. This is done by turning into the spin. So, if the back of your car is swinging left (i.e. you are spinning clockwise), you should turn your steering wheel left. Similarly, if the back of your car is swinging right you should steer right.

A common feature with all winter driving scenarios that we’ve looked at over the last two weeks is speed – driving too fast for the road conditions is one of the major causes of losing control. Driving at a speed that is appropriate, forecasting what is happening with the road ahead, and knowing what to do in each situation, is how you can stay in better control of your car.

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