Learn How To Recover From Different Skids, Retrain Your Pedal Foot, and More!
The winter weather has arrived in Grand Rapids and West Michigan, and it looks like it’s staying for the season. While it’s undeniably beautiful to look at, snow and ice can make driving hazardous, especially with the influx of cars on the road during the holiday shopping and travel season. In the interest of making sure everyone arrives at their destinations safely, Borgman has put together a few advanced tips for winter driving, which include a quick hit on some vehicle physics plus 4 types of skids and how to recover from them. We’ve written an article that covers the basics of safe winter driving, which you can find here. To further sharpen your winter driving skills, keep on reading!
One thing we have to say is that this article is merely a guide, and will not apply to every situation. If you perform these maneuvers, you do so on your own volition.
A Quick Note About Vehicle Physics:
Just like anything else, you and your vehicle are bound by the natural laws of physics. You utilize and compensate for them every time you drive, perhaps without realizing it. The trouble with winter driving is that most of your ability to control your vehicle all hinges on friction, which there is much less of to work with! Here are some of the physical forces acting on your vehicle, and how they relate to driving:
- Inertia & Momentum: Think of a shopping cart that’s full of groceries. It’s much heavier than an empty cart, so it’s harder to start and stop. Momentum, put simply, is a resistance to changes in speed. Inertia (a property of objects) and your velocity both add up to your momentum, so the weight of your vehicle and the speed you’re going will both influence your ability to stop. Increase either, and you’ll need more distance and more braking (force) to slow down.
- Centripetal/Centrifugal Force: This is what you experience when taking a turn too fast. Everything in the car flies opposite way you’re turning. This is due to Newtonian Physics: everything wants to stay in motion, and their inertia and momentum keep them moving in the direction they were going – regardless of what your car is doing. What these forces do is push objects moving on a curved path away from the center of the curve.
- Friction: This is where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. Friction can be described as a resistance to motion between two surfaces. Your tires maintain friction with the road to help you start, stop, and turn. With snow and ice comes less friction, therefore you’ll need more surface (distance) to overcome your vehicle’s forward motion.
Learn What Your Vehicle Does When It Loses Traction – Safely
Every vehicle is different, and those differences will affect how it handles in low traction. Your wheelbase, driveline, curb weight, power, and center of mass will all play a part, and the best thing you can do according to NHTSA.gov is to experiment in an empty, snowy parking lot. This gives you a chance to see how your vehicle behaves when it loses grip, and familiarize yourself with any onboard countermeasures, such as Ford’s Intelligent 4-Wheel Drive or Mazda’s iACTIV All-Wheel Drive. This will also give you a good idea of how much space your vehicle needs to stop – relative to its speed – in a controlled, safe environment.
“Stomp and steer!” Remember that Anti-Lock Brakes do not help you stop faster, they let you keep steering while braking. If you feel the brake pedal vibrating, or hear a weird noise, that’s just the ABS pump doing its thing. Stay focused on your destination, not your obstacle and don’t make any sudden movements.
Three of the most common causes of accidents when driving on ice are the Forward Skid, the Oversteer Skid, and the Understeer Skid. These situations can almost always be prevented by taking it slow in ice and snow, but here’s how you could mitigate them if you find yourself in them:
The Forward Skid
Uh oh. The car in front of you that kept gingerly tapping their brakes? Well, they’re actually stopping now, and you’ve got to do something quick.
- Don’t Panic: You hit the brake pedal hard and as soon as you see this happen. Your wheels, ABS or no, don’t have enough friction to overcome your forward momentum and you slide into their rear bumper.
- Do This: First, learn to spot nervous drivers like the one above and give them a bit more space than usual. If you need to stop suddenly, during your parking lot tour you may find that you can actually brake pretty hard in slippery conditions as long as you do so smoothly! If you have Anti-Lock Brakes, give them a smooth, firm press and hold. If you don’t have ABS, pump the brakes. Check your blind spots to find a safe way around them if you won’t be able to stop in time.
The Understeer Skid
There’s your turn, and you’re coming in a little too fast.
- What Happens: Too little too late. You hit the brake pedal as normal and start turning the wheel – except you’re not turning. Your front tires are turned but have lost traction and you’re plowing diagonally across the road. Centripetal force is pushing you out away from your turn because you have too much forward momentum.
- How To Save It: If you turned the wheel and you’re not turning, the problem is in the pedals. Release the gas and gently apply the brake. This will transfer weight from the back of the car to the front – where you need the grip. Palm, don’t clench the wheel. Now, focus on where you want the car to go, and not what you’re trying to avoid. Once your nose is lined up, gently press the gas to pull your car forward towards where you want to go, being mindful that this will shift weight back to the rear wheels.
The Oversteer Skid
There’s your turn, and you’re coming in a little too fast. You hit the brakes…
- What Happens: Too much too late. You hit the brake pedal hard and start turning the wheel. Now, your vehicle’s weight has shifted to the nose and your rear wheels have completely lost traction. You start doing a “donut.”
- How To Save It: Again, the problem is in the pedals. Release the brake and focus on where you want the car to go. Once your nose is lined up, gently press the gas to shift the weight back to the rear wheels and pull your vehicle toward where you’re looking. You’re not out of the woods yet though, because oversteer often leads to…
A Counterskid or “Fishtailing” usually happens when drivers correct late, overcorrect, and then repeat until they’re in a ditch – or worse. Your rear end swings back and forth, picking up speed with each pass. Needless to say, they’re dangerous and the best possible thing you can do is keep your cool and focus on where you want the vehicle to go.
- What Happens: The back of the car is sliding all over the place because the rear wheels have no traction!
- How To Save It: Lock your eyes on the middle of your lane. Keep both hands on the wheel at 9 and 3 and gently press the gas. If you focus on a spot while driving, your hands will work the wheel to get you there if you let them. Gently pressing the gas will shift weight towards the back of the vehicle and help the rear tires maintain grip while pulling the car forward.
The Key To Safe Driving in West Michigan Weather
Borgman Ford Mazda put this article together because we want everyone to be safe while driving – especially during one of Grand Rapids’ infamous snowstorms. The wisest of Winter Warriors out there, whether they’re driving a powerful Ford F-150, and agile Ford Focus, or a capable Mazda CX-9, know that the best way to avoid the situations we described above is to slow down and give themselves enough space. Understanding the physical forces acting on your vehicle and how to recover from common skids is important, but avoiding them altogether is best. For more winter driving tips, visit NHTSA.gov.
If your tires aren’t gripping as well as they used to, take a look at our current Service Specials and contact the Borgman Ford Mazda Service Center for a great deal on a new set. If the winter has gotten you into a spill, we can repair your vehicle to pre-accident condition! Visit the Borgman Collision Center and we will prepare the estimate, negotiate with the insurance company so you can relax. Stay safe out there, and enjoy the West Michigan Winter!