Understeer: How to handle an understeer skid?

Wet road
Published at

Understeer is a phenomenon that occurs when driving a car and passing corners with smaller curves at higher speeds or in adverse road conditions.

The name of this phenomenon is derived from the fact that the car turns insufficiently when understeer.


Which cars suffer from understeer?

Understeer naturally manifests itself in cars with a front-mounted engine and front-axle drive. However, it is not always the case.

Understeer can also appear on cars with rear-wheel drive, though this requires much more effort.

How does the understeer of the car manifest itself?


In the case of understeer, the car does not react adequately to turning the steering wheel. Thus, the vehicle continues in a straight direction when understeer and does not follow the angle of the steering wheel.

Causes of understeer

The cause of the understeer is the loss of grip of the wheels on the front axle. In vehicles that do not have a driven front axle, only the braking and transverse forces that arise when changing the direction of travel cause the front axle to lose grip. On the other hand, if only the front axle is driven on the vehicle, the loss of grip is caused by the acceleration of the vehicle in addition to the mentioned factors.

The engine placement also affects the possibility of an understeer skid. If the engine is placed in the front, a large part of the entire car's weight is above the front axle. Such a concept of the car increases the transverse forces that act on it during a sharp change in the direction of travel.

However, with unsuitable, poor road adhesion conditions (sand, gravel, ice, snow, water), it only takes a small change of direction, braking, or gentle acceleration to show the understeer behavior of the vehicle.

How does an understeer skid occur?

Understeer skid usually occurs when turning the vehicle with a change of the moment acting on the front wheels. The greater the change of the moment acting on the wheels, the greater the probability of skidding.

Road in the mountains

In the case of an understeer skid, the front wheels do not lead the car into a turn despite their turning because the front axle lost traction. If the vehicle does not regain contact with the road, it will uncontrollably fly off the outer edge of the curve.

However, an understeer skid cannot occur on a vehicle that accelerates from a standstill. When the vehicle is stationary, no force will push the car forward if the tires lose grip.

How can I handle an understeer skid?

To get the vehicle out of an understeer skid, simply release the accelerator pedal and wait for the wheels on the drive axle to regain grip. It is not recommended to suddenly press the brake pedal or turn the steering wheel excessively, as this could lead to an even greater loss of tire grip.

When turning the wheels, there is a risk that after the front wheels regain their grip, they will start to roll again on the road, which will cause a sharp change in the direction of the vehicle. This change of direction can lead to an oversteer skid, which requires a lot of experience and is very dangerous on a front-wheel drive vehicle.

If an understeer skid occurs on a vehicle with a rear drive axle, it is usually enough to reduce the pressure on the brakes or align the wheels of the front axle to eliminate the skid.

A final myth

There are many automotive myths among car enthusiasts. There is also one widespread myth that fits this topic very well. According to some car enthusiasts, a car with front-wheel drive can only experience understeer, and a car with rear-wheel drive can only experience oversteer.

This statement is only valid when driving around a corner in case of great acceleration. Under normal conditions, a car with any drivetrain can experience any kind of skid, either understeer or oversteer.