Oversteer Vs. Understeer; Know Your Skid!

To almost any driver, skidding in your car is bad. They see skids as a sure way to crash your car and hurt yourself. That may be true for most, but for drifters, we own the skid. There are different types of skids, though, and different ways to enter a skid. The two most common types of skids are Oversteer and Understeer, and they are vastly different.

Oversteer is when the rear wheels loose traction and slide out. This is how 17-year-olds crash their early 90s RWD Mustangs or mid 2000s AWD WRXs trying to “drift”. Understeer is when the front tires loose traction, and your car skids straight forward instead of turning. This is how 17-year-olds crash their early 90s FWD Civics or their early 2000s AWD A4 in damp parking lots trying to “drift”.

That is the easiest way to describe the two skids. Oversteer is when the car steers too much and your car points further into the turn. Understeer is when the car doesn’t turn enough, and your car faces the outside of the turn. There are many ways to get into each scenario, but mainly one good way to get out of each. I’ll also share with you some tips to avoid getting in these situations in the first place (or how to practice them safely).



1) Understeer


This type of skid mainly targets front wheel drive cars, but can affect front-biased all-wheel drive cars such as the Audi A4 and the AWD MINI-coopers. The basic principle behind Understeer is that the car’s front wheels don’t have enough grip to turn the momentum of the car. Therefore, they break traction, and just slide across the pavement, with your car continuing to go straight.


Cause 1: Acceleration and Turning


This can be an effect of many different things. The most common cause for teenagers is accelerating while trying to steer through a corner.

(I do not own this video, all credit to original poster. Be advised, there is explicit language in this video)


The short answer of why this happens is that the tires that pull the car are also the tires that steer. They can only do so much, and will give out if they are pushed too hard.

The long answer of why this happens is that tires only have a certain friction coefficient. The pavement also has a friction coefficient. Whichever one is lower is the one that matters in a scenario such as this. When you accelerate, your tires use part of that friction coefficient to pull your car forward on the pavement. If you’re pulling harder, you use more of that friction. Turning also uses your friction coefficient. If you turn harder, or are going faster when you turn, you use more of that friction.


Now, if you’re turning and accelerating, you’re using the friction for the action of turning and the action of accelerating. You’re much more prone to exceeding your available friction in this scenario, causing your car to plow forward instead of turning and/or accelerating.


Cause 2: Braking and Turning


This is more common in the winter, and during track events with inexperienced drivers in FWD cars. In the context of winter, this occurs when someone is approaching a turn of some kind, and brakes too hard or turn too far. In context of track day, this happens when a FWD driver overshoots their braking zone, and tries to brake harder to compensate. They don’t have the grip to make the turn, and skid off the track.

(Again, I don’t own this video, credits to original poster)


The baseline cause is still the same between the winter and track scenarios, and is similar to the Acceleration and Turning symptoms. When you brake, you use some of that friction that the tires can handle, and doing that while trying to steer stresses the tires to much higher levels.


How To Handle It


Handling understeer is actually quite easy, if you know how. Most people’s immediate reaction is to crank the wheel the whole way in the direction you’re trying to turn and slam on the brakes. That’s the worst thing you could do, as turning further just reduces the amount of usable rubber you have on the road. The correct thing to do is to to lighten your steering angle, and gently let some pressure off the gas or brake (whichever pedal got you in the problem. If you were accelerating through the corner, lightly let off the gas. If you were braking, let off some brake pressure).



2) Oversteer


This type of skid mainly plagues high-powered, RWD cars. There is one form of oversteer that mainly affects FWD cars as well, though.

(I don’t own this video, all credit to original poster)


Oversteer is when your car’s rear wheels start to slip and slide out. This may sound a lot like drifting, because.. Well, it is drifting. Drifting is a controlled form of oversteer, and something that everybody thinks they can do, until they try, and end up like our Lamborghini in the video above.


Cause 1: Too Much Throttle


The causes for oversteer are quite simple, really. The first cause is applying too much throttle, usually during a corner. The specifics are almost the same as with understeer, but with one notable difference: the driving wheels aren’t the same as the steering ones. When you have the wheels turned, the torque provided by the rear wheels is met with more resistance from the car. If the excess torque exceeds your friction coefficient, those wheels will break traction, and start to spin. The instant you feel traction break, you can let entirely off the throttle, and the car should snap back to grip.


If you catch it after it’s already gone, though, remember to countersteer. That means turn into the skid, instead of out. Whichever way you feel the rear end sliding, turn that way some. Second, never let go of the throttle entirely during full oversteer. That will cause the car to snap back, and possibly over-snap and cause a crash. Instead, keep applying a little throttle, and slowly let off the gas to bring the car back into traction.


Cause 2: Mis-Shifting

This is a rather uncommon version of oversteer, but still dangerous nonetheless. This is also called “Moneyshifting”, because usually when this occurs you blow your engine, and repairs become expensive. This slows the rear tires considerably, and their speed cannot be raised quick enough, and thus they break traction and skid. Just be careful while shifting, and you won’t encounter this.


Cause 3: Showing Off

This is incredibly common on YouTube, if you’ve ever seen a “Car crash compilation”, you’ve seen one of these. The stereotype involving Mustangs and Crowds is as old as time, and this is the exact reason. People in powerful, RWD cars will try to show off by intentionally causing oversteer. The thing is, many don’t know what to do once they’re sideways, and that’s when they make the crowd a Drive-Thru, or decide to take a really close look at another car on the road.


All jokes aside, this kind of oversteer is easily the most dangerous. This is induced on purpose, by people who don’t know how to handle their cars, and near tons of bystanders. This is the modern-day equivalent of Group B Rally (a horrifyingly beautiful division of rally that ended the lives of spectators and drivers alike, and spawned many legendary cars).


While it’s the most dangerous, it is also the easiest to prevent. There’s two main ways to avoid this problem. The first is to avoid showing off at all, just drive like normal. Having a cool car will get you enough attention, you won’t need to show off. On the other hand, you could learn the proper way to drift and show off, and be able to do it fluently and safely.





Everything up to this point has been fact. From here on is just my opinion, though, so feel free to take it with a grain of salt.


Regardless if you’re sixteen or sixty, skidding around in a car is incredibly dangerous. Anybody can be caught off-guard and slam into the highway barriers. This is especially true during winter, where conditions are much less pleasant. It doesn’t matter if you’re Vince Vaughn or Vaughn Gittin Jr, skidding is never perfectly safe. Remember to drive safely, have the right tires equipped on your car, and please only drive cars you have the skill to handle. Don’t be the rich 18-year-old spending daddy’s money on a new Porsche, and put it in a fence the next day.


As a drift enthusiast, if I've owned the car, you can bet it's been sideways! Honda S2000, Chrysler Crossfire, 1987 Porsche (only once, *never again*), and my babies, my 1995 Notch-top SR 240SX and 1991 Red-top SR 240SX. I've had a ton of fun, and I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences, tips, and recommendations with you all!

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