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A beginner's guide: What is oversteering and car control

A beginner's guide: What is oversteering and car control
PHOTO: Unsplash

Ever seen dashcam footage of cars spinning out on the roads? Learn how to recover from a loss of car control, and prevent yourself from ending up in one of these videos.


Remember this video from a few weeks back? The reason why the car lost control and crashed is because of “oversteer”. What exactly is it? And how should you react if you ever find yourself in such a situation?

Top tip: Don’t just step on the brakes

The driver in that video probably wasn't expecting that his/her car would have lost traction and spun out like that. It could have been due to a multitude of factors, such as: excessive speed, worn tyres, slippery road surface (due to rain or oil slicks). What do you do when you find yourself in such an unexpected situation?

First things first, you should fight your instinct to immediately slam on the brakes. Instead of slowing you down as expected, slamming hard on the brakes when your car has already lost control may upset the car’s balance, and cause it to spin out even more.

Let’s use the case in the video as an example.


The car in the video, a Toyota Corolla Altis, is a front-engined and front-wheel-drive (FWD) car. This means that the engine is located at the front of the car, and the power is transmitted through the front wheels. Technically, if you lift the car off the road and step on the accelerator, only the front wheels will spin.

Most cars on our roads utilise this front-engine, FWD layout.

This type of vehicular design also means that most of the car’s weight is distributed over it’s front wheels, since the engine, one of the heaviest components of the car, is located up front.

In a less-than-ideal scenario, like in the case of the Toyota in the video, the rear of the car lost traction. What this means is that the rear tyres lost grip against the road surface.

In this situation, the rear of the car is sliding around, whereas the front tyres of the car still has grip on the road surface, aided by the added weight over the front wheels. This is when oversteer occurs.

Don’t understand what we mean? Try loading up a shopping trolley with things only at the front, leaving the back of the trolley empty, then push it and let go. You will likely see the trolley’s rear swinging about while the front of the trolley acts as the pivot point. That is exactly what happened with the Corolla in the video.


What should you do in such a situation? Slamming on the brakes certainly won’t help. To help you understand this, we have to come up with another analogy.

When you’re running, you can’t simply come to a complete halt without slowing down, can you? If you try to do so, you’ll likely find yourself losing balance, since your body’s momentum will carry you forward, causing you to fall.

In the context of a car oversteering, slamming on the brakes when the car is already spinning in one direction will bring all the momentum forward, thus amplifying the rotating effect. Basically, slam on the brakes hard, and your car will spin even harder.

What should I do when I oversteer?

Don't brake hard

We have repeated this multiple times above: do not slam on the brakes; doing so would likely exacerbate the loss of control.

Slow down progressively

If you car hasn’t slipped off course too much, just slow down and the car will likely recover. You can do this by lightly braking, or coasting to slow down.

Apply throttle

Of course, you will have to step on the accelerator again to regain full control of your car’s trajectory. Be mindful not to step hard on the accelerator, or you may unsettle your car’s balance and lose control again.

In Conclusion

The key to recovering your car from situations when you lose control, such as when oversteering occurs, is to not panic. Make sure all your movements are progressive, as sudden bouts of braking, accelerating, and steering inputs will only unsettle your car even more.

To end off, check out this video, which is a positive demonstration of car control and recovering from oversteer:


This article was first published in Motorist.

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