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Oversteering Vs Understeering, What’s the Difference?

Educational  ·  February 4, 2022

Oversteering Vs Understeering, What’s the Difference?

Driving your car around a corner is a basic manoeuvre that all drivers should master. Still, things can go wrong, especially when oversteering or understeering occurs.

Oversteering is when the vehicle’s front wheels turn more than you want them to, and your rear wheels lose their traction on the road. Conversely, to understeer is when the front wheels don’t turn as much as they should, and they lose grip on the road. 

Both understeering and oversteering are risky conditions, though oversteering is less dangerous.

Read through this guide to find out more about what is oversteer and understeer, and how to minimise the chance of these cornering behaviours from happening to you.

What Is Oversteering, and What Causes It?

Let’s first look into oversteering. 

Remember: Your car turns based on your input through the steering wheel. In other words, your vehicle is supposed to turn in proportion to how hard you steer it to the left or right.

When you take a corner and oversteer, what happens is that your car turns more than how much you're turning the wheel. As a result, the vehicle turns much more sharply than you want, potentially leading to several problems.

What Causes Oversteering?

Oversteering occurs more often in rear-wheel-drive vehicles. When the driver takes the turn too fast, the rear wheels have more power than they can cope with. As a result, those rear wheels will turn more quickly than those in front as they slip and cause you to lose control of the vehicle.

Why Is Oversteering Dangerous?

Oversteering is a problem because it can put you and your vehicle at risk. At the very least, your car will start to drift. In severe cases, you can experience a very dangerous spinout on the road that could hurt you and other drivers.

What to Do If Your Car Oversteers

When your car oversteers, you’ll have very little time to react. That’s especially true if it’s your first time, and you don’t understand what’s happening.

Still, there are some steps you can take to minimise the problem and regain control of your car.

You can correct oversteering by following the CPR process, which is:

  1. Correct: Firstly, turn into the skid. That means steering in the direction in which the car is sliding. Always keep your front tyres pointed to where you want the car to go, which will add ‘correction’ to the rotation.
  2. Pause: When you turn the wheel and provide enough correction, the car will continue sliding, but it will stop rotating. That is called the ‘pause’ when you must not further correct the rotation. Again, the point is to keep your tyres pointed in your intended direction.
  3. Recover: Soon, your rear tyres will regain traction, and the car will stop rotating any further. Then, the vehicle will straighten quickly, so you must undo your corrective steering.

Naturally, the CPR steps are easier said than done, but with enough practice, it’ll become much more manageable to execute.

As a bonus point, remember one additional trick: as your car oversteers and spins, always point your eyes where you intend to go. Many drivers believe that this step is incredibly helpful in coordinating your hand and feet to manoeuvre the car and get it back on track.

What Is Understeering, and What Causes It?

Oversteering might sound scary to many people, but so will understeering. That happens when the front wheels of your car don’t turn as much as you want them to. As a result, the car doesn’t fully take the corner and goes off the road.

What Causes Understeering?

Understeering typically happens with front-wheel-drive cars when those front wheels lose traction on the road. So, instead of pulling the car into the turn as you want it to, the car’s momentum keeps it going forward instead.

Driving at a high rate of speed will also make understeering much worse and therefore much harder to control.

Why Is Understeering Dangerous?

Understeering is also dangerous because it can cause your vehicle to steer. Plus, if you fail to take the turn as you intended, the car will continue going straight. At that point, it’ll either go off the road or hit whatever might be ahead of you.

What to Do If Your Car Understeers

The first thing you should do when understeering is to reduce the speed of your vehicle. Then, gently unwind the steering wheel by turning it back to its 12 o’clock (straight) position.

Then, turn the steering so that your wheels point in the same direction as it’s sliding. Doing so will allow the tyres to spin again and regain their traction.

If your car is still going too fast, letting go of the gas pedal is not enough. You’ll have to gently apply the brakes to get the vehicle to slow down even more.

Is Understeering Safer Than Oversteering?

Firstly, it’s important to remember that oversteering vs understeering isn’t a competition for which one is better or worse. Both are unsafe cornering behaviours that you must try your very best to avoid.

However, in terms of which one poses the lesser threat, understeering is undoubtedly safer than oversteering. Furthermore, it's much easier to regain control of your vehicle and fix the problem in an understeering situation.

What Is Drifting?

Oversteering isn’t always a bad thing. You and almost every other car enthusiast out there are familiar with drifting. That’s when a driver deliberately makes their car spin sideways around corners in a controlled fashion.

Well, what you see as a drifting driving technique is actually oversteering done on purpose. The car oversteers and loses traction on its rear wheels when done correctly. Still, the driver maintains complete control over the vehicle as it drifts around a corner.

Drifting is only safe when performed on a dedicated racetrack despite being a controlled act. When you see people doing it on public streets, you know there’s nothing but bad news ahead.

To learn more about driving dynamics, check out the blog at CarPart AU. You’ll find plenty of educational guides there to help you understand how cars and other vehicles work.

By Ray Hasbollah

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