Understeer vs Oversteer – What Is It And How To Avoid It?

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Understeer vs Oversteer – What Is It And How To Avoid It?

What is understeer? What is oversteer? Losing control of your car can be one of the most traumatic experiences in your life, and most times, it can happen suddenly if the car travelling is too fast, or from lack of driver attention and changing road conditions such as wet/sandy roads.


When your car loses traction and no longer follows your driving inputs – it undergoes one of two scenarios, either understeer or oversteer.

2021 Porsche 911

Rally legend Walter Rohrl had a very simplified explanation of determining between the two, and it goes, “When you see the tree you're going to hit, that's called understeer. If you can only hear and feel it, it's oversteer”. Either way, it is very dangerous and scary so it’s best to understand what’s actually happening when your car understeers or oversteers, and how you can best avoid the situation at all times.

What is Understeer?

Understeer is classified as a loss of grip on the front wheels. This mostly happens when there is excessive speed going into a corner and the front tyres can no longer provide sufficient grip to turn and/or brake the car going into a corner. Despite turning the wheels, the excessive momentum of the car keeps the car going in a straight line (towards the tree, that you can see coming).

Do note that it’s not always excessive speed that causes understeer, sometimes with changing road conditions, such as wet or sandy roads or even puddles can cause your front tyres to lose traction and cause understeer. Worn out tyres and poor alignment can make things worse.

How to avoid Understeer

What is Understeer

Image: drivingfast.net

Your best bet is to always ensure your tyres are in proper working order, get your car aligned when you should to prolong the life of your tyres and maintain the steering geometry of your vehicle (so your car has the right amount of grip). Most importantly, reduce your speed properly before going into corners and be extra careful when driving in rainy conditions. Braking too late into a corner can also cause understeer therefore be gradual yet firm with your brake force before entering a corner.

Safety systems that help you in such situations

What is VSC and ESC

Most modern cars come equipped with ABS braking and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), these safety systems work to keep your car in check even when tyres are at their limits of grip. More advanced high-performance cars also offer systems such as Traction Control, Torque Vectoring and electronic Limited Slip Differentials (eLSD) to give you even more grip in the corners and prevent understeer.

What is Oversteer?

Oversteer is characterised by a loss of grip at the rear tyres. Oversteer happens mostly when rear tyres lose traction, causing the car's rear to step out of line and cause the car to spin around. Most commonly this happens with rear-wheel drive cars when too much power is applied (especially when exiting a corner) or a sudden loss of grip when going into a corner or even when shifting lanes on a highway. Certain cars – such as mid-and rear-engine cars- will have different overall weight balance from front-engine cars, affecting how they drive.

How to avoid understeer

What is oversteer

Image: drivingfast.net

Again proper maintenance of your tyres are your best bet against getting into situations like this, ensure periodical alignment is done and tyre pressures are maintained at their optimum. You can correct oversteer by steering the car in the opposite direction but this comes with a lot of training and preparedness, and it’s not something that is easily taught. Always ensure you enter and exit corners at the right speed, and apply power gradually especially when in the rain.

Safety systems that help you in such situations

VSC warning light

Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) is the most important system in preventing understeer. VSC works by independently braking your wheels and/or cutting engine power so you may regain control of your vehicle. Traction control and torque vectoring again are newer systems that also work to give you the best traction at all times.

Conclusion

Of the two, the more dangerous scenario is considered to be oversteer. With understeer, your car is at least facing the obstacle where it is best designed to absorb the crash's impact, as opposed to oversteer that can lead to side and rear impacts that can be far more dangerous.

2021 Proton Iriz

Always ensure your car is safe and in good working order, and be attentive to changing road conditions, weather, other road users, and perhaps, most importantly, drive safely to avoid any case of either oversteer or understeer. 

This article also hopes to educate on the importance of purchasing a car which includes the safety systems that can help you get out of dangerous situations such as these. These are commonly overlooked and often taken for granted, but should be a critical criterion when buying your car. 



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Arvind

Arvind

Writer

Arvind describes a car in the same way he would describe a woman; this is not very healthy. Unlike the eternal sunshine of a spotless mind, soulful naturally-aspirated soundtracks and trigger quick (self-applied) gearshifts are all that fill the darkest recesses of his mind. Arvind is still trying to understand women...


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