You're driving down a lonely highway at night not long after a snowstorm. The road appears to be clear of snow, but suddenly, without warning, your car begins sliding sideways as it hits a patch of ice.
What to do?All driving instructors and manufacturers say the first rule is not to panic. Sure, easy, right?
Perhaps the best way to avoid panic and get the car back under control is to go through a quick mental checklist and take immediate, but gentle, actions.
Saab-Scania AB, the Swedish automaker, has published a book, "Winter Motoring," with all kinds of tips for wintertime driving. The Swedish get a lot of practice driving in snow and ice, so the recommendations are based on wide experience.
If your car's rear wheels are the ones skidding, steer the front wheels in the direction the rear wheels are going. In other words, if the rear of the car is skidding toward the driver's side, steer left.
It doesn't matter if your car is front- or rear-wheel-drive for this maneuver.
At the same time, push in the clutch on a standard transmission or ease up on the gas pedal on a car with an automatic transmission. After the rear wheels stop skidding, gently turn the steering wheel back to bring the front wheels to point straight ahead.
Here's where the difference between a front-wheel-drive and a rear-wheel-drive pops up.
On a rear-wheel-drive car, the rear wheels may begin to skid in the other direction. Chances are the skid won't be as severe, so a driver needn't turn the steering wheel as far the other way to slow the skid. Remember, use gentle turns.
On a front-wheel-drive car, a skid in a new direction isn't nearly as likely if the initial correction was done carefully.
After the skid stops, slowly release the clutch or gently depress the accelerator so the engine speed matches the road speed. Accelerate gradually.
Front-wheel skids are far less common and less difficult to control. Saab recommends that the driver not move the steering wheel.
Depress the clutch pedal on a car with a standard transmission or ease up on the accelerator on a car with an automatic transmission. Since the front wheels are skidding sideways, they perform a kind of braking effect by themselves.
Wait for the front wheels to grip again and when they do, gently steer the car back on track. Slowly release the clutch or gently depress the accelerator to get going again.
After everything is under control again and your heart returns to its normal pace, slow down a bit. Then, when you accelerate, brake or steer, do it gently - no sudden starts or stops or quick turns.
Remember that going too fast for conditions was the reason the car began skidding in the first place.