Sliding on Ice: Counter Steering

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By Kara Jeffers

If you hit ice, and your car starts sliding, how do you get control back? There’s a few common phrases thrown around when winter weather hits and the roads are slick– counter steering, reverse steering, turning into the slide, drifting.

No matter what you nickname it, the concept can be hard to visualize. So, I reached out to the experts for a practical explanation.

Race car drivers Ben Bruno and Andrew Donaldson spend their days burning rubber while drifting.

“The best way to not slide is to take some time and learn how to slide first,” said Donaldson, “because that’s going to give you an idea of what ‘inputs do I do to the car that create a slide’, and then you just tone them all back.”

With their expertise, they were able to break down what happens when you car starts sliding on slippery roads.

“There’s two different slides that can occur. There’s the slide that happens when your trying to slow down,” shared Donaldson, “and there’s the slide that happens when you try to take a corner.”

The slowing down slide is called over steering. It’s usually what’s going on when the back of your car comes loose. It’s especially common in front wheel drive vehicles. The turning slide, which is when the car goes straight even though your turning, is called under steering.

“Both of those are ultimately a failure of the car not being able to provide enough grip to turn or slow down,” said Donaldson.

In the case of under steering, you lost control because you asked your car to do too much. A car can either speed up, slow down, turn left, or turn right. Racers call these ‘inputs’. You can do each input gently or more aggressively. If you do two inputs at the same time, like turn and speed up, there is a limit to how aggressively you do both before you lose grip. So in an under steer, your car keeps going straight even when you asked it to turn– because you turned too sharply too fast.

how do you fix it?

“Do one thing at one time with the car.” said Donaldson.

So in an under steer…

“When the car is sliding and your going straight but you want to be turning a direction, the easiest way to fix that is straighten the wheel up,” said Donaldson, “-and then lift up on either of the inputs– your gas or your break.”

This resets the car. By turning the steering wheel the way the car is already going, which is straight, there is one less input. So the car has less to perform. This is why the term ‘turn into the slide’ works. The solution for an over steer, when the back of your car comes loose, is the same.

“If you start to go in, you hit a patch of ice, the back of the car is going to go like that [out to the right], then everything else wants to go that way,” said Bruno.

So, you let it.

If the back of your car is sliding to the right, then turn the wheel to the right. Because you went the direction the car was already going, it straightens out.

And that’s how you get out of a slide.


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