Majority of the cars on the road are front-wheel drive (FWD) for good reason. It’s cheaper to make, more compact in design and at times, give better traction as compared to rear-wheel drive (RWD) vehicles – because the weight of the engine is pressing onto the driven wheel.
But despite the technological progresses in tyres and electronic nannies to keep you on the road, it still does not change the fact that FWD vehicles are prone to understeer when being pushed to its limits. Does it mean you’ll have to be on the car’s physical limits to experience understeer? Not quite.
Understeer, in a nutshell, is when the front wheels do not turn according to your steering inputs and continue to track a straight line. This can be a terrifying experience when the car suddenly does not react the way you expect it to. Understeer is more apparent in FWD vehicles but RWD can too experience understeer if the driver is not careful.
Understeer happens when you carry too much speed into a corner and the front axle is unable to cope with the bend, resulting in the front tyres losing traction before the rear. The car then slides forward instead of turning as it’s supposed to.
Another scenario that can induce understeer is when you apply hard braking through a corner and that causes the front wheels to lock up. When that occurs, the front wheels may not turn as desired and instead send you sliding off the course of the road.
The safest way to get out of the sticky situation is to keep the steering in the same steering lock as you have entering the corner while gently easing off the throttle to allow the front tyres to regain grip without upsetting the balance of the car. Thus, allowing you to regain control of the car and safely exit the corner.
On the other hand, if you were to slam on the brakes the moment you start understeering, the weight of the car will be transferred suddenly to the front and may upset the balance of the rear axle – causing the tail end of the vehicle to slide. This is known as snap-oversteer. Remember, don’t panic, if your car is not turning, hold on to the steering wheel and gently release the throttle.
However, driving a FWD vehicle does not mean you’d be dealing with understeer at every corner, especially if the car is equipped with ABS and Traction Control. The most pragmatic advice we can give you to reduce the chances of understeer is to have high-quality tyres fitted on your car and to slow down gradually but substantially when approaching a corner.