What To Do When Your Car Slides on Ice

Stay calm, stay slow, stay safe.

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A vehicle sliding on ice is an unsettling reality for many drivers forced to deal with harsh winter road conditions. Fortunately, with the right tires and a calm response, you should be able to securely make it through these moments.

Here are some tips for what to do when your car slides on ice.

Try not to panic

Feeling your car start to slide can be alarming, especially if it's never happened before. While on the road there are a number of situations that can cause your car to lose its grip on the road surface, usually when there’s water present, but ice can be the hardest to manage from behind the steering wheel. You can define a skid on ice as a “low traction driving situation” where the tires are no longer gripping the road effectively. The key to dealing with a low traction driving situation is smoothness. When you turn the steering wheel and use the brake or accelerator, do it as smoothly as you can. This smoothness can often prevent the vehicle's equilibrium from being upset any further.

Avoid the brakes

A common mistake drivers often make when their vehicle starts to slide is to stomp the brakes. Most of the time, hard braking in a slide will remove your ability to steer and do little to stop the automobile, which is already in a limited traction situation. Try to avoid following other vehicles closely so you’re not forced to try and stop quickly. When you do have to stop, or slow, try to apply the brakes gradually.

Steer into skids and modulate the slides

If your vehicle's rear end is sliding, turn the steering wheel in the direction of the slide. For example, if the rear end of your vehicle slides out to the left, turn the wheel like you’re turning left. This strategy is known as “counter-steering,” and it's an effective method for getting the vehicle back in line. As the car starts to straighten out, also straighten the steering wheel.

If your vehicle’s front end has lost traction, your best steering response is to straighten the wheel steadily.

In a rear-end slide, lifting off the accelerator too abruptly can cause more weight transfer to the back of the vehicle, pushing it even further out of line. Maintaining a steady pressure on the pedal while slowly reducing speed is the safe strategy for managing this type of slide.

You'll want to be more firm about reducing throttle in a front-end slide, which is often the result of carrying too much speed through a slippery corner. Backing off the accelerator can help your tires regain traction.

Slow down

A loss of vehicle control is often a bright, flashing signal that you're driving too quickly for the current road conditions. Not only could reducing your speed after recovering control from a slide help you avoid a second skid, but it also gives you more time to deal with any more traction loss you might encounter later in your journey.

Consider winter tires

If your vehicle frequently slides during winter driving, it might be time to invest in a better set of tires. Winter rubber designed to stay soft and grippy even as temperatures drop is much safer than an all-season or summer tire during the colder months, even on dry pavement. Winter tires may even prevent your car from sliding on ice in the first place.

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Benjamin Hunting
Benjamin Hunting is a writer and podcast host who contributes to a number of newspapers, automotive magazines, and online publications. More than a decade into his career, he enjoys keeping the shiny side up during track days and always has one too many classic vehicle projects partially disassembled in his garage at any given time. Remember, if it's not leaking, it's probably empty.