What Is Oversteer and Why Is It Hella Fun?

Sorry, officer, I was on my way to deliver tofu.

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Car control isn’t exactly included in American driver education courses. You’re taught the bare-bones basics, like signaling, lane-changes, acceleration, deceleration, braking, how to turn, and, well, that’s about it. What these “schools” leave out is a large swath of necessary information about your car’s dynamics, chiefly oversteer. 

You may have heard of oversteer in passing conversation, though you’ve almost certainly heard of drifting, its more colloquial name. Drifting/oversteer is when your car rotates due to the driver initiating a slide or because of slippery conditions. It can be both a boon to those attempting to get around a corner faster, i.e. rally drivers, or a boondoggle, i.e. your mom going to Ralph’s during a blizzard. 

Either way, it’s important to understand this dynamic, what it entails, how to initiate it, and more importantly, how to fix it. Never fear, The Drive’s editors are old hands at oversteer, going so far as the author teaching a few of his fellow colleagues how to oversteer properly! 

Let’s get sideways...and then straight again. 

Oversteer in action.
Jonathon Klein

Oversteer in action. 

What Is Oversteer?

Oversteer is when the momentum of a car breaks its back tires’ traction and is visibly seen when the rear of your car rotates toward the front of your car. The most illustrative example of this is drifting, which is when a driver initiates oversteer to drift/slide the car around the apex of a corner and continue moving forward.

Oversteer is more common in rear-wheel-drive vehicles, though it can occur and be initiated in front-wheel and all-wheel-drive vehicles as well. 

What Is Understeer?

Understeer is when you turn the steering wheel too sharply and, due to conditions or too much speed, the car continues forward in a straight line. 

Understeer is more common in front-wheel-drive vehicles, though it can occur in rear-wheel and all-wheel-drive vehicles, too. You can learn more about understeer here

What Can Cause Oversteer?

Here are a few things that can cause oversteer in your car. 

Initiation

The Drive’s favorite cause of oversteer is, obviously, when we initiate it ourselves. Getting the car to rotate underneath you is fun and, in some cases, can be faster around a track. And, depending on the car, we can produce copious amounts of tire smoke. 

Initiating oversteer can be done through a few methods:

  • Kicking the clutch in a manual car
  • Power oversteer, which just involves hitting the throttle entirely too much through a corner 
  • Scandinavian flicks.
  • Ripping the emergency brake.

Slick Conditions

Slick, slippery, icy, or even just slightly wet conditions can also induce oversteer, especially in rear-wheel-drive vehicles. Off-road surfaces can also produce the effect. 

Never over-rotate your Aston Martin Vulcan.
Jonathon Klein

Never over-rotate your Aston Martin Vulcan.

How Do You Stop Oversteer?

First off, don’t panic. If you’ve found yourself in an oversteer situation that you haven’t initiated, it’s easy to panic, adjust your inputs, and find yourself looped around facing oncoming traffic or in a ditch. Here’s how to correct a slide.

  1. Steer into the slide, keeping your front wheels faced in the direction of travel you wish to go.
  2. Reduce your speed, but don’t slam on the brakes or pull your foot right off the gas. Sharp inputs will only make the slide worse.
  3. Wait until you feel traction return and then proceed as normal and with caution. 
  4. Breathe.

Why Is Oversteer Rad?

Well, fine reader, oversteer is rad because you’ll look heroic if you do it right. Like a professional racecar driver/stunt person/cast of Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, all of which are very cool and rad. 

What it really shows is––again, if you do it right––that you have expert car control. Anyone can initiate oversteer, but there are very few people who can maintain oversteer and come out the other side of a corner intact and facing the right way. 

And rally drivers do it at 100mph through the woods. If that’s not rad, I don’t know what is.

Oversteer Terms You Should Know

Get schooled.

Drifting

Drifting is a type of motorsport where oversteer is the goal and drivers use 1,000 horsepower machines to immolate tires and see fans cheer. It’s also a method of getting around a corner in a faster way, at least in rally racing.

Lunch-tray Drifting

Lunch-tray drifting is a sport that involves front-wheel-drive vehicles and lunch-trays strapped to their rear wheels with the parking brake on. The slippery lunch-trays provide enough slip for the cars to “drift.”

Front-Wheel Drive (FWD)

Front-wheel drive is a type of vehicle propulsion that only rotates the front wheels with the engine’s power. 

Rear-Wheel Drive (RWD)

Rear-wheel drive is a type of vehicle propulsion that only rotates the rear wheels with the engine’s power. 

All-Wheel Drive (AWD)

All-wheel drive is a type of vehicle propulsion that rotates all four wheels with the engine’s power. 

FAQs About Oversteer

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q: Is Oversteer Bad for Your Car?

A: It’s not necessarily bad for your car, though it’s very hard on your car’s tires.

Q: Can You Crash While Oversteering?

A: Oh yeah, you can. Search oversteer or drifting crashes on Youtube and you’ll pull together a plethora of accidents and Mustangs leaving Cars & Coffee and ending up in trees.

Q: So Is Understeer or Oversteer Better?

A: We’re unclear of the question. Elaborate.

Q: Like, Is Understeer Safer Than Oversteer? Vice Versa? More Fun Than The Other?

A: Ah, yeah, well neither is particularly safer than the other. They both involve the car being slightly out of control. That said, to us, oversteer is safer than understeer given that understeer involves you sliding straight forward and it’s slightly harder to correct. 

As for more fun than the other, oversteer is more fun. Full stop. 

Q: Can You Oversteer or Drift an All-Wheel-Drive Car?

A: You certainly can! In fact, Ken Block’s made a career out of it.

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