What is understeer?

Volkswagen Golf - front cornering
20 Jul, 2017 10:00am Dean Gibson

Can't get your head around understeer? And want to know how to control it? Our handling guide explains...

Understeer is the term used for when a car doesn't have enough steering lock to make it around a corner. It usually happens on the entry of a bend, and means that the driver has turned the wheel, but there isn't enough steering input for the car to follow the corner around, so it heads towards the outside of the corner. This usually happens if a driver enters a corner too quickly and the front tyres lose traction.

How to control understeer

If you experience understeer in a corner, the easiest way to counter it is to reduce your speed and add more steering lock. If it's happening while you're cornering, then you should lift off the throttle to let the nose of the car turn. If you apply the brakes, it can upset the car's balance, meaning that the back of the car might come around too quickly for you to react - this is called oversteer.

Volkswagen Golf - rear cornering

In most situations understeer is easier to manage than oversteer, which is why the majority of cars come with a suspension set-up that is designed to produce understeer at the point that the tyres lose grip, to ensure the car is safe to control. In addition, Electronic Stability Control (ESC) will be able to counter any understeer in a faster time than a human driver can react.

How to avoid understeer

The best way to avoid understeer in the first place is to slow down sufficiently before you enter a corner. Try and look as far ahead as possible and take note of any markers that indicate what type of corner you're approaching. If there are black and white direction chevrons, then be prepared to slow down a lot, while street lights will be positioned around the outside of a bend, so if you can see the lights but not the road ahead, you can still plan for which direction the road is going to go in.

Use the brakes to slow the car in a straight line (this is more effective than braking in corners, and it doesn't upset the car's balance as significantly), make sure you're in the right gear for the corner, and look at where you want to go. Turn in smoothly to keep the car stable, and once the corner opens up, unwind the steering lock and get back on the power. Practice makes perfect, and if you apply this technique every time you drive, it will eventually become second nature.

What's the best car to drive that you've ever owned? Tell us about it in the comments section...

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