Tuesday, December 7, 2010 03:45
If the electronic stability control system in your car engages, you’re best bet is to do nothing. Anything you do is probably going to be wrong. Or futile.
That was prompted by a question from a reader from Milwaukee in response to one of many articles I’ve written about ESC, which is called a variety of names by different manufacturers. (If you just moved from Manhattan to America and are learning about “cars” for the first time, ESC uses a computer to sense that your car is about to spin out or plow straight off the road. Then it does magical stuff with the brakes and engine in a not-always-successful attempt to save you from your dumb, no-drivin’ self.)
“My wife went out to run errands on the snowy suburban streets. She returned and described the sounds and warning lights that were being generated by the (ESC) and traction control, and ABS.
“In the past we drivers were always taught to steer into a skid. My question, is this still the case when driving a car with a system like (ESC)?”
The short answer: If the situation is so bad that ESC can't overcome the slide without driver intervention, it's unlikely that counter-steering, braking, or praying will help. (Such a “bad situation” would include ice, deep water and bald tires, or entering a turn at 60 that even a race driver couldn't make at 50.)
Long answer: After riding with more than 8,000 drivers in a performance-driving exercise as they tried, and almost universally failed, to catch a sliding tail, I assert that almost no Americans can successfully deal with such a situation. In Driver’s Ed, did Coach Tom ever say that at some point you had to stop steering into the skid and steer back the other way? Didn’t think so. Some of those I rode with continued to countersteer even as the rear tires regained traction. These people went the furthest off the track. (On the highway, they would have gone into oncoming traffic or run head-on into the right barrier.)
As a forced-into-retirement race driver (like Marines, there are no ex-race drivers), I find myself fighting with ESC. I turn into the skid 0.1 second before ESC activates. Like a good race driver, I anticipate the loss of traction while ESC reacts to it. We curse each other and continue. I still love it and it still loves me.