Do you find yourself struggling to keep your car under control when cornering? You may be experiencing a condition known as understeer.
While there can be many factors contributing to this behavior, one of the most impactful is tire health and grip levels. To understand how tires affect steering, it helps to examine the causes and effects of understeer.
In this blog post, we’ll explore how tires affect understeer and provide some helpful tips on maintaining optimal tire performance for better handling on the road.
What is understeer?
Understeer is a situation where a vehicle’s front tires fail to grip the road surface despite steering input. This causes the car to plow straight ahead even when turning or cornering, resulting in reduced control and stability.
What causes understeer?
There are several factors that can contribute to understeer, including tire pressures, vehicle weight distribution, suspension tuning, and tire health amongst other things. In particular, your tires have a significant impact on handling as they provide traction and grip for steering.
Tire performance affects steering in two major ways: lateral grip and longitudinal grip.
Lateral grip refers to the tires’ ability to maintain traction in cornering, while longitudinal grip is responsible for acceleration and braking forces.
When a car understeers, it typically means that the front tires have insufficient lateral grip (even when properly loaded) to provide enough friction for turning. In other words, the front tires are not responding adequately to steer the car in the desired direction.
How do tires affect understeer?
Tires are your vehicles only point of contact between the yourself and the road, so their condition has a direct effect on understeer. If they’re not inflated properly or have insufficient grip levels, then they won’t be able to respond accurately to steering input. This can cause the vehicle to plow ahead, making it difficult to control.
Symptoms of understeer include :
- Reduced turning radius
- Tire squeal
- Increased braking distances
- Loss of control when cornering
- Tires skidding against the road surface
Causes of understeer
Understeer can be caused by a variety of factors, but the most common culprit is tire health and grip levels. The front tires are almost always responsible or at least partially to blame for your vehicle understeering as they provide the primary steering force.
Improperly inflated tires
The main cause of understeer is improperly inflated tires.
Tires that are overinflated can cause excessive skidding when cornering and are very likely to lead to understeer. This is because overly firm and less flexible tires result in them being them less responsive on the road. They will also have a smaller contact patch leading to lower levels of grip and traction, resulting in understeer and reduced steering control.
Under-inflated tires can also be responsible for understeer and also increases the likelihood of a tire burst, as well as leading to other negative consequences for your car’s handling. While lower pressures can mean better grip because of a larger contact patch in some situations, it does not apply for fast cornering and generally results in understeer.
When you turn sharply, the weight of the vehicle transfers to the outside of your tires and wheels on the front axle. If your tires are under inflated, the tire will not be able to provide optimum grip and will lead to a lack of control, resulting in understeer.
Always be sure to regularly check that all your tires are inflated properly so you can drive safely!
Another common cause of understeer is when the tire compound becomes too “stiff.” As a tire ages, the once soft rubber compound begins to harden as a result of the heat cycles and stress it experiences. This means that they are not able to deform to the road surface and provide enough traction and grip, resulting in reduced control and performance.
Poorly maintained tires can also lead to reduced grip levels and will cause the front of the car to slide away from the direction of steering input. This can be the result of worn down treads or too much heat build-up in the tires. Worn tires can also add instability to the car, making it more difficult to drive safely.
Poor wheel alignment
A poor wheel alignment can also contribute to understeer. If the vehicle’s wheels are not aligned properly, the wheels may contact the road improperly and will lack the necessary grip to respond accurately to steering inputs. This can result in reduced control when cornering and cause a car to over or understeer.
Incorrect suspension setup
More performance oriented cars such as race cars often have to learn how to tackle understeer as they are frequently take corners at very high speeds.
An incorrect suspension setup, including improperly adjusted dampers or shock absorbers, can lead to poor weight distribution resulting in reduced traction and grip on the front axle when cornering. This will cause the car’s front tires to slide outwards, resulting in understeer.
Tire camber, which is the inward or outward angle at which a tire is mounted on its wheel, can also have an effect on understeer. If a tire is mounted with too much negative camber, it will reduce the amount of cornering grip and cause the car to plow ahead when turning or cornering.
Vehicle weight distribution
Finally, vehicle weight distribution is a key factor in the handling of a car and can also lead to understeer. If there is an imbalance in weight between the front and rear axles, then it can reduce traction when cornering as the car’s weight shifts to the front wheels. This can cause them to lose grip, resulting in understeer.
Overall, it is important to understand that any number of factors can contribute to understeer and it is essential to regularly check your car’s tires as they are nearly always the main culprit for understeer.
Keep up with your vehicles servicing and you will be able to rule out any of the other potential reason for understeer. This way, you can be sure to drive safely and confidently!
How to correct understeer
Since we know that understeer is a result of the front tires losing traction with the road, the best way to avoid it is to drive in a way that does not causes this to happen in the first place. This means to avoid taking corners too quickly, over-braking or sudden acceleration when driving round bends.
Wet conditions will also increase the chances of understeer and care should be taken when driving in the rain or on surfaces with a lot of standing water. Slow down to an appropriate speed and ensure that your tires have adequate grip before attempting any sharp turns.
When it comes to correcting understeer, there are several techniques you can use depending on what type of car you drive and the type of surface you are driving on.
In modern cars, Electronic Stability Control (ESC) can help you to avoid understeer and keep your car stable in corners by automatically braking individual wheels as needed to regain grip. However, when driving a classic or performance vehicle without this feature, it is important to be aware of the risks associated with understeer and take steps to minimize them.
If you do find your vehicle understeering, you should try to correct the situation by easing off the throttle and gently brake to reduce your speed to allow the tires to regain grip with the road. You should also check the pressure of your front tires to make sure they are within the manufacturer’s guidelines as this will help ensure you have sufficient traction.
How to prevent understeer
The best way to avoid understeer is to ensure that your vehicle is well maintained and serviced regularly. Checking the tire pressure of all four tires, making sure they are within the manufacturer’s recommendations, will help ensure you have sufficient grip when cornering.
Additionally, it may be wise to upgrade to performance tires with a wider contact patch and higher quality tire compound to improve the grip of your tires with the road. This will help you to maintain more traction when cornering, reducing the chances of understeer.
Have your wheels and tires rotated and aligned when necessary. The easiest way to do this is to have it done at the same time as your vehicles yearly service. It will save you time and money in the long run and your vehicle will perform better too.
Avoid any sudden accelerations or braking when cornering as this can cause your car to become unbalanced and begin to drift. Finally, be mindful of wet conditions as these can make it more difficult for tires to maintain grip with the road and lead to understeer.
If you feel that your vehicle’s suspension might be at fault, then it’s important to get it checked.
If you’re still experiencing understeer, it may be worth having your vehicle checked by a professional mechanic. This will help to ensure that your vehicle is safe to drive and all of its components are functioning as they should.
It’s important to remember that understeer is an issue that can easily be avoided by driving carefully and taking the necessary precautions. With regular maintenance and a good understanding of how to avoid and correct understeer, you can remain safe on the roads for many years
How to maintain tires to prevent understeer
Here are some tips for maintaining optimal tire performance:
- Check the air pressure in your tires regularly and inflate them to the recommended level. This is usually indicated on the sidewall of the tire or in the owner’s manual.
- Ensure that your tires are not over or under-inflated. This can cause an imbalance of forces on the vehicle, leading to a loss of control when cornering.
- Rotate your tires at least every 6,000 miles – this will help ensure even wear across all your tires and extend their life.
- Replace your tires when the tread wears down to the legal limit. This will help to improve grip and reduce the risk of understeer. Also consider replacing your tires with higher quality brand and performance tires to give superior grip and traction on the road
- Have your wheels and tires aligned regularly. This will ensure that all four tires are pointing in the same direction, reducing chances of uneven wear or misalignment.
- Check for signs of damage such as cuts, bulges or cracks on the sidewall of the tire – this can weaken the structure of the tire and reduce its performance.
- Park your vehicle in the shade to protect them from drying out prematurely and suffering from dry rot.
- Keep your tires and your vehicle clean – this will help to prevent dirt, debris and salt from building up on the surface of the tire, which can reduce its grip with the road.
How to reduce understeer and increase tire performance?
The best way to prevent understeer is to ensure the health of your tires, that they are always properly inflated and have adequate tread remaining. You should also have your wheel alignment checked once a year to make sure they are within the ideal range for your vehicle’s performance needs.
Additionally, it’s important to choose tires that are suited to your vehicle and driving needs. If you drive on wet or icy roads, we would strongly recommend investing in dedicated winter tires with deeper treads for better grip in these conditions.
Additionally, if you’re driving a performance-oriented car, be sure to have your suspension settings tuned properly. This will help ensure that your vehicle is responsive and responsive to steering inputs.
No matter what kind of vehicle you are driving, understeer can be an extremely dangerous condition that should be avoided at all costs. By taking proper care of your tires and car, you can drastically reduce or even eliminate the chances of understeer occurring.
Finally, it’s important to practice safe driving habits and always be aware of your surroundings. By paying attention to the road and other drivers, you can make sure that you remain in control of your vehicle at all times.
Tires are an integral part of your vehicle’s handling and performance, so it’s important to ensure they are properly maintained. By regularly checking tire pressures, inspecting tread depth, and replacing tires as needed, you can reduce the risk of understeer and improve your overall driving experience.
Remember that while the above steps can help minimize the risk of experiencing understeer, it’s ultimately up to you as a driver to remain vigilant and practice safe driving habits. By paying attention to your surroundings and driving defensively, you can make sure that you remain in control of your vehicle at all times.