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My 1995 Camry LE (4 cyl) skidded twice. Luckily I escaped both occasions unhurt and without damage to the car. First time it happened on a freeway when I applied brakes @ 50mph. I thought it was expected with that speed. The car swirled 180 degrees and stopped in service lane facing opposite direction.

Recently, I was driving at only 30mph taking an exit from a freeway when it was raining. I was further slowing down to turn right. Again the car skidded and swirled almost 180 degrees and luckily got stuck in the mud nearby.

My tires are fairly new and treads are ok. Not sure what to check. Otherwise the car is running ok. Any suggestions please?

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Is the car equipped with Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS)? –  Larry Mar 28 '11 at 18:44
    
No ABS in 1995 CAMRY LE ( 4CYL ). –  user351 Mar 28 '11 at 19:02
    
Were these panic stops? That is, were you stepping on the brake pedal as hard as you could?Were you turning the steering wheel at the same time, or was the steering wheel pointed straight? –  William Cline Mar 28 '11 at 19:39
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Can you specify how much tire tread depth remains? I know you said they are "fairly new," but can you be specific? –  William Cline Mar 28 '11 at 19:40
    
The recent incident is not panic stop. It was raining and road is sort of slippery at some stretch. But some cars in front of me passed over them though !!. On tires, i did the penny test and more than 3/4 of Lincoln's head is not visible. –  user351 Mar 29 '11 at 0:46
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5 Answers

All production passenger automobiles (with the exception of sports cars like the Lotus Elise or Honda S2000) are engineering with a large dollop of understeer built in, which means that it should be very hard to accidentally induce oversteer, even under panic situations, unless you do it by chopping the throttle and sawing hard at the wheel in order to get a pendulum effect going and unweight the rear end with weight transfer; or you actually engage the parking brake to intentionally lock up the rear tires with steering lock.

I would suspect a wacked alignment; specifically, significant toe-out in the rear.

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I echo others’ recommendations about driving technique. If you apply more braking force than the tires can apply to the road, the tires will lock up and skid. Trying to steer and brake at the same time splits the available traction among competing activities, making a skid more likely.

As for mechanical changes you can make: tires with adequate tread are critical (see my comment on your original question). The most effective way to give the car more grip is to buy better tires. All-season "performance" or "grand touring" tires ought to offer more grip than run-of-the-mill "passenger car" tires. Tire Rack has lots of technical articles and is a good place to do research.

That said, even a run-of-the-mill tire should offer adequate grip for moderate braking from 30 mph in the rain. If your braking force really was moderate, you weren't trying to brake and steer at the same time, and you have all-season tires with adequate tread, then something may be mechanically wrong with your car. This car may use a proportioning valve that distributes braking force between the front and the rear. A faulty valve could send too much of your braking effort to the rear wheels, causing them to lock up and spinning the car.

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What you're describing sounds unusual. In an ideal situation, when you brake, even if you lock up the tires, you're going to continue moving in the same direction unless some outside force acts upon the car.

To spin a car 180 degrees requires a mechanical malfunction, or an outside force.

Start with the tires: are they the same on all 4 corners, and are they properly inflated? Different tires can have different properties, and having mis-matched tires can lead to unpredictable behavior. Tires with different inflation levels can also behave differently.

Next, check the brakes: are you sure that all 4 corners are working? You don't mention where you live, but if there's a fresh snowfall, go out to a parking lot or other empty, isolate spot and slam on the brakes from about 20 MPH. Without ABS, you should be able to lock up all 4 wheels - examine the skid marks and see if all 4 wheels locked up. If you have disc brakes, you can also check them to see if the surfaces are smooth - a rusty disc is an indication that the brake is not working.

Finally, check the suspension: bounce each corner of the car & listen for any noises and to make sure that the shocks are working properly (there should be one bounce, and then the motion should stop). Broken suspension can lead to spinouts - this, I learned the hard way :)

If you have any doubts at all, take it to a mechanic and have it inspected.

If there are no mechanical issues, then the problem is you: you're doing something that's upsetting the car. You can try to reproduce the situations in a safe environment to see (and understand) what's causing the situation so you can avoid repeating it.

You've had two close calls, and continuing to drive without understanding and correcting the problem puts yourself and others at risk.

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To me it sounds like you need to get some practice in a safe location, preferably with a trained expert, at breaking. There are driver safety classes that you can take which will give you experience at braking at, but not over, the limit of adhesion, and vehicle dynamics such as weight transfer and spin prevention.

In particular, you need to make it second nature that pressing harder on the brakes does not necessarily make you stop faster, and that you can't brake as hard when you're in a turn as you can when going straight. There is a limit to how much force the tire can withstand before it skids, this is called the limit of adhesion. This varies depending on the weather, temperature, tire wear, and even from tire to tire on the same car.

Once a tire starts skidding, the force that can be applied drops dramatically. So once the brakes "lock up", you are stopping slower than if the tires were not skidding. Turning also uses some of this force, so if you are turning, some of this force is used up by the turn, and you can't brake as hard.

These classes and practice sessions will help with making all of this "natural", something you do automatically.

There is also a technological solution to this: get a car with ABS and stability control and it will do what it can to prevent you from doing the wrong thing. However, it isn't magic and won't save you if you are following other cars too closely, or otherwise driving too fast for the conditions and your reaction times. It won't make you stop faster than the car is able in those conditions.

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On second instance that i mentioned, i was NOT slamming the brake at all. It is a normal slow down process as i have to make a turn to left and there are cars in front of me. I have been driving that car for > 10+ years and on that for 2+ years. Yes, it was raining and road was slippery. My concern is how do i technically make the car more safer (skid free) without much spending. Can you suggest some tires(broader base) that fit into this particular model? The main idea on SAFE DRIVING is well taken and appreciated. –  user351 Mar 29 '11 at 0:43
    
The "normal slow down" while turning could well have been too fast in the rain. If there was a lot of water on the road at that time, it may very well have been that the tread is too shallow and you need new tires. Check them with a coin: tirerack.com/tires/tiretech/techpage.jsp?techid=51 It could also be your brake system sending too much braking to the front, but that seems unlikely. If you have "summer" or "high performance" tires, they will be more likely to hydroplane in the rain, but better on the dry. Regular practice in vehicle handling in emergencies is useful. –  Sean Reifschneider Mar 29 '11 at 1:01
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In an emergency situation, if you don't have ABS (anti-lock brake system), you could use the pump-technique (simulated ABS, albeit at a much slower rate), as you might during wintery conditions. Instead of slamming and holding the brake pedal down, you want to press and depress as rapidly as you can. If you have ABS then you do not want to use this technique -- instead apply constant pressure on the pedal.

I understand that in an emergency it's going to be hard to remember to pump the brakes, but doing so will hopefully prevent you from losing too much control where you might spin out or lose control of your steering.

With that said, I'm a little curious as to how you might have spun out at 30 mph. Unless you were intentionally and abruptly over-steering then I might tend to believe that your tires are in poor shape or there was more than just rainwater on the road or on your tires.

If your tires are wearing thin, try not to drive too fast for conditions. Slow down earlier if you can!

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The rain caused the road more slippery. I should have been more cautious with the old car (No ABS). Skidding with ~35mph is sort of humiliating !! –  user351 Mar 29 '11 at 0:50
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