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Thankfully, you didn’t hit anyone in that winter spin. But your car can still be damaged

Driving.ca logo Driving.ca 2018-02-08 Brian Turner
a car covered in snow© Provided by Driving.ca

No doubt about it, Canadian winters bring a lot of “fun” in driving. Fun like white-knuckled blind navigating through a whiteout, or playing a round of “How much slush does it take to suck this car into the ditch.” Spinouts certainly belong in the white-knuckle category because all you can do is hang on and hope you don’t hit anything. But spinouts and their close cousin; curb kissing (sliding into a curb due to lack of wheel traction) can do much more than just raise your heart rate. They can also cause a lot of damage to various steering and suspension components.

Research

It’s easy to connect damage to hitting a solid object like a concrete curb, but simply spinning out without hitting anything? Modern vehicle steering and suspension systems are wonderful things as long as the wheels are travelling in the direct they were designed and built for. But subject even the hardiest of components to a new and unintended direction (say sideways) and it’s a different story. The risk of damage in a spinout comes when the tires suddenly gain traction (on a dry section of road surface) in mid-spin, bringing the vehicle to a shaky stop. Under these conditions the amount of lateral forces on wheels, bearings, control arms, steering linkages, and such can overcome their strength leading to a variety of symptoms.

Damage for either a curb kiss or severe spinout can range from losing the wheel alignment settings up to bending suspension arms or rims or possibly blowing a tire. If you experience one of these heart-beat skipping events, take the time to do a little assessment before resuming the journey. If it was a hard enough contact to blow a tire, of course this won’t be possible. But in other, less severe cases, take the time to drive slowly at first to determine if there are any new noises or steering pulls. Listen at low speeds for any new rattles or clunks (especially over bumps). Check to see if the steering easily returns to centre after a turn.

If things seem OK and you can safely increase speeds, check for any new wheel vibrations and listen to determine if a wheel hub bearing is noisy. These bearings will usually create a hum or howl which immediately changes or lessens when the steering is shifted slightly to one side or the other. If things are quiet don’t rest too easy, for wheel bearing noises sometimes take some distance and time to appear after an impact.

When any new symptom appears it’s wise to get things check out to be on the safe side.

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