Before anyone goes into the whole argument about what drifting and powersliding are and if there is any difference, let me just say — who cares! We’re talking about creating oversteer and controlling it and we’ll assume you have a reasonably common car to do it with. Also, we’ll assume you don’t want to change your drivetrain and suspension parts after each drift, so we’ll try to go easy on the car. No massive handbrake slides here.
Drifting is fun to watch, but it is even more interesting to do. Drifting in a car is one of the most entertaining things you can do behind the wheel. However, not many people actually dare do this. As much as it is exhilarating to tiptoe over the thin line between absolute bliss of a good powerslide and losing control over your car, not many people are inclined to do this in their family cars. Crashes are expensive, you know. And embarrassing.
However, you are about to learn how to drift safely.
If you’ve ever learned anything that requires good skills, you know that learning should be gradual and requires practice and time. It’s the same with drifting. We’ll start slow and move up the ladder.
First of all, let’s set up some basic rules.
Most people who drift do it in FR cars. These are the cars that have the engine up front and rear-wheel drive. Also, many all-wheel drive cars are rear-biased (more power goes to the rear wheels), so they can be drifted as well.
Disclaimer: yes, I know, you can drift all cars, not just RWD, but if you are about to start learning, FR would be the best layout by far.
Let’s move on. We will also talk as if you have a manual. If you drive an automatic, it’s also ok, but since there are so many different kinds of automatics, it would be impossible to explain all the differences in one article. If you have an automatic with a manual mode, you can do all this absolutely the same. If you don’t, try to adapt as much as you can. Most automatics will allow you to drift.
Speaking of allowing, turn off the electronic nannies such as traction control. Those are designed to not let you drift.
Lastly, cars have many different power ratings, so if yours doesn’t have enough power to make the wheels spin the way you’d like them too, start off with slippery surfaces. Similarly, if your car has loads of power, stay away from slippery surfaces and skip that part of the learning process.
Let the lesson begin.
What you want to do is make your rear wheels spin so hard they lose grip, but still retain control over the direction of the car and the intensity of the wheelspin.
If you are a complete noob, we suggest starting off on snow (not ice, mind you). Some people will think this is counterintuitive, but a snowy surface will make it easier for you to spin the wheels and you’ll be able to do it at very low speeds. Safety first, people. My first drift was on snow with a car with just 150 hp and it was very easy and loads of fun.
So, we’re imagining you’re in an FR car and on a flat, snowy surface devoid of traffic. The best place would be something like an empty car park.
1 – Drive in the second gear at about 10 mph. That should require just a bit of throttle. As you are approaching the imaginary curve (let’s say it’s left) that you want to drift into, give the steering wheel just a bit of a turn and as the car starts turning, hit the throttle pedal hard.
Note: power ratings in different cars make it impossible to guess how much throttle you need. Whatever the amount, it should be sudden.
2 – The sudden addition of power and the slippery surface should make the rear wheels spin. If not, add more throttle next time around. Not during the same attempt. If yes, it is essential you don’t get scared and ease off the throttle. Since you were turning left just before the wheelspin, your rear wheels will start spinning outwards, towards the right.
3 – Bear in mind that your front wheels have not lost traction. They will aim to keep the direction they were in, so as your car’s rear starts swinging toward the right, your steering wheel will also turn itself in the same direction, attempting to counterbalance the change in the directional axis. However, bear in mind that you also need to make some steering adjustments, even on snow.
4 – So now your car is drifting, your steering wheel is turned toward the right, but the rear of your car starts going too far out. In order to prevent this, you need to reduce the throttle push. Depending on the car’s power, you might need to do more or less of it. Practice a few times to get the feel for when and how much you should reduce the throttle. Bear in mind that you are at about 10 mph and in an empty space, so nothing bad can really happen.
5 – Your aim is to make the drift last longer so that you can drift through the whole curve. Easing off the throttle will inevitably restore grip for your rear wheels, which means you’d start going right in a left-hand curve, and at this point you need to do one or two things. First of all, as the grip restores, hit the throttle again to make the wheels spin. If this is not enough to keep the drifting line, turn your steering wheel a bit towards the left and as the wheelspin increases, get it back to the right.
6 – Keep adjusting the throttle and the steering wheel for as long as you want. You will quickly get the feel for it and do it naturally. The first few attempts can have just one or two throttle pushes. Have fun, test the thing and develop a feel. You are completely safe.
7 – As you are finishing a drift, you should ease off the throttle gradually until the grip is fully restored and return the steering wheel to the central position. Once you do this all the right way, your car should have full grip and your steering wheel should be in the central position.
8 – The aim is to drift, but also to have the control over the line your car is taking. As you learn more, you’ll see that it is far more interesting to drift on the streets and other limited areas, even at slow speeds, rather than just blast at high speeds in a huge, borderless field.
As you’re moving from the snow to other surfaces, you’ll need either more power, or more speed, but also more control and experience. Wet surfaces are a great next step. Not as slippery as snow, but still reducing grip. If you don’t have enough power to make the wheels lose grip, you can increase the weight load on the front tires by letting off the throttle for just a second before the initial turn, or even counter steer before the drift to throw the car off balance. However, these maneuvers require greater speeds and far more experience. As you’re learning and practicing, you’ll get the experience, which is far better than any explanation.
Just bear in mind that the feedback forces are far stronger on dry surfaces and that you will feel stronger G forces. Take it easy, go step by step and make sure you enjoy the process.