I recently returned from the Continental Tire test track in Uvalde, Texas where I experienced, first-hand, the difference between vehicle understeer and oversteer.
Understeer is when you’re turning the steering wheel and the car is still pushing, sliding or plowing forward, just like the first time you hit the brakes and turn the steering wheel on that snowy morning in February and it doesn’t react. Understeer is common on front wheel drive vehicles and is easier to control for most drivers.
Oversteer is more typical of rear wheel drive vehicles when you’re going a little too fast around a corner and the back end startes to slide out. Think Mustang, “fish-tail” and “drifing”.
Oversteer on a front wheel drive is almost impossible to control. I drove this Honda at Uvalde with two new tires on the front and worn tires on the rear. With more grip on the front, it was a scary feeling oversteering and losing total control, compared with the Honda with new tires on the rear, which started to push and allowed me to correct in time.
Yes, putting the best tires on the front of a front wheel drive seems logical, and we get asked to do it all the time, but most accidents don’t happen pulling out of your driveway. After experiencing this first-hand, I recommend that no matter what you drive, when replacing just two tires, insist they go on the rear.