How does your car handle?

The experts at say "handling" is all about maximizing tire traction. Regardless of how much advanced hardware the car has, the bottom line is that the car's entire braking, accelerating, and cornering performance has to be translated through the four small patches of rubber in contact with the road.

Think about it. Ignore absolutely everything about a car except for how much rubber is in contact with the road. Maximizing the performance of these four small patches is what "handling" is all about.

Maximum traction, of course, is affected by the suspension design, the type of tire, it's rubber compound, its contact patch size, and several other factors. Once a given car and tire is selected, there is still the task getting the absolute most out of that specific tire.

Believe it or not, it's you --the driver-- that is often the most overlooked factor in achieving the most from your vehicle.

A practiced driver having very smooth control of the car, and high sensitivity to the tire's traction performance can improve the car's time as much as just about any single after market hardware modification, and it's free. Give a pro driver your car for a 30 minute session, and he'll likely best your times by an amount you thought impossible.

To do this, the driver must fully understand the tires, how their maximum performance is achieved, and have enough practice time developing a sensitivity to how the tire is performing at any given moment.

While this obviously applies to racing, it's relevant to everyday street driving too.

Three factors determine the maximum potential grip of a tire: the coefficient of friction provided by its rubber compound (stickier is better), the amount of rubber as determined by the tire size (bigger is better), and the amount of downforce applied to the tire (pushing down adds to the total friction applied). Of course there is a limit to all of these, and a point is reached where more is not better.

The 'downforce' is is especially important in front-wheel drive vehicles because a front-wheel drive car has 60 percent of its weight placed over the front tires, creating more traction during acceleration... That's one of the key reasons why even in compact cars, the engineering and design of the vehicle directly impacts handling, and when it's done right the handling can be exceptional.

On race tracks and on the road, experts say the principle of driving smoothly is paramount to every factor of improving a car's handling performance. All the hardware in the world will not fix a car with a driver using "jerk and stab" braking, accelerating, and turning control behavior. Inexperienced drivers frequently blame the lack of the greatest hardware in their car for performance problems which are actually caused by their driving style.

They recommend that you be honest and analyse your driving, or get an experienced instructor to analyze it for you. If your driving is right and the handling is still wrong, then maybe it's time to test drive some other vehicles!