So, you finally purchased a vehicle with enough power to spin the wheels and have a little fun. Congrats! It's a crucial, and potentially expensive, part of getting more involved with your gearhead passion. Now that you have a car with some horsepower, it's only justifiable that you learn the art of the burnout.
Burnouts are one of the easiest ways to bring a smile to your face. It's also one of the easiest way to wreck your brand new ride, if you don't know what you're doing. Pay attention folks, because just below, we're going to discuss the proper technique to do a perfect burnout and put some smoke in the air, without destroying anything mechanically. As a disclaimer: Please don't try to do this if your car is all-wheel drive. AWD cars are not useful in this situation, and you will fail terribly.
Burnouts are perfect for hooligans, but they are actually practical in drag racing. By heating up the tires, it gives them optimal traction during a drag race. Spinning tires puts a lot of stress on the mechanical components. These race cars are normally equipped with beefy differentials, axles, driveshafts, and stronger drivetrains in general to handle the abuse at the race track on a consistent basis.
Automatic Transmission Burnouts
First, let's talk about the easier technique. Let's assume that your vehicle is rear-wheel drive with an automatic transmission. Automatic cars make the process much simpler. The first step is finding a nice open parking lot with smooth pavement so you can safely get some practice. Next, you need to disable any traction control or stability control on the car. There's normally a button for this so you can turn it off. This will allow your wheels to spin freely, without any electronic disruption.
All you need to do is make sure that the gear shifter is in drive, and put your left foot on the brake and your right foot on the throttle. With the brake pedal pushed in, mash the gas pedal at the same time. You'll see the RPMs shoot up, and if the rear tires don't begin to spin, take more pressure off the brake pedal. Once they begin to spin, you can keep the car stationary by applying more brake and maintain the higher RPM with the gas pedal. Keep in mind that the longer you hold a burnout, the hotter your rear brakes are going to get. This is because the rear wheels are both braking and spinning at a high rate of speed.
As far as front-wheel drive vehicles go, you may need a little more assistance to stay put. Set the handbrake or parking brake instead of using the brake pedal, and this will keep the rear wheels locked while the front spins. It'll also save your front brakes from getting destroyed. If you still have trouble breaking loose, you may need some water under the tires to reduce traction.
Manual Transmission Burnouts
Now here's the slightly more complex but similar technique for a manual transmission. Same as before, prior to doing the burnout, ensure that all electronic assists have been turned off. For rear-wheel-drive cars, put the transmission in first gear, and keep the clutch pushed in all the way. Using the gas pedal, bring the RPMs up high and take your foot off the clutch instantly when you're ready to go for it. The tires should initiate in a spin, but you'll need to quickly move your left foot over to the brake pedal directly after dropping the clutch. This will help you stay stationary while the wheels burn rubber.
Some vehicles like the Ford Mustang come equipped with a limited slip differential, which makes sure both wheels are spinning. If you have an open differential, you may find that only one tire spins during the burnout. You'll also find a feature called line lock in the Mustang. By pushing this button, it will only apply the front brakes, meaning that the rear brakes won't wear out during the burnout.
For FWD vehicles, the process is the same, though you just lock the hand brake instead of applying the brakes. So. in this case, you just rev up the car, drop the clutch, and it should stay right where it's at. If you have too much traction during the burnout, it may cause the car to still move forward, and those rear wheels will just slide along even though they are locked. Use some water under the front tires to reduce the traction.
That's pretty much all there is to it! Some people will nail it perfectly on the first try, but for many, it'll take a couple attempts to get it down properly. Once you figure out how to break the tires loose, you can even move on to some donuts! Obviously, RWD cars are best for burnouts. You can absolutely do it in a FWD vehicle, but maybe just stick to peeling out instead of trying to hold the burnout. Have fun, but do it safely.
This post was originally published on May 12, 2021.