How to do a burnout – and a donut
Not that you should... just if you're in the right place, here's how it's done
Are burnouts actually cool? Genuinely, we don’t know. We know that failing to do a burnout when you’ve tried to is desperately uncool, at the very least. So we’re thinking that maybe we advise you on how to do one so you don’t have to experience awful, soul-crushing embarrassment. At least, not for your driving skills.
Now, you’re thinking it’s just a case of building revs up and dropping the clutch, right? Nope. That’s a fantastic way to spin the wheels very briefly – probably just enough to lose control – and accelerate at a rate of knots in a direction you probably weren’t intending to go. See also: Mustangs leaving Cars and Coffee. Don’t worry; we’ll clue you in on the right technique.
Goes without saying (but we're going to say it anyway) that obviously you should do this only where appropriate, safe and legal - on a closed road/just before getting your backside handed to you by an EV on a drag strip/circuit etc etc.Advertisement - Page continues below
So, first lesson: spinning your tyres is just as much about your brakes as your accelerator. Without your brakes, you’re not really doing a burnout; it’s more of a wheel-slipping take-off that will – unless you’re in something like a Koenigsegg Regera – peter out as you regain traction.
But, in what would probably serve as the opening chapter of ‘How to be Lord Berkington, leader of pea-brained petrolheads everywhere’, you’re going to need to turn off your traction control, stability control and basically every save-your-skin electronic aid your car has. Now, primed for complete idiocy, it’s time for a burnout. And to Remember. Your. Brakes.
There are two methods for involving the brakes in your burnout. The first way, and the way you’d probably think to do it, is to rev up in first with the clutch in, dump the clutch (take it somewhere public so it doesn’t make a scene) and then put your left foot on the brake. And that pretty much is how you do it, but it does come with a bit of a drawback – the car will inevitably lunge forward a foot or two before you get a chance to stand on the middle pedal.
If you’re looking to do a big, rolling burnout, modulating the brake pedal with your left foot for car speed and modulating your right foot for wheel speed is your best bet, so you can lay long, smoky elevens.
The second – and better – way to start off is to rely on much the same footwork as you would for heel and toeing. So, in first gear, with the clutch in, hold the brake down with the left part of your right foot and roll your ankle over so you can press the accelerator while keeping pressure on the brake.
Then dump the clutch (it was really over months ago) and get the rear wheels spinning. The genius here is that you’ve already got your foot on the brake, so the car won’t lurch forwards, but the rears will light up like a pack-a-day smoker after a 14-hour flight.
You can then move your left foot over to the brake at this point if you want to do a rolling burnout, just like you would if you’d done the previous method.Advertisement - Page continues below
But what if you have an automatic? Well, just like they’re easier in regular driving, automatic gearboxes are also helpfully easier if you want to be a complete muppet. Put your left foot on the brake, put your right foot on the accelerator, do the hokey pokey and you turn around. But, in this case, that’s not what it’s all about. In fact, we’d wager that this would be a terrible way to drive a car.
So, with your foot on the brake and accelerator, you’ll be building up torque in the torque converter (those things really are magic), ready to unleash hell on your rear tyres. Then it’s just a case of releasing the brake a little bit – not enough for the car to leap forwards, just enough to allow the torque going to the rear wheels to overcome the brakes, and the grip of whatever surface you’re on.
It probably goes without saying that this is not very kind to a lot of exceptionally important bits in your car. Off the top of our heads, we’d say roughly everything in your clutch will suffer, as well as diff internals, half shafts and all the bushes and linkages that make your car work without sounding like a set of castanets in a dishwasher. Oh, and tyres. But that bit was probably obvious.
In an auto, you’ll be overheating your gearbox in short order, which can be murder for the clutches and gears within, especially if you regain traction suddenly and send a shunt through the driveline. Also, in either a manual or an auto, you have to have your brakes on while spinning the rear tyres. This, we’re fairly sure, is a pretty excellent way to wear them down to the nub without much effort.
The best way to avoid these problems – apart from not doing a burnout in the first place – is to cut loose somewhere slippery like wet grass, dirt roads or on snow or ice. This is because the tyres will lose grip at the drop of a hat (Stetson or larger, obvs) and you won’t be in the situation where all the engine’s power and torque is bouncing around your drivetrain, looking for a weak link. On slippery surfaces, the weak link is traction. On grippy surfaces, the weak link is something that’ll earn you a trip on a tow truck.
With burnouts under control, you can step things up and start on the donuts. These are basically half sugar and half fat, which is what makes them so delicious.
Donuts, like most bits of hoonery, are most easily done in a rear-wheel-drive car. Take the lessons you learned from doing fully sick burnouts and apply them to donuts. If you modulate the brake with your left foot, you can tighten your line and do precise donuts.
If you’re on a grippy surface or you don’t have enough oomph to get the rears spinning, start off with a stationary burnout (second method), then roll out to a rolling burnout while turning the steering wheel in your intended direction. If your car does have the grunt to overcome traction with just steering and throttle – whether that’s because you have shedloads of power or you’re on a slippery surface – then start the donut with the lunge burnout (first method) and left-foot brake to keep that tight line.
The back end will sling out due to the disparity of grip between the front and rear tyres, so you’ll need to countersteer as necessary. If you find yourself straightening up, turn into the centre of the donut again to throw the back end out.
Keeping your foot on the brake means the vehicle speed stays low and you stay in control. And – not to labour the point too heavily – off YouTube fail compilations.
And not to labour that other point too heavily, but absolutely do not do burnouts or donuts on a public road. Here endeth the lesson.