Handbrake Turns

The handbrake turn is a life-saving solution because you can get out of the way fast by spinning the car around and heading off in the other direction.

Handbrake Turns

The Basic 180

If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of actually having the ball during a game of Top Gear ‘Car Football’, then you can expect a visit from one crazy cat by the name of Richard Hammond. For him, the ball is like a sack of catnip and it’s best not to get in the way when he speeds towards you with ‘that look’ in his eye.

In this situation, the handbrake turn is a life-saving solution because you can get out of the way fast by spinning the car around and heading off in the other direction. The garden variety method for a handbrake turn involves slowing to 20-30mph and picking a spot ahead of you to pivot the car around on the handbrake, bearing in mind the car will shift across by roughly its own width.Take your foot off the brake pedal and haul on the handbrake lever until it locks the rear tyres and rotates the car 180-degrees. A common mistake is to leave your foot on the brake pedal that stops the rear wheels locking. When the car stops spinning, select first gear and drive away.

For pulling a fancier 180-degree handbrake turn to reverse into a parking space between two cars, I would advise practising with vehicles of the plastic cone variety before attempting it in your driveway. The goal is to fill the empty gap between two cars, and to do this requires alignment, timing and control. Repeatability is the key to perfecting this move and that is achieved by using exactly the same speed and turn of the wheel every time. Throughout the move you need to keep your eyes fixed on the parking space.

Line up facing the car you plan to turn away from. That way, when you make your handbrake turn, the car will naturally rotate away from the car you’re facing and rotate into the gap.

Drive straight towards the outer car and up to your set speed, then flick the car to the right, yank hard on the handbrake and depress the clutch, or flick to neutral.As the car spins, turn your head in time so that you never lose sight of the parking spot. This helps your hands to follow your eyes which have a hotline to your brain. Try to keep your steering hand in one position on the steering wheel so that you don’t get lost and can straighten it the moment you start reversing.

A fraction before the car rotates 180-degrees, release the handbrake and straighten the steering to begin reversing. Depending on your distance from the space, you may or may not require reverse gear. As long as you stay off the foot brake the car should have enough momentum to carry itself backwards into the space until you stop on your end mark.The stunt version of parallel parking is the toughest trick to master and there is no substitute for practice, practice, practice.

The Stunt 90

To pull the perfect Stunt 90 you need to focus on two vital dimensions: the arc of rotation and the landing.

As with the 180, your approach speed will depend on how the car behaves on the surface. The higher the grip, the higher your speed needs to be in order to break traction and skid into the space. Usually, 25mph is about the max.Pick a start point about ten car lengths away from the parking space, offset by roughly three car widths so that you have enough room to steer a gradual arc towards the space. This gives you a longer arc along which to turn and apply the handbrake so that momentum carries the car into its spot.

The key to this is arriving so that you can aim into the gap at a perpendicular angle. The incredibly hard part to judge is when to steer towards the gap and pull the handbrake.

You need to think everything through in slow motion and remember that, as the car slides, there is a delayed reaction to your inputs.

You need to determine an initial pivot point around which to start rotating, and this will vary depending on your style and the grip level. Generally speaking, the pivot point can be found one car length away from the centre of the parking gap. It is important that you aim towards the centre so that, as the car rotates, it has equal space to fill into at the front and rear, assuming your car doesn’t have a vast overhang beyond the rear axle. Your eye line should draw focus points on the gap itself, as well as your distance from the rear bumper of the car you’re about  to slide up to.

Fix your start mark to make the process repeatable, one that gives you plenty of time to get up to a set speed. Make a few practice runs at low speed to get a feel for timing the steering and pulling the handbrake without actually committing.

Once you’re ready to give it a go, drive up parallel to the gap and make your turn. Just before the car is pointing directly at the space, pull on the handbrake and let fly towards the space.

As you enter the gap you should sense whether the car will over-rotate and spill out of the gap if the speed is a little high, or under-rotate if the car isn’t sliding on the handbrake. To correct over-rotation as it happens you can ease on the foot brake. If the car isn’t sliding enough then pull harder on the handbrake and add a little more speed next time round.

When you have mastered all of the above, you could ask someone politely to move the other cars out of the way, but that wouldn’t be very sporting.

No, what you need to do is pull the handbrake all the way up and turn the steering as far as it will go in the desired direction. Assuming your car is front-wheel drive, you select first gear, redline the engine and dump the clutch. With the handbrake restricting forward motion, the front tyres will spin wildly and drag the car’s nose out of the gap. Release the handbrake and head off to buy some new tyres.