How to do a handbrake turn

How do you perform a handbrake twist? Learn this age-old skill before electronic parking brakes make it a thing of the past

Like reading a map and knowing your mother’s phone number by heart, you can add the humble handbrake twist to the list of skills that are dying out in the modern world.

That’s because the handbrake itself is dying: Fewer manufacturers are now using it in new cars after discovering that a less obtrusive electric parking brake frees up space to stow phones, coffee mugs and other essentials. Yes, it’s all Steve Jobs and Starbucks fault.

But the recent boom in Second hand Cars means that the physical handbrake will continue to shape our lives for quite some time. And when Renault gets to build its R5 TURBO 3E drift machine, maybe even the electric car won’t completely turn off the physical handbrake.

With this in mind, Abarth – which claims to be the only mainstream manufacturer to still offer a manual handbrake across its range – decided to arrange a handbrake masterclass with a team of experts at Brands Hatch.

Aside from the fact that Abarth’s “full range” currently amounts to two cars (the 595 and 695), what better way to learn the art of the handbrake by abusing one with gleeful abandon in a cone-laden parking lot?

Below is our step-by-step guide to the perfect handbrake replacement. And yes, the noob sunglasses featured in the gallery above are indeed optional (and quite obviously not fashionable).

before you start

Never – and we can’t stress this enough – try to handbrake shoot in a public space, especially an area where there are other people and things. Deliberately inducing a skid is the type of behavior police are more likely to frown upon, no matter how closely you dissect the shopping cart bays and lampposts in your local supermarket lot.

Also note that repeatedly pulling the handbrake and pushing the rear wheels means you’ll almost certainly need to replace these parts sooner rather than later. Moderation — or simply owning deep pockets — is key.

How to do a handbrake twist

Step one: build speed

If you’ve never turned with the handbrake, you’ll be surprised at how energetic you need to be to master the maneuver. But that’s okay: Better to start slow and build from there than boil it over the first time.

First gear is fine, and you shouldn’t have to go more than 40 km/h to get an effective handbrake spin. Assuming you’re in an RHD car, keep your right hand on the left side of the steering wheel: we found the seven o’clock position worked best, but some go to 11 o’clock instead. Meanwhile, keep your left hand on the handbrake.

Step two: Initiate weight shifting

It really helps to have the weight of the car on the outside of your turn. So if you’re going for a graceful 180° to the right, start with a Scandi flip to the left. And vice versa. This means that the car’s mass shifts more significantly when you turn.

Step three: Attach steering wheel lock (quickly).

Start turning the steering wheel in the direction you want to go. The faster, the better, because the rear wheels lose traction due to the rapid changes in direction. Note that you’re not aiming for a full ban: if you do, your car will suffer the same fate as the white 595 in the gallery above, which got off on a truck with a broken driveshaft. Oops.

If you’re a beginner, this will take a bit of practice: we’ve found it’s easier to go right than left because your right arm will come back over your body first, rather than away from it.

Step Four: Apply the handbrake

It’s time to use the handbrake. Timing is key here: if you envision a semi-circle representing your 180-degree turn, aim to lock the rear wheels at about a 45-degree arc. Go too early and the back end won’t become loose enough to slide; too late and your handbrake turn will be pathetic.

Step Five: Adjust the steering and throttle

During the handbrake spin, you can use the steering wheel and throttle to control the trajectory of your sled. Add more lock and power when you need a tighter, longer turn; Release some Lock and reduce power if you feel you are overdoing it.

At no time should you have to step on the clutch, nor should you have to apply the brakes. Unless that dustbin in the distance suddenly becomes a close-up feature.

Step Six: Power out of the curve

After holding the handbrake button with your thumb all the time, you can now release the handbrake freely. Gently apply more throttle when the rear wheels begin to grab again, then move on to your next attempt. Congratulations, you’ve successfully performed a handbrake spin! Colin McRae would be proud.

TG’s top tips

Practice creates masters

Do a few tries in a row so you can nail the coordination of each step and build some muscle memory. After a minute or two, make sure your car is getting a good rest: you don’t want to cook the clutch or push other components to the breaking point. Remember cars though can do, it doesn’t mean they were designed to do that.

Smooth is fast

The first few tries will feel like you’ve lost track of your arms in a blizzard of movements, but eventually your brain will rev up and everything will slow down. Being smooth and gentle will produce the best results (and extend the life of your car).

time Not heal all wounds

Make enough handbrake turns and you will eventually wear out your handbrake cable, with repeated pulling making it longer and less effective over time. Spend a day honing your skills and you’ll soon notice your car’s ability to sharply apply the handbrake diminish. A new cable is required.

The same applies to the tyres: once they are worn out, the rubber does not grow back as if by magic. Keep an eye on the tread depth and head to the garage when those grooves start to look shallow.

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