How to do a handbrake turn | CAR Magazine

How to do a handbrake turn

Published: 27 September 2022 Updated: 27 September 2022

► We get handbrake turn tuition from experts
► Abarth put on a masterclass at Brands Hatch…
► … and there was only one casualty from the day

Handbrake turns are great fun. Loved by stunt experts, rally drivers and delinquent youths in fast-food restaurant car parks alike, they’re a very efficient means of getting your car around a very tight corner very quickly. And we’ve been learning how to do them properly.

In September 2022, Abarth invited us down to a handbrake turn masterclass in the paddock of Brands Hatch, keenly pointing out to us that it’s the only mainstream manufacturer in the UK that still offers a manual handbrake across its entire range of cars. Granted, the company only makes two cars (one of which is a convertible version of the standard 595), but the point still stands.

Abarth 595 skid rear three quarter

We were hardly going to pass up the opportunity to razz around in an Abarth 595, so we high-tailed it down to the track for some valuable tuition. Now that modern motors are ditching the manual handbrake in favour of electric ones, the handbrake turn is becoming a dying art – so we wanted to learn how to do them correctly before it was too late.

How to do a handbrake turn

Step one is to get your hands in position. Assuming you’re at the helm of a right-hand drive car, put your left hand on the handbrake and your right hand on the steering wheel, about where your left hand would normally be when you’re not hooning around like Ken Block.

Abarth 595 handbrake turn rear start

Next, build up some speed. You’ll need lots of this to get around the corner and maintain enough momentum to keep the car rolling once you’re out the other side. Our instructors had us turning around cones, mimicking the tight hairpins of a rally special stage.

Roughly when the driver’s seat passes the cone, throw about a quarter turn of lock into the steering and yank the handbrake. Remember – get the corner started with the steering wheel, then use the handbrake to finish it off. While sliding, you also need to keep your foot on the throttle and make small counter steering corrections to keep the rear end skating for as long as possible.

Abarth 595 handbrake turn rear exit

If you got it right, your car will balletically pivot around the cone. Now, all you need to do is drive away. As we found out, that’s a little easier said than done – if you don’t execute the corner and balance the throttle perfectly, the car will buck as you wind on the power on the exit. Practice makes perfect, though.

How to handbrake parallel park

In a way, handbrake parallel parking is easier than a handbrake turn, because you don’t need to worry about driving away. However, it requires a lot of precision – and you will get it wrong the first few times you try. So have a go with cones before setting up a space between your mates’ cars.

Abarth 595 handbrake parallel parking setup

Our instructors marked out a space that was around half a car’s length longer than the Abarth 595 and put a cone off to the left-hand side of the space to aim at. It’s the one with the laminated arrow gaffer taped to it in the image above. We were instructed to accelerate hard towards the outlying cone in first gear then, just as we were about to run it over, dip the clutch, saw the wheel into the parking space and yank the handbrake.

Abarth 595 handbrake parallel parking

Get it right and the rear end will pendulum around the front wheels and you’ll end up parked perfectly in the space. However, as the pictures above show, we discovered that it’s a quite easy to under- and overcook the manoeuvre, which will result in a slightly skew-whiff parking job.

Hazards and warnings

This goes without saying but, for the love of whatever deity you worship, don’t do handbrake turns on the public road. It’s dangerous and the police don’t take kindly to it. Best is to find an open space where you can’t hit anything, preferably at an organised event under the supervision of experts.

Also, remember that handbrake turns are hard on road cars. Stunt and rally cars can withstand the punishment of repeated handbrake turns, but your personal car might not be so tough. If you’re thinking of having a go, make sure you’ve got the budget for the inevitable repair bill.

Abarth 595 handbrake turn front tyre smoke

And we’re not just talking about replacement tyres and handbrake cables here. You can do a lot more damage if you’re not careful – and we fell victim to this during the event. After a particularly intensive training stint, the poor little white Abarth 595 broke a CV joint when powering out of a turn. All three cars needed replacement handbrake cables and fresh rear tyres by the end of the day, too.

Photography: Andrew Morgan

By Luke Wilkinson

Deputy Editor of Parkers. Unhealthy obsession with classic Minis and old Alfas. Impenetrable Cumbrian accent