How to Do a Burnout in an Automatic Car or Truck (Without Breaking Stuff)

(Updated on November 19, 2021)

They say men grow old, but they don’t grow up. Whether you identify as a man, a woman, or a Group B rally car, we can all agree that there is fun to be had in smoking some tires down to the cords.

Is it possible to do a burnout in an automatic? Absolutely. Read on to learn how.

First, the Safety Stuff

Burnouts have the potential to be very dangerous to you, your friends, or your car if they are not executed properly. Cars may launch forward or yeet a broken powertrain component, so keep objects and people well clear of the vehicle.

Burnouts involve high RPM with little airflow, so your risk of overheating increases. Make sure your vehicle is in good mechanical condition before attempting a burnout.

Tires are expensive and evaporate quickly during a burnout. If you’re using a manual transmission and end up doing a clutch burnout, you’ll be out a clutch. This hurts even worse than paying for two tires (not to mention the blow to your pride).

Anything you attempt from this article is at your own risk, so be careful out there.

Is Doing Burnouts Illegal?

are burnouts illegal?

If you have to ask, the answer is probably yes. Unless you have permission from the property owner, chances are your burnout would not be allowed.

Burnouts have the potential to cause property damage, both to the parking lot surface and nearby objects if you hit something. If you get caught, you will be responsible for any damages at the very minimum.

Burnouts are also loud, and you may run into some local noise pollution laws by banging off the limiter, even with a stock exhaust.

You may be able to find a sanctioned event that will host a burnout competition on private property with permission from the owner. In this case, roast away; your burnout will be encouraged!

Why Do Burnouts?

Now that we have the boring stuff out of the way, let’s talk about why you’d want to do a burnout in the first place.

Wait, who are we kidding? If you’re reading this article, you probably already know the answer to this question… because it’s a ton of fun!

Manual vs Automatic Transmission Burnouts

manual gear shift

Burnouts in a manual transmission are undoubtedly easier. This is because you can rev to the moon and dump the clutch. Dumping the clutch engages sends the power to the wheels immediately, which maximizes your chances of breaking traction without moving forward.

How to Do a Burnout in an Automatic

Front, rear, and all wheel drive handle differently. Your drivetrain type will change which burnout strategies you can use.

Front Wheel Drive (FWD)

front wheel drive automatic

From a stop, yank the handbrake. The handbrake only applies to the rear wheels and will help keep your vehicle in place while the front wheels spin.

While the car is in drive (D) or 1st gear (1), hold the brake pedal with your left foot and the gas with your right foot. This will raise the RPM without stressing the transmission too much. You do not want to redline dump the car from neutral to drive, as this causes extreme shock to the transmission.

Next, side step the brake pedal. If the conditions are right, you should do a burnout in place. If your car tries to shift in drive, use first instead.

Rear Wheel Drive (RWD)

rear wheel drive automatic

With the car in D or 1, hold your foot on the brake and gas at the same time to raise the engine RPM. Release your foot completely from the brake to initiate the rear tire spin.

Next, quickly move your left foot back to the brake pedal, but only apply the brakes slightly. Since the front brakes are more powerful than the rear brakes, this should hold the car in place while the rear wheels spin.

All Wheel Drive (AWD)

all wheel drive automatic

AWD automatic burnouts are undoubtedly the hardest, and you’re likely to have little success on dry tarmac. AWD burnouts and launches can be hard on the drivetrain if there is too much grip.

With the vehicle in D or 1, hold down the brake and the gas to raise the engine RPM. Release the brake completely and enjoy.

If your car launches instead of doing a burnout, you have too much grip. You can either use harder tires with less grip, wait for rain or snow, or use some combination of the two.

Tips For Doing a Burnout With an Automatic Transmission

1) Be Financially and Emotionally Prepared to Break Your Car

tow truck

Doing burnouts is hard on cars, there’s no way around it. If you’re doing a burnout, expect to break critical drivetrain components eventually. You may also want to have a plan to procure a flatbed tow for the trip home.

If you drive a rare car or a garage queen, it might be wise to avoid this party trick entirely. It’s cheaper to live vicariously through Hoonigan Burnyard videos.

2) Listen to Your Car

strange noise

Leave enough tread on your tires for the trip home. This is especially important if it’s raining or snowy outside.

If you notice any new and interesting sounds, stop doing burnouts and talk to your mechanic about what you heard. Small problems can turn into bigger problems when you push your car hard.

3) Disable Traction Control

traction control override

No matter what car you’re trying to do a burnout in, you’re going to need to disable traction control if your vehicle is equipped with it.

Traction control limits engine torque and even applies the brakes to prevent wheel slip. This is counterproductive when wheel slip is the whole point of doing a burnout.

4) Experiment With Brake Application

braking

Different brakes work differently. Some cars have larger front brakes, and some handbrakes work better than others. If you’re having a hard time doing a burnout, try changing when and how you apply the brakes.

5) Practice in a Racing Simulator

It’s surprising how well a good racing simulator with a proper wheel and pedal setup translates to real life. If you have a racing simulator with realistic physics, you can practice your burnouts with no risk to your vehicle. Arcade games are not realistic, so avoid titles like the Cruisin’ series you might find at your local bowling alley.

Some good games to try this in are Assetto Corsa, the Forza Motorsport series, and even the Forza Horizon series. Forza games fall into the “simcade” category, but the physics are good enough to give you an idea of how things work in the real world.

6) Have Fun

Remember, the whole point of a burnout is to have fun. Relax and enjoy the ride.

If you’re stressing out about it, you might try spectating at a burnout or drift event. There are lots of people who are willing to toast their tires on their own dime.

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