A burnout (also called a peel out or brake burn by some) occurs when the driver of a vehicle (such as a car, motorbike, or truck) spins the vehicle's drive wheels until a trail of white smoke is generated.
The origins of this act can be traced to drag racing, where burnouts have a practical purpose; drag racing tires perform best at a high temperature, and a burnout is the quickest way to increase the tire temperature. In drag race tracks, there is usually a slightly wet paved space, the 'burnout box', reserved for burnouts.
Burnouts have become a form of serious competition and entertainment in their own right. Considerable prize money or goods are sometimes involved, and cars may even be sponsored or purpose built specifically as a burnout car. Burnout competitions are judged on crowd response, so style and attitude are factors. These contests are particularly popular in Australia but often occur in North America as well.
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Burnouts are extremely easy to achieve in a front-wheel drive car where the parking brake works on the rear wheels; all one has to do is hold the parking brake (also known as the 'emergency brake' or 'e-brake' by many) and accelerate. This is because front-wheel drives have the engine's power transferred to the front wheels only, so keeping the rear wheels in place is bound to cause the front wheels to 'grind' against the ground without moving, creating tire smoke. However, if the car does not have a limited slip differential, the car may only spin one wheel instead of two.
Burnouts in a rear-wheel drive cars generally require feathering the brakes while holding down the accelerator pedal with the car in gear. There is normally a point where the front brakes will prevent the car from moving forward, while the rear brakes don't have sufficient grip to stop the wheels spinning. Drag racers and others that frequently do burnouts in rear wheel drive cars often install devices called line locks in the front brake lines. These devices allow the brakes to be applied and then the pressure in the front brakes to be "locked". The lock maintains fluid pressure on the front brakes, while releasing the pedal frees the rear brakes. With line locks installed, wear to the rear brakes during a burnout is eliminated (a problem with the normal method). Line locks also make it easier to perform a burnout in a manual transmission vehicle, which can be quite difficult to manipulate the clutch, brake, and gas pedals at the same time. For illegal street burnouts people have been known to clamp their rear brake lines with a pair of Vice-Grips to give the same effect without spending any money.
Burnouts are most difficult to perform in four-wheel drive cars due to the fact that all four wheels are given traction. Four wheel drive cars get better initial traction (the engine weight being directly over the drive wheels). Additionally, it requires significantly more powerful engines to break all four tires loose at the same time, also the tires will only spin for a short distance before all 4 tires gain traction. Commonly a four-wheel drive car taking off fast enough to spin or make the tires chirp is called launching but this often leads to a damaged drive-train.
Burnouts are also common in informal street racing, usually for show value. As with all street racing activities, burnouts on public property are illegal in most countries but the severity of punishments vary. In New South Wales, Australia for example, police have the power to confiscate the offending vehicle for three months for a first offence. A second offence will commonly see the offending vehicle taken from the driver again and sold at auction.
Another way to make the tires smoke is to reverse at an angle, and then jam the transmission into drive. This makes the wheels begin to spin the other way while the car is going backward, and eventually the car will go forward again, and because it is at an angle, it will make 2 skidmarks. In the Arab world, this trick is called the '88', because the marks it makes are similar to 2 Arabic letter 8s.
Another term for a similar technique is called the roll back. This technique is normally for cars with not enough power or front wheel drive cars not able to perform a burnout from a stand still position. It is performed by putting the car into reverse, reversing of at a higher speed than normal then quickly putting the car into first gear and hitting the accelerator. This causes the car to begin a burnout. The last two methods are not recommended because they place a great deal of load on drivetrain components and can result in transmission damage.
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