This is predominantly an evasive driving manoeuvre or stunt, but is also a lot of fun. When trying to learn this technique, it’s worth using low grip surfaces such as a grassy field or a wet area of tarmac. Once you’re confident, you can work up to dry tarmac, but you will need more speed which means things could go wrong faster. The beautiful thing about J-turns is that you don’t need a performance car to pull one off.
For the purposes of this article, we will demonstrate an anti-clockwise j-turn and split the technique into four stages, which combine to form the complete manoeuvre (shown below).
Start off in reverse gear, make sure the coast is clear behind you and turn your head so you’re looking out of the rear window. When learning to pull off the perfect j-turn, you’ll find that your finishing position may not be exactly in line with where you started off, so make sure you have lots of room to the either side or the car as well as behind. Now accelerate to between 15 and 25 mph (depending on how slippery the ground is) and keep the power on. You can steer with one or two hands, our suggested steering position shown in Figure 1 below.
Come off the power rapidly (transferring the weight to the back of the car) and fractionally later quickly apply half to three quarters of a turn of steering lock rapidly. Watch out as the front of the car swings round to the left, so ensure there are no obstacles there.
The next step depends on the type of car you’re driving. There are two basic methods one of which uses the brakes (easiest) and one doesn’t (more difficult). If you have ABS fitted, you will not be able to use the brake method as it will be impossible to lock the wheels, so read the paragraph that applies to your car below: A. Front wheel drive, manual transmission, no ABS: Mid way through the turn, when the front wheels are parallel with the track, stab the brakes* and clutch. This will lock up the front wheels due to the fact most of the braking bias is towards the front. The momentum of the turn combined with the rear weight transfer will allow the front for the car to rotate round until you’re facing in the opposite direction. When the front wheels are locked, select first gear. Now move onto Stage 4. If you would prefer not to lock up the front wheels, use option B. B. Front wheel drive, manual transmission, ABS: As you have ABS fitted you won’t be able to lock up the front wheels as used in option A. This means it will be more difficult to select first gear when the wheels are rotating backwards so you need to use double declutching. To do this, press the clutch in and pop it into neutral, then clutch out briefly. Clutch in yet again and select first. This can be done as a rapid series of movements with practice, but adds complexity to this manoeuvre. C. Rear or four wheel drive, manual transmission, with or without ABS: It is very difficult to lock up the rear wheels when pulling off a J-turn, so the easiest method is to avoid the use of the brakes and double declutch to select first gear. To do this, press the clutch in and pop it into neutral, then clutch out briefly. Clutch in yet again and select first. This can be done as a rapid series of movements with practice. D. Automatic transmission, front, rear of four wheel drive, with or without ABS: If you have an automatic, this technique can be much easier to pull off – mid way through the turn, simply flick into neutral, then drive when you’re pointing in the right direction. Some autos are more sympathetic, and in this case you’ll be able to move straight into drive.
While the front of the car is rotating, start to reduce the amount of steering lock and prepare to pull away in the opposite direction to the starting point. When you’re pointing in the right direction, ensure first gear or ‘D’ is selected, and release the clutch with enough revs to spin the wheels slightly, pull away using the same techniques as used in a perfect start.
If you’re finding it hard to get the front round, try increasing speed or use a quick flick of opposite lock before hand to unsettle the car (a reverse Scandinavian flick).