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A burnout (also known as a peel out or power brake) is the practice of keeping a vehicle stationary and spinning its wheels, causing the tires to heat up and smoke due to friction. Technically the tire is not burning and the smoke is primarily a vapor (similar to steam). A tire that is set on fire will burn with a thick black smoke but that is rarely the result of a burnout.
The origins of burnouts can be traced to drag racing, where they have a practical purpose: drag racing tires perform better at higher temperatures, and a burnout is the quickest way to raise tire temperature immediately prior to a race. They also clean the tire of any debris and lay down a layer of rubber by the starting line for better traction. Drag race tracks sometimes use a specially-reserved wet-surface area known as the "water box," namely this because water is poured onto a certain area to reduce the friction to initiate the "burnout,"  for this purpose.
Burnouts eventually became a serious form of 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 "burnout cars". Burnout contests are judged on crowd response, with style and attitude therefore being important factors. Such contests are particularly popular in Australia but often occur in North America as well.
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, for example, police have the power to confiscate the offending vehicle for 3 months for a first offense. In March 2010, British Formula 1 World Champion, Lewis Hamilton had his Mercedes car impounded for allegedly performing a burnout in Melbourne, Australia while leaving the Albert Park Grand-Prix Circuit.
Burnouts are also frequently performed by winning drivers at the end of NASCAR races to celebrate their victory.
Performing a burnout in a front wheel drive vehicle is likely to result in damage to the drivetrain. It is usually achieved by engaging the emergency brake (e-brake) to lock up the rear tires and flooring the gas pedal.
To perform a burnout in a rear wheel drive vehicle the driver has to simultaneously engage the gas and brake pedals. The brake pedal will require modulation, as the goal is to allow the rear tires to spin while holding the car in place with the front wheels remaining motionless. At a certain point of balance, the front brakes will prevent the car from moving forward while the rear brakes will have insufficient grip to keep the wheels from spinning, since engine power is transferred to the rear wheels only.
It is possible to make rear-wheel drive burnouts easier by installing "line locks", devices which allow fluid pressure on the front brakes to be maintained while releasing the pedal to free the rear brakes. This is especially useful in a manual transmission vehicle, in which it can be quite difficult to manipulate the clutch, brake and gas pedals simultaneously. Line locks also reduce wear to the rear brakes, a common problem otherwise.
Burnouts are most difficult to perform in four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive cars, as they have better traction than FWD or RWD vehicles. It requires significantly more powerful engines to break all four tires loose at the same time, and the tires will spin for only a short while before all four gain traction.
Another burnout technique is aimed at cars with insufficient power to perform a burnout from a standing-still position. It involves putting the car into reverse, reversing at a higher speed than normal and then quickly putting the car into first gear and hitting the accelerator. A variant of this is to reverse at an angle which will result in two (for cars with limited slip differentials) distinctive skidmarks once the car pushes forward — in Arab parts of the world, this trick is called the "88", as the skidmarks resemble two number-eights in Arabic ("٨٨"). In the United States these marks are referred to as "fishhooks", a very accurate description of the skidmarks as the car will leave a longer mark when the vehicle's velocity becomes aligned with its forward direction. During this stunt the vehicle always experiences a (not necessarily constant) acceleration vector pointing along the car's forward direction, but the velocity vector will reverse direction from initially pointing backwards to forward, leaving the "hook" mark.
At least as late as the 1970s in the United States, burnout enthusiasts would occasionally coat their (usually rear) drive wheel tires with a liquid chlorine-type bleach. This would result in spectacular clouds of white smoke during the burnout.
These and similar techniques are generally not recommended because they place a great load on drivetrain components and can result in transmission damage. The effective lifetime of the drive wheel tires is appropriately shortened.
An additional technique sometimes used by those celebrating a race victory (such as in NASCAR) is to position the racecar so that its nose is against the outside wall of the track, helping keep the car in place as the rear wheels spin.
- "Basics of Drag Racing". NHRA Website. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
- "Father's car confiscated after son's burnout". New South Wales: ABC News. 19 October 2006. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
- Christenson, Marcus (26 March 2010). "Lewis Hamilton in trouble with Australian police after road incident". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Burnout.|
- Burnouts: An Appreciation - John Pearley Huffman, Car and Driver, February 2011