Ten Driving Techniques That Will Turn You Into A Master

Driving is relatively easy, but if you put a little extra effort into it, your daily routes can become adventures. Here are ten techniques that will turn you into a pro.


Most people don't even get the basics right. They don't use their indicators, don't know how to shift a stick or even when to brake. Learn the following ten techniques and you'll leave their beigemobiles in the dust.

10.) Hypermiling

Going fast is great, but trust me, hypermiling can give you great satisfaction. POD also think it's the business:

It takes a lot of relatively simple techniques, but uses them with a cap ton of sustained focus, and we, as human beings, are just not very good at sustained focus. Combine that with the need for high levels of pro-active driving and reading traffic flow effectively to get the best results, and you’ve got a technique that is relatively hard to master.

Suggested By: POD

9.) Shifting efficiently in manual mode with an automatic

Automatic transmissions are designed to be as smooth and efficient as possible in normal mode. Can you do the same after putting it into manual?

Suggested By: Kate's Dirty Sister


8.) Properly using all-wheel drive

Be that a classic Land Rover with all its gear levers, or a racing Audi Quattro as themanwithsauce points out:

Driving an AWD car effectively. I'm definitely biased here but based on the responses I see whenever an audi is talked about, all I get is that everyone assumes you just understeer and can't turn. Even then, I've seen plenty of people suck at getting an Evo around an autocross course...I wish I could explain that. But really the older AWD cars were handfuls. Especially in racing trim.


Suggested By: themanwithsauce

7.) Doing handbrake turns

When I told you that the 2014 Volkswagen Golf GTD is a very good fast hatchback, I forgot the mention an important issue with it: the lack of a proper handbrake. There's a button instead, and you can't turn quickly by pressing a button, therefore, the GTD is pretty much useless as a hot hatch. Sorry about that. DasStig agrees:

Hand brake turns are hard. Especially if you are doing it for the first time on a given day / surface because you don't know how much grip is there. Of course, if you have a lot of experience, then you can do minor corrections to overcome any grip issue. What is really hard is to use hand brake turn to park the car (unless you're Elwood).


Suggested By: DasStig

6.) Trail braking

ejp hates automatic transmissions tells you why it's difficult...

On my level, trail braking in certain cars has been pretty difficult for me to get right. Mid corner course-corrections using throttle steer has always pretty easy, but mastering oversteer on turn-in has proven to be difficult and awkward. Some cars can do this naturally (old 911's seem to be amenable to this), and other cars just want to squirm and swap ends.

If trail braking and rotation upon entry wasn't difficult enough - taking the balance concepts of trail braking to the next level is (at the moment) beyond me. A consistent proper execution of the Scandinavian Flick (aka pendulum turns) may be the hardest technique to master in driving. Doing this right involves mastery of balance and control over every aspect of driving like no other task. Someday, I will have the time and money to take a rally driving course, and have a chance to learn this...but it may just be over my head.


...and why it's good for you:

With regard to trail braking, there are two primary advantages, and a driver will actually use the technique to achieve the desired line in a corner (outside-inside-outside), using all of the track. The primary reasons for trail-braking are:

1. Allowing a driver to begin braking just a little bit later, shedding some of the residual speed on corner entry rather than entirely in a straight line. On a long straight before a sharp corner (for example), this gives a driver more time to use the straight at 100 MPH before having to brake down to 40 MPH. In a racing situation, this may be one way that a driver can protect their position from a pass...or more importantly, executes a pass against another driver.

2. Trail braking will inherently unbalance the rear of the car, increasing the yaw-angle on turn in (e.g. getting the car to rotate). This allows the driver to battle the natural understeer tenancies of their car. For example, many people are surprised to learn that old 911's tend to understeer pretty severely on turn-in, just like a FWD car can. The oversteer fun (or terror, for some) in 911's really tends to happen during an abrupt mid-corner lift-off of the throttle where weight is transferred from the rear, and all of the weight behind the rear wheels wants to keep going straight while the front of the car turns. Vic Elford (former Porsche factory rally and endurance racer) once wrote about a trail-braking technique where you imagine that a string is tied between your big toe and the steering wheel. As the wheel turns, the imaginary string pulls up on the big toe, which progressively releases pressure from the brake pedal until the car is pointed at the desired apex. At this point, you transition to throttle.

There are other situations and reasons where trail-braking is advantageous, and still others where it will slow you down (or worse, cause a loss of control). Depending on the car, some corners can be trail-braked every time. Others will call for a more traditional line. The Skip Barber racing manual, Going Faster! Mastering the Art of Race Driving details when to use this technique and why. A great book to read to really understand race driving. *Disclaimer* - the book is sort of an academic exercise; there is no substitute for seat time.


Suggested By: ejp hates automatic transmissions

5.) Left-foot braking

Maxzillian agrees with Walter Rohrl on that loosing revs and boost while going fast is something to avoid:

Using left foot braking in a turbo charged car along with simultaneous throttle control to maintain boost through corners. I've talked to one autocrosser who claimed he could use this technique, but I've found it's extremely difficult to manage smoothly.

On a rwd car you have to limit how much throttle you use as it fights the rear brakes and effectively swings your brake bias to be front heavy. On top of that, you have to work with the turbo lag and smoothly roll off the throttle as boost comes up so that the car doesn't suddenly surge ahead.

It can be done and when it works, its great because you have absolutely no lag leaving the corner. However, I fail at it more than I succeed. Unless I feel like throwing a run away in the name of science, I just don't attempt it.


Suggested By: Maxzillian

4.) Extreme parking

Who are you, Elwood Blues?

Suggested By: manifold engines, wanting for time

3.) Heel and toe shifting

Matching those revs when shifting down makes you faster and keeps transmission components happy. Use the brakes, discs are cheaper to replace. It takes just a few month to master.


Suggested By: DasWauto


2.) Doing the Scandinavian Flick

Bored with oversteer in your front-wheel drive car? Listen to Desu-San-Desu!

I've gotten pretty comfortable with handbrake turns, left-foot braking, double clutching, and heel-toe downshifts, which is pretty much the quadfecta of must-master driving techniques for most people. Most of these can be liberally practiced and nigh-upon mastered at no more than 30mph, making mastery of them more an issue of due diligence and repetition than anything else.

Hell, I learned how to left-foot brake because I used to own an automatic Subaru wagon and my left foot had nothing better to do, so I decided to put my hours of Rally fandom to use and start putting that left foot to use before atrophy began to set in. The first two weeks were filled with bitten tongues, mild whiplash, and some embarrassing tire squawks but within a month or so I had it down pat and now it's second nature to me.

Double clutching is less of a necessity and more of a 'eh, it doesn't hurt to know it' skill in most modern cars, thanks to the advent of the Synchro gear. However, even this can just be practiced just by going around the neighborhood and going clutch-neutral-clutch-third-clutch-neutral-clutch-second-clutch-neutral-clutch-third, and so on and so forth. Just be ready to get weird looks from everyone under 50 years old and have everyone older than 50 give you a two-hour long diatribe on why you're never doing it right and how that's evidence of everything that's wrong with you dang kids these days.

As for heel-toe downshifting? Well, as I've mentioned before in length (do I ever mentioned anything not in length...?), this can be practiced by incorporating it into your daily commute if you drive a manual. Even prior to that, it can just be practiced in your driveway with the engine off and the handbrake engaged, just to get a feel for the pedal placement and general movement. As with most things, there's nothing mystical about heel-toe shifting; it's just a matter of adjusting to your pedals and committing the act to muscle memory. Prepare for strange looks here as well, as anyone within earshot is going to be wondering just why you're belting out engine-rev Morse code every time you approach a corner or stop sign.

As for handbrake turns? Well, all that requires is an empty parking lot and some cones and lots of practice...and tires...and possibly bribes for the police and parking lot owner. I personally recommend learning in the rain, as everything is exaggerated and you'll be able to slide without having to go nearly as fast or sacrificing nearly as much tire tread. And as a rule of thumb, a handbrake yank is only used to induce a slide and sometimes adjust slip angle, not maintain it in its entirety. As you practice, you'll usually find that you won't need near as much handbrake as you may have thought. As with many things, a little dab'll do ya!

But the Scandinavian Flick? Sure, like the rest, it requires practice, commitment to memory, and a fairly controlled environment. But more than that, it requires balls. You see, while the other techniques generally only need low speeds to practice them, the Scandi Flick uses the mass and inertia of the vehicle itself to cause the rear tires to lose grip. This requires speed. And lots of it. Enough that the conscious, sanity-and-survival-focused part of your brain is constantly screaming "OHMYFUCKINGGOD SLOW DOWN!" every time you try and practice it.

Even on slippery surfaces like snow or gravel, you're still travelling considerably faster than common sense says is alright. And the only way to make the part of your brain shut up is the grab those balls of yours that are by now dangling somewhere around the floorboard and gag your conscious brain with them as you practice against all common sense. And practice. And practice some more.

Be assured, every time you throw the car one way, then the next, you will feel like you're going to flip. As you begin to press more and more speed and conviction into the turn-in and left-foot braking stages of the act, this feeling will transform into an utter certainty that you're going to flip. That feeling? Never goes away. And you'll spin out. Repeatedly. And you'll probably overshoot your mark more than a few times, so make sure that you've gotplenty of room to practice, because once again: speed.

This is the last technique I've embarked upon mastering because of the level of risk involved in even just practicing it. I would try practicing in the snow, at somewhat more sensible total speeds, except that I live in South Carolina. So instead I've settled on wide dirt roads and wet parking lots owned by people who know me well enough that if I fuck up their property, they'll deal with me ..."personally" rather than getting the cops involved. And you know what? I've probably got 20 hours of practicing this damned technique under my belt thus far and so far I've actually gotten it to work a grand total of twice.

Who knows...maybe I'll actually be able to do it around an actual corner within a decade or so.

(P.S. - Those two attempts that actually worked? Looked badass as hell. Totally worth it.)


Suggested By: Desu-San-Desu

1.) Driving on the limit

When at the track, there's a narrow line between crashing and being very fast. To extract maximum traction from your tires, you're looking for that sweet spot with evoCS:

This only applies to track driving: Getting your car right to that magical limit of adhesion. Not tail out drifting. Not totally glued to the tarmac. I've gottent the Evo in this zone a grand total of once, and only for a corner or two. A good friend of mine, who is a hell of a driver and track day instructor, had me follow him for a session and by the end I experienced that magical 4 wheel controlled drift that has you carrying more speed through a corner than you thought possible. Yet, you are in control. The contact patches are dancing right at their limits of adhesion, treading the line between slip and grip. I remember the sensation really well, but I honestly can't recall how I got the car to do it. I surmise it takes a combination of feel, skill, experience, and bravery to make a car dance like that. It is a heady feeling and one I want experience again. Its gonna take a heck of a lot more seat time than what I can muster right now.


Suggested By: evoCS

Welcome back to Answers of the Day - our daily Jalopnik feature where we take the best ten responses from the previous day's Question of the Day and shine it up to show off. It's by you and for you, the Jalopnik readers. Enjoy!


Top Photo Credit: FS Aviation


You had fordboy357 at "meat tornado"

My wide-ass size 13 feet pretty much prevent me from hell-toeing in most cars