What is a Moonshiner's Turn?

Michael Pollick

A moonshiner's turn, also known as a J-turn, is an evasive driving maneuver designed to create a very sudden 180° change in direction. A moonshiner's turn is often performed when a driver is suddenly confronted by a roadblock and forward progress is virtually impossible. The maneuver's name is based on the elusive driving tactics used by bootleggers carrying illegal containers of 'moonshine', a homebrewed grain alcohol. Police and tax revenue officers would often put up roadblocks on main highways, causing bootleggers to find new ways to evade them.

Doing a moonshiner's turn can really damage a car's gearbox.
Doing a moonshiner's turn can really damage a car's gearbox.

To perform a moonshiner's turn, it's best to be driving a car with manual transmission. This allows the driver to put the car into a lower gear for faster acceleration out of the turn itself. A moonshiner's turn can be performed in a vehicle with automatic transmission, but expect a slower response time.

Moonshiners might be forced to make quick turns to avoid police looking for the illegal alcohol they make with stills.
Moonshiners might be forced to make quick turns to avoid police looking for the illegal alcohol they make with stills.

Unlike its riskier counterpart called a bootlegger's turn, a moonshiner's turn is performed from a dead stop, not a controlled skid. Once the roadblock or other threat has been spotted, bring the car to a complete stop as soon as possible. Once the forward momentum has ended, quickly place the car into reverse gear. Drive straight back while counting off five seconds. Prepare to do several things all at once.

While the car is still moving in reverse, turn the steering wheel hard to the left while simultaneously pulling or depressing the emergency brake. Do not touch the accelerator. The car should spin at least 90 to 180°.

Once the car has changed direction, release the emergency brake and put the car into second gear, or 'drive' in an automatic. Accelerate out of the area as quickly as possible. A moonshiner's turn is not quite as quick as a bootlegger's turn, but many professional drivers say it is an easier maneuver to master.

A moonshiner's turn or J-turn should only be used during an emergency situation, since it can cause significant damage to a car's tires, suspension and gearbox. Depending on the vehicle, a moonshiner's turn can also create a dangerous rollover. Professional security drivers and stunt drivers practice these maneuvers on closed tracks with modified cars. A moonshiner's turn may best be viewed as part of a action movie's chase sequence, not on an actual highway.

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Discussion Comments


@clintflint - If you want to live vicariously through someone else's stunt driving you can always go see a car show. This would be the mildest of tricks they'd do for it though and I doubt they'd explain the mechanics of any of it afterwards.


@pastanaga- There's all kinds of ways that you can learn how to do this. Often farmers' kids learn because they've got wide paddocks, open roads and farm vehicles to practice with (although I suppose their parents wouldn't be particularly happy with them practicing this kind of left turn).

There are classes people can take where they get taught stunt car tricks, or you can hire out a driving range to use, or practice in an empty lot or car park.

I'd be worried about wrecking your car more than about getting in trouble. This isn't the kind of thing you want to do with a new car, or even an old reliable one.


I really wish that I had a chance to learn how to do these kinds of things. I'm a pretty boring driver and I can't imagine myself doing them without being in situation where they were actually necessary.

But, if you're in that kind of situation you probably can't afford to make any mistakes, so I don't see how you could ever figure it out without doing something illegal.


Emergency break is absolutely unnecessary and will interfere with the cars rotation around its back. You have to quickly depress and release the footbreak right after turning sharply to lock up the front wheels and make the nose slide around.

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