Tactical Driving: J-Turn - ITS Tactical

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Tactical Driving: J-Turn

By The ITS Crew

jturnIn Tactical Driving the ability to perform a quick, calculated turn is an important skill, but what about while your vehicle is in reverse? Enter the J-Turn… This little maneuver can be traced back to the prohibition days when bootleggers called it the moonshiner’s turn. Can you picture those old cars performing a J-Turn? It must have been quite a sight!

While the terminology is somewhat confusing, the bootlegger’s turn is a different maneuver that is performed while the car is facing forward, the J-Turn is done while in reverse. We’ll be covering the bootlegger’s turn in a future article.

The J-turn’s end product is your vehicle maintaining its course, but turning 180 degrees in seconds. You’ll end up pointing forward without loosing too much of the vehicle’s momentum. It’s important to know how your vehicle operates, and its limitations… please refer to our introductory article on Tactical Driving.

Let’s go over the steps to complete a successful J-Turn

Automatic Transmission

  1. Start with the vehicle in reverse and remember “when you reverse, things come from behind you
  2. Make sure you have plenty of room on both sides of the vehicle, from your starting position, to where you want to end up
  3. Accelerate the vehicle to a speed of 30-35 mph and don’t let off of the gas
  4. Position your hands at the 2 o’clock and 8 o’clock position on the steering wheel
  5. In one quick motion come off of the gas and turn your steering wheel counter-clockwise at least 1/2 of a turn (more is better)
  6. This will turn the vehicle very sharply to the driver’s right
  7. While the vehicle is almost through the 180 degree turn, use another quick movement in the opposite direction of the turn to bring the vehicle’s wheels back in line
  8. Quickly put the car into drive and accelerate

If you don’t maintain the required speed, or turn the steering wheel sharply enough, the vehicle won’t complete the turn.

Manual Transmission

The directions are exactly the same as above, but while selecting first gear to make your getaway, you’ll need to double clutch

  1. Press the clutch in
  2. Shift to neutral
  3. Clutch out
  4. Clutch in and shift into first

This adds more of a challenge to the maneuver, but if you practice the double clutch it can be done easily

Here’s a YouTube video we put together showing the J-Turn

Check out our YouTube channel for additional instructional videos on the J-Turn

Hit us up with any questions you have in the comments, and stay tuned for more Tactical Driving articles!

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  • Zengunfighter

    Remember that you might be in a place where they drive on the left hand side. I live in the V.I. I make sure to practice turns to either side.

    Rather than trying to figure out if you are going 30-35, I do a slow 3 count before turning the wheel. 1 hunderd and 1, 1 hunderd and 2, 1 hundred and TURN!

    • Zengunfighter,

      Good tips, thanks for sharing!

  • david

    i love driving and one thing that i love most is maneuvering could you send me more videos and articles explaining how to do it at all speeds

    • David,

      Stay tuned, we have more coming!

  • Phil Knowles

    Is there a chance of ripping out your transmission with this technique?

    • Phil,
      There’s definitely a “chance,” but what you have to ask yourself is whether the situation dictates the necessity of the maneuver. Always good to practice for the possibility you may have to one day use the skill (preferably in a vehicle you pay 19.99 a day to insure).

    • daniel

      hahaha yup that car in the video is most def a rental.

  • Jon

    J-turns… will have to chalk that upto things I can no longer do in my 4×4 (higher center of gravity and wide tires)

    though I wonder if they would pull my humee license if I tried it during PMCS…. hmmmm

  • Pablo

    This is also known as the “Rockford” – as in the Rockford Files. I used to practice this when I parked other people’s cars for a living. By the way – that parking career did wonders for my driving skills. Many years later while doing an EVOC course my time on the big final run was more than twice as fast as anyone else in the class and I was the only one who didn’t knock over any cones. I still attribute much of my close quarters driving skills to that job.

  • Brian Geiswite

    I know what Im doing this weekend

  • Dan

    Can you complete a J-Turn in neutral coasting backwards at 35-40?

    Coasting in neutral before starting the turn seems like it would be much easier on your transmission. In theory, After the turn the vehicle would be coasting the oposite direction and you could just shift back into drive. In theory….

  • Len

    A J-TURN is not the most effective defensive maneuver. You can drive a lot faster than 30-35 in reverse. With just driving in reverse you cover more ground and leave less of a target (by not going sideways) from whatever may be a threat in front of you.

    • Jeremy Lowry


      Agreed. If you notice in the movies, there’s always that slightly wet patch when they do J turns. That hides all the tread marks from the previous takes when they got it wrong.

      It’s better to learn to drive backwards, and get comfortable with that, since you may not even get the chance to attempt a J-turn. Also, without practice, you run the risk of losing your momentum, oversteering or understeering and not facing the right way, or taking your eyes off a target. Not a big deal when you’re trying to impress your friends in the parking lot, but on operations, it can have deadly consequences.

  • Mack

    Ah… yes, the bootlegger reverse. Reading about this manuever takes me back to my middle and high school days. Two words: “Car Wars”; what a geek I was back then. Unfortunately, I also am not able to perform this maneuver in my SUV, so I won’t try.

    Although I know that most Military and LEO types likely already know about vehicle spacing and lane choice in day-to-day driving, I think a couple of articles on those topics might be of use to those non Mil/LEO types who keep up on itstactical.com

  • Dennis FAIRBANKS

    Great video but I would love to see the process shown from the inside of the car. The actual hand position, shifting of the gears and any other tips you can offer to assist us in perfecting this technique.

  • Andy

    My only worry is in the steps for an auto you say to get up to speed, turn the wheel, straighten the wheel, THEN shift to drive. If you straighten the car out while it’s still in reverse your transmission is in serious danger of vomiting metal and transmission fluid. The police I rode with who showed us this maneuver shifted to neutral right before cranking the wheel. I’m glad you’re providing this information, it just confuses me why you tell manual drivers to shift to neutral before the maneuver and not auto drivers.

  • Marlar

    Is there any reason there is a strip of wet pavement at the beginning of the turn and then another at the final leg of the turn ???????

    • Peter

      As is mentioned above, it helps prevent skid marks from previous takes.

      It takes a great deal of practice to do it as well as was demonstrated in that video, so I don’t really blame them for cherry-picking it.

  • Steve

    Wet also helps by making it bit slicker for the spin.

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