Everybody’s car is different when it comes to drifting. Whether you’re focused on low-end torque from a big V8, revving as high as possible with a rotary, or just having as little weight as possible with a Miata. Whatever you decide to focus on, your car will need preparation. From first-timers to pro-am drifters, everybody needs to make sure their car is fit for drifting. What should you be doing though?
The main things to be wary of are your engine and driveline fluids, making sure everything is either fixed to your car or removed, and ensuring everything is torqued to spec. Checking trans fluid, differential fluid, engine oil, coolant, and all other fluids are vital to engine and driveline safety. If your car has anything loose, be sure to secure it or take it out. Last (but certainly not least), torque everything to spec! Lug nuts, engine head bolts, exhaust manifold nuts, everything. We wouldn’t want your exhaust pipe to fall off the motor, would we?
While that’s the bare minimum for maintenance, you still have much more to do! We can split this up into three main categories: Mechanical, Fluid, and Interior. Each one of these has a few tips of what to watch out for when preparing your car for drifting.
Starting off our list for preparing your drift car is mechanical maintenance. This includes steering alignment, checking torque specs, tire pressure, and a test drive. Getting your car’s steering aligned at any normal shop will get you a street alignment; however, that’s not always what you want.
Going to a tuning shop, or somewhere that specializes in performance/tuner cars is your best bet for getting a drift alignment. Starting out by researching what other people’s alignment specs are for your car, and match that. If you’re more experienced, then feel free to simply use your own alignment specs.
Make sure you torque down your car! Everything from exhaust mid-pipe bolts to the mounts for your seat, all of it needs to be tight. If any part of your car is loose, that can drastically impact your drifting experience, or worse, ruin it. There’s plenty of videos of people losing their wheels because they didn’t tighten their lug nuts. Don’t be that guy, it takes just a few minutes to make sure everything’s tight! I’m willing to bet you’ve never heard someone say “I regret taking 5 minutes to check the torque specs on my car!”
Checking your tire pressure is just as important as anything else. If your tires are over-inflated, they will spin much easier, at the cost of grip and responsiveness. If they’re under-inflated, they won’t be easy to spin, but the car will respond to your inputs much quicker, and you’ll have more grip. Finding your ideal tire pressure is important, as is finding the right tire compound. However, finding your right compound is a topic for another day.
Most importantly, take your car for a quick spin before you go to the track. Make sure the car feels nice and smooth, that there aren’t any odd noises, and that your car is running properly. Especially if you’re driving your car to and from the drift event, in order to have a ride home.
Next up is checking your car’s fluid levels. If this is your first time drifting, I’d recommend flushing the big three fluids (coolant, engine oil, differential oil). Drifting can cause serious wear on your car, but that’s why we have oil, is to slow the wear and monitor it. If you change it, and there’s metal shavings, you know there’s something severely wrong that you shouldn’t be drifting on. While it could be a number of things (scored cylinder walls, worn crank pins, a bad bearing, etc), knowing that something is going bad and not to drift is important.
Once you’re finished with your fluid change, move the car a bit, just enough to get it over clean pavement, while not heating up the motor significantly. Heat causes things to grow (due to thermal expansion), and a growing engine could self-plug leaks. That sounds good, until the engine cools down, and that same leak opens again.
Leave the car for a while, and come back. Now, inspect it for any leaks. Just about every track will not allow you access if your car has any leaking fluids. The fluids that leak from your car are not only harmful to other car (making grip unpredictable), but can cause premature damage to the track itself. This is the same reason you don’t do standing burnouts on track. These businesses barely stay afloat as it is, usually running at even, if not a loss. They can’t afford to pay for a re-sealing nearly as often as standing burnouts can tear it apart.
Now that you know why a fluid leak will make you fail tech inspection, be sure you find them all and plug them! It isn’t only for your own good, but for the good of all drifters. Don’t be the one person that ruins it for everyone, it doesn’t take long to check for leaks!
Last, but not least, we come to the interior of the car. While this isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, it’s equally as important as your engine or driveline. It also has an equal chance of making you fail the tech inspection! Be sure you remove (or secure) everything that’s loose in your car. If anything is loose in your car, it could slide/roll under your brake pedal, which is bad news. Worse, however, is that same item becoming a projectile in the event of a crash.
In that same breath, make sure your battery (wherever that may be) is secured. There’s plenty of horror stories around where a tech inspector finds a battery in the trunk, held by nothing but gravity. Don’t be that guy, make sure your battery is tied down.
One more odd thing to note is don’t have a cracked windshield. A very small crack might pass inspection, but anything larger and you’re going to fail. In the event of a crash, a cracked windshield is much more likely to shatter, causing dangerous projectiles, as well as tiny, almost invisible tire-popping debris to be scattered everywhere. This could shut down a track for hours, if not longer. If the car in question is just a drift rat, you could run without a windshield for that event, provided your track allows it.
Here’s a quick list of the things I’ve mentioned to check up on before you go drifting, in order to prep your car:
- Get the car aligned
- Torque down everything!
- Gauge tire pressure to your liking
- Test drive to make sure it’s mechanically sound
- Flush out all fluids, replace with new
- Check for leaks around the whole car
- Remove or secure everything inside your car
- Tie down the battery
- Make sure your windshield isn’t cracked
These aren’t the only things a tech inspector will look for, not by a long shot! For a more specific list of what to check for, consult your local track officials, or look on their website for their rules and regulations. Every track I’ve encountered posts their tech requirements online, so every driver knows what’s expected of them ahead of time. Even if you think you know, check anyways, as many tracks have different rules from one another, and these rules change from time to time.
In case you haven’t already noticed, just about every part of the tech inspection is for your own good. Whether it’s a direct safety concern (interior pieces being fixed) or a long-term benefit (fluid leaks), the tech inspection is for the drivers more than for the track. Respect yourself and your fellow drifters, don’t try and pull one over on the tech inspector. You’d only be hurting yourself and your community.