What is Engine Braking and Can It Hurt Your Car? (2022)

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Anyone who’s crisscrossed the country has likely seen posted signs that read, “No Engine Brake,” “Residential Area Do Not Use Engine Brakes,” and “Engine Braking Prohibited.” These restrictive messages are aimed at semi-truck drivers who have disturbed the region with obnoxiously loud engine braking, but engine braking isn’t reserved for semi-trucks.

Though long-haulers use it more than others, it’s also used by mechanical souls who continue to drive with manual transmissions. Shifting braking responsibility from the brake pads and rotors to the engine can increase safety, decrease maintenance costs, and prove helpful in various situations.

The Drive’s crack info team has driven all over the country and is well versed in the art of engine braking. For your hungry minds, we’ve put together a quick lesson to explain what it is, how it works, and how it affects your car. Let’s jump in.

What Is Engine Braking?

Engine braking is the act of using your engine to absorb energy and slow the vehicle down rather than using the brake pedal and friction brakes to absorb energy and slow the vehicle down. This is achieved by releasing the throttle while in gear.

The Ford Bronco is available with a manual transmission., Jeep

Methods of Engine Braking

Different vehicles use different methods of engine braking. We break it down below.

Cars

In an average consumer vehicle with an automatic transmission, engine braking is rarely used, but it’s technically possible to do so by switching from Drive (D) to Low (L). L keeps the vehicle in low gearing, so it will drag the vehicle’s speed down when you let your foot off the gas pedal. Like neutral-dropping while driving, don’t ever do this while driving at speed. It could safely be used by shifting in L before descending down a mountain or hill.

Some automobiles with automatic transmissions that feature the capacity for the driver to change gears, either via paddle-shifters or a console-mounted gear lever, can also use engine braking. All the driver has to do is downshift to a lower gear and, once again, let the lower gear drag the vehicle’s speed down.

Far more common is engine braking in a vehicle with a manual transmission. While in gear, releasing the gas pedal closes the throttle body. Without air to suck into the cylinder, a vacuum is created. This vacuum slows the vehicle down.

(Video) Here’s Why Engine Braking Can Destroy Your Engine and Transmission

Harsher braking can be achieved by downshifting into lower gears, but this can only be done if you really know your car, its rev ranges, and its gearing. Shifting into too low of a gear while traveling at too fast of a speed could shoot the needle above the redline and damage your engine. If you choose to engine brake with a manual transmission, allow the car to slow into the proper range, shift down one gear at a time, and make sure the people behind you know you’re slowing down.

Semi-Trucks

Diesel semi-trucks most commonly use two different methods of engine braking. One technology uses a valve on the exhaust of the engine to create backpressure. This backpressure pushes against the positive motion of the engine and slows it down. The other technology is called a Jake Brake.

What Is a Jake Brake?

Contrary to popular belief, the jake brake has nothing to do with Jake from State Farm. The jake brake is a valve timing technology used by diesel trucks to slow down the vehicle using the engine. In a normal combustion cycle, the process starts when the intake valve opens to let gas into the combustion chamber. The piston compresses the air, the air ignites, and the piston goes back down to move the vehicle. The exhaust valve then opens, and the piston goes up to push the exhaust air out of the chamber.

With Jake Brake tech in action, the exhaust valve opens after the first compression stroke to release the air and energy. Without energy to push the piston back down, the system is retarded and the vehicle slows down.

Will Engine Braking Do Any Harm To My Car?

This is a myth. The primary effect of engine braking on the engine is an increase in friction and heat, both of which the engine can handle with aplomb.

What Are the Benefits Of Engine Braking?

There are several reasons why truckers use engine braking so frequently. Let’s examine what makes it so useful.

Reduces Wear On Brakes

The less you use your brake pedal, the slower the brake pads, rotors, and all other parts of the braking system will wear down. That saves the driver time and money by reducing the number and frequency of brake changes. This is especially true with graded roads, i.e. mountains with steep declines.

(Video) Engine Braking - How it can make you a Smoother Driver

Reduces Chances of Brake Fade

Brake fade is the loss of braking effectiveness, meaning you won’t be able to stop as quickly or at all. This occurs when the brake pads and brake rotors get too hot and the manufactured friction can no longer create enough negative force to slow the vehicle down. Brake fade typically happens when the brakes are overworked, such as when a semi-truck is braking down a steep hill. By using the engine to slow down, it prevents harsh wear and keeps the brakes cooler by giving them time to breathe.

Added Vehicle Control

Engine braking creates a natural smooth consistent force. Pedal braking can be inconsistent and could potentially upset the balance of the vehicle. Additionally, with the car still in gear, you can hover over the gas pedal for any needed reactionary throttle inputs.

Increased Stopping Ability

If you are engine braking and apply the pedal brakes on top of that, the stopping time should theoretically be quicker.

When Should I Use Engine Braking?

The best time to use engine braking is when gravity increases the vehicle’s momentum and requires more-than-normal energy needed to stop your vehicle. In other words, on a decline. In these situations, using engine braking will help prevent brake fade and consequently make you and your surroundings safer.

A Mack truck drives the mountains., Volvo

FAQs About Engine Braking

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q: Is Engine Braking the Same As Downshifting?

A: No. In a manual transmission, engine braking occurs simply by leaving the car in gear and letting your foot off the accelerator. Downshifting is the act of shifting into a lower gear. However, because the engine speed will be trying to match the wheel speed when downshifting, it will feel like the car is braking if your downshifting isn’t finessed correctly.

Q: Why Is Engine Braking Prohibited?

A: Engine braking is loud. In areas where semi-trucks constantly drive and brake, the consistent noise can be annoying.

Q: But Is Engine Braking Dangerous?

A: Engine braking in and of itself is not dangerous, but it can be in certain situations. If people are closely following your vehicle, they will not be alerted that you have chosen to engine brake, as this method does not use rear brake lights like normal pedal braking. This can be especially dangerous if you engine brake at night or on a hill.

Q: Is Putting Your Car In Neutral Bad?

A: Technically, with an automatic transmission, shifting into neutral while driving is not a huge issue. Putting it back into drive while in motion, however, can be jarring on internal components.

(Video) What is Engine Braking?

Q: What Happens If You Rev Your Car Too Much?

A: You’ll look like a try-hard, waste gas, and damage your car if you spike over the redline. If you’re into that, hate cash, and love repairing your car, go for it! We’re not your mothers.

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(Video) Is It Bad To Engine Brake With A Manual Transmission?

Featured Products

Capri Tools Vacuum Brake Bleeder

Prestone DOT 3 Synthetic Brake Fluid

Akebono ProACT Ultra-Premium Ceramic Brake Pad Set

Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: guidesandgear@thedrive.com

(Video) ENGINE BRAKING | How Semi Trucks Slow Down Without Brakes | SCIENCE GARAGE

FAQs

What is engine braking and can it harm your car? ›

Engine braking shuts off fuel consumption, as opposed to just braking or putting the car in neutral. You'll also use less fuel when pulling away in a lower gear than pulling away at low speeds in high gear. All this adds up to a safer, more economical drive on brakes that will last longer.

Does engine braking hurt the transmission? ›

Engine braking isn't necessarily bad for your engine or transmission, but it can be if you do it incorrectly. You have to balance the benefits of engine braking against some other factors: Shifting frequently increases clutch wear on a manual transmission, and can lead to high temperatures* in an automatic transmission.

How do you explain engine braking? ›

Simply defined, it's the process of slowing down a vehicle by stepping off the accelerator and downshifting gears instead of pressing on the brake pedal. The braking system on a vehicle is responsible for slowing it down while driving.

Why is engine braking not allowed? ›

For example, it might be an advantage when driving down a steep or long slope. Engine braking is prohibited in some areas because of the loud noise it creates. Typically, when an interstate travels near a residential area is when you will see the signs prohibiting the action.

Can you drive with engine brake on? ›

It doesn't harm the vehicle.

However, engine braking won't damage your car as long as you follow safe, sensible driving practices. When you engine brake for the first time, it can sound a little scary! That's because when you shift down, it often causes the engine to rev loudly.

What is engine braking Toyota Corolla? ›

Engine braking is the act of using your engine to absorb energy and slow the vehicle down rather than using the brake pedal and friction brakes to absorb energy and slow the vehicle down. This is achieved by releasing the throttle while in gear.

Does engine braking use more fuel? ›

What Uses Less Gas - Coasting Or Engine Braking? - YouTube

Should you engine brake in an automatic? ›

Driving Tip: Using Your Automatic Transmission to Help With Engine Braking Down Steep Hills. When you are travelling down a long, steep hill, you should use your automatic transmission engine braking to avoid overheating your brakes.

How do you use engine braking in a car? ›

Engine Braking - How it can make you a Smoother Driver - YouTube

How do you slow down a car without stopping? ›

Engine braking will not bring you to a complete stop, but it will aid in slowing down – even without using your brakes. How do you do it? Simple: let off of the accelerator pedal and you will automatically slow down.

Is it OK to downshift an automatic transmission? ›

You should downshift an automatic transmission in low traction situations, especially when your transmission shifts through all gears, spinning the wheels though your vehicle isn't moving.

What is the difference between a Jake brake and an engine brake? ›

A Jake Brake is a type of compression release brake that helps truck drivers slow down their truck without wearing out the service brakes. Commonly called an engine brake, Jake Brakes are often used in large diesel engines on semi-trucks.

Why are there signs that say no engine braking? ›

So, if engine braking and the compression release brakes can be so useful, why would it be prohibited? Well, the biggest reason is likely a simple one… engine braking for a semi can be rather noisy. That's why these signs tend to pop up mostly in more rural areas than anywhere else.

Can you rev an automatic car while driving? ›

Yes, you can rev the engine in your automatic while you're driving!

Should you use engine brake in rain? ›

Do not use cruise control or engine brake. Using cruise means you lose the feel of the road and may not sense hydroplaning, and your engine brake (Jake brake) on wet and slippery roads could result in loss of traction.

Can I use engine brake when raining? ›

Using the engine brake of your vehicle in rainy or wet conditions can damage the traction on the drive wheel. This leaves the vehicle out of control and can cause serious damage. However, in ice or snow conditions, use engine brakes only on steep or long slopes.

Can hard braking damage transmission? ›

Hitting the brakes hard can damage transmission mounts, which can result in major trouble. Sometimes you have to brake more aggressively, but it's best for your vehicle if you can safely avoid doing so.

What does S and B mean on Toyota Corolla? ›

B stands for brake, while S stands for sport. So, what is Toyota corolla S gear? S is a significant part of a car that turns the car's engine speed higher. In particular, when you are driving through twisty roads but still want to maintain RPM, the S gearbox is what you need to use at that time.

What does B stand for in Toyota? ›

What is 'B' Gear? Source: Toyota. Gear B stands for "braking" in the simplest term. The B gear in the Toyota Prius or any other hybrid car functions as a lower gear that serves a unique function, much like shifting a manual gearbox to a lower ratio on a long downhill route.

How does automatic transmission affect engine braking power? ›

What effect does automatic transmission have on engine braking power? It reduces it. It transfers the braking ability to the handbrake.

How much fuel does engine braking use? ›

Probably not. Engine braking works because the engine isn't generating power – on a gasoline engine it's soaking up power by pulling a vacuum in the intake as it draws air past the closed throttle. Since the engine is at idle it will be using minimal or even zero fuel as you coast down the hill.

What wastes more gas windows or AC? ›

Air conditioning on both vehicles reduced the miles per gallon more than running with the windows open. The TV show Mythbusters ran an experiment with two identical SUVs on a test track, and the SUV with the windows down traveled 15 miles more before running out of gas at 45 miles per hour.

Does cruise control save gas? ›

Generally speaking, yes. Cruise control can help you become more fuel-efficient and can help you save an average of 7-14% on gas thanks to its ability to maintain a continuous speed. In comparison, the constant change in acceleration and deceleration of the driver placing their foot over the pedals can eat more gas.

Does downshifting damage the transmission? ›

However, downshifting puts added strain on the engine and transmission. These parts are far more costly to replace than the brake system. In addition, studies have shown that engine braking does chew up more gas than regular braking.

How do you use engine braking downhill? ›

You would have to shift down to 4th for more effective engine braking. Of course, use the foot brake to slow the car down first before actually shifting to a lower gear. Engine braking helps you to coast downhill at a more controllable speed.

What wears out in an automatic transmission? ›

In an automatic transmission, the wearing parts include clutch plates, bands, bushings, bearings, sealing rings, thrust washers, and other metal parts, all getting worn out due to friction. The most crucial component of those parts are the clutch plates.

What does engine braking feel like? ›

As soon as you take your foot off the gas pedal your engine revs will go down slowly. As engines are naturally resistant to turning, a lack of revs will cause you to slow down.

What is another way of saying engine braking? ›

A Jake Brake is the trademark name for a compression release engine braking system. Essentially, it's an extra supplemental braking system to help stop the truck faster in addition to the traditional friction brakes on the wheels. With an air compression system, the engine will work to slow down the semi-truck.

What happens if you downshift too soon? ›

When done incorrectly, downshifting could cause a minor jerk at best and completely locking your rear tire at worst. This always happens when the clutch speed is not in sync with the engine RPM. Usually when downshifting incorrectly, the engine RPM is much lower than the speed at which the clutch is operating.

Why do people drive with their foot on the brake? ›

At its most basic purpose, left-foot braking can be used to decrease the time spent moving the right foot between the brake and throttle pedals, and can also be used to control load transfer. It is most commonly used in auto racing (simultaneous gas and brake keeps turbo pressure and reduces turbo lag).

How do you drive a car in heavy traffic? ›

Drive: How to drive in traffic Part 1 - YouTube

How many years before you change your brake fluid? ›

Most drivers find they need to change their brake fluid every four to five years.

What happens if you accidentally put your car in neutral while driving? ›

Answer provided by. Accidentally shifting into neutral on your car shouldn't cause any damage to your vehicle. And fortunately, nothing should happen to your car if you shift into reverse while driving other than your car slowing down and some grinding of the gears. Newer cars come equipped with a reverse inhibitor.

What gear should I be in going uphill in an automatic? ›

Uphill: Approach uphill situations with an appropriate amount of momentum, a higher gear (3rd in an automatic transmission) and less throttle to reduce torque, which also reduces wheel spin.

What happens if you shift to neutral while driving? ›

Switching to neutral stops the flow of fuel to the engine, this reduces your control on the car as you cannot use the engine's gears for slowing down. You can only rely on the main breaks in this situation putting more strain on them.

Does a Jake Brake use more fuel? ›

“Does excessive use of jake brakes waste fuel?” The answer to that question is yes and so does excessive use of your foundation brakes.

What is a disadvantage to a Jake Brake? ›

They are also generally only equipped on diesel trucks because diesels usually have much higher compression engines than gasoline engines. The larger compression provides a greater impact from the jake brake. The biggest disadvantage of a jake brake is noise. The noise level is why we do not have jake brakes on cars.

Does exhaust brake use more fuel? ›

Using the exhaust brake with engine braking shortens the braking distance, but increases fuel consumption.

What is a muffled engine braking? ›

What Is Engine Braking? What Is A Jake Brake? - YouTube

Why do truckers use Jake brakes? ›

The Jake Brake releases compressed air from the cylinder, slowing the vehicle by absorbing the engine's power. Jake Brakes are commonly used to control the truck speed while descending a steep grade, rather than using the foot brakes, saving wear on the brakes.

What does engine brake ordinance mean? ›

It shall be unlawful for the driver of any vehicle to use or operate or cause to be used or operated within the town, any engine brake, compression brake or mechanical exhaust device designed to aid in the braking or deceleration of any vehicle unless such use is necessary to avoid imminent danger.

Do you rev in park or neutral? ›

With the vehicle in park, press the accelerator down slowly, and the RPM needle will climb. You can also rev the engine with the car in neutral, but if you opt for this, be sure your other foot is on the brake; in neutral, the car can roll forward and backward.

Can you shift from drive to neutral without breaking? ›

You can switch to neutral while driving in both an automatic and a manual car. In an automatic, simply move your gearshift to the neutral position. In a manual, you only need to push the clutch and put the stick to the neutral position. However, note that coasting downhill to save gas is actually a myth.

Can I push an automatic car in neutral? ›

Generally, you'll not harm an automatic car by putting it in neutral while driving, but you'll have less control and run the risk of failing brakes.

Does engine braking use more fuel? ›

What Uses Less Gas - Coasting Or Engine Braking? - YouTube

Can hard braking damage transmission? ›

Hitting the brakes hard can damage transmission mounts, which can result in major trouble. Sometimes you have to brake more aggressively, but it's best for your vehicle if you can safely avoid doing so.

What is the difference between a Jake brake and an engine brake? ›

A Jake Brake is a type of compression release brake that helps truck drivers slow down their truck without wearing out the service brakes. Commonly called an engine brake, Jake Brakes are often used in large diesel engines on semi-trucks.

Is Downshifting bad for automatic transmission? ›

This practice is not acceptable in automatic transmissions because a forced downshift at high-engine RPMs can result in excessive transmission wear, specifically to the clutch friction plates and the transmission bands.

How much fuel does engine braking use? ›

Probably not. Engine braking works because the engine isn't generating power – on a gasoline engine it's soaking up power by pulling a vacuum in the intake as it draws air past the closed throttle. Since the engine is at idle it will be using minimal or even zero fuel as you coast down the hill.

What wastes more gas windows or AC? ›

Air conditioning on both vehicles reduced the miles per gallon more than running with the windows open. The TV show Mythbusters ran an experiment with two identical SUVs on a test track, and the SUV with the windows down traveled 15 miles more before running out of gas at 45 miles per hour.

Does cruise control save gas? ›

Generally speaking, yes. Cruise control can help you become more fuel-efficient and can help you save an average of 7-14% on gas thanks to its ability to maintain a continuous speed. In comparison, the constant change in acceleration and deceleration of the driver placing their foot over the pedals can eat more gas.

Does braking suddenly damage car? ›

Sudden braking can cause damage to the vehicle as well. Severe vehicle damage caused by hard braking may compromise the safety of the vehicle and put people at risk. Braking improperly can put a strain on the entire braking system, which serves as an essential safety component in all driving scenarios.

Why does my car jump forward when I brake? ›

If the brake rotors are out of balance or warped, the vehicle can jerk to a stop or rapidly vibrate depending on your driving conditions. If the brake pads are worn or filled with dirt and debris, the area of the rotor under the brake pads can collect these substances, causing the car to pulsate when braking.

Why does my car slide when I brake? ›

Over braking or braking while turning can lock up the wheels and tires. Locked up wheels reduce your car's ability to grab the road. When this happens, it's usually your back tires that cause your car to slide sideways as they try to get back into synch with the front tires.

When should you not use a Jake Brake? ›

The jake brake is not designed for use on ice and very slippery conditions. On dry roads, the engine brake can be used at virtually any time when the driver wishes to slow down the truck. They are a great device to use in normal conditions.

Are exhaust brakes hard on engines? ›

Exhaust brakes are not hard on engines. They will cause no issues with continual use. Some people fear this braking system might cause issues because when braking, the exhaust is blocked, and the pressure in your engine can build to 60 PSI.

Does a Jake Brake use more fuel? ›

“Does excessive use of jake brakes waste fuel?” The answer to that question is yes and so does excessive use of your foundation brakes.

What happens if you accidentally put your car in neutral while driving? ›

Answer provided by. Accidentally shifting into neutral on your car shouldn't cause any damage to your vehicle. And fortunately, nothing should happen to your car if you shift into reverse while driving other than your car slowing down and some grinding of the gears. Newer cars come equipped with a reverse inhibitor.

What gear should I be in going uphill in an automatic? ›

Uphill: Approach uphill situations with an appropriate amount of momentum, a higher gear (3rd in an automatic transmission) and less throttle to reduce torque, which also reduces wheel spin.

What wears out in an automatic transmission? ›

In an automatic transmission, the wearing parts include clutch plates, bands, bushings, bearings, sealing rings, thrust washers, and other metal parts, all getting worn out due to friction. The most crucial component of those parts are the clutch plates.

Videos

1. What Is Engine Braking? What Is A Jake Brake?
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2. 4 Benefits Of Engine Braking
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3. Just How Effective is Engine Braking on Cars?
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4. Is Engine Braking Bad For Your Motorcycle? | The Shop Manual
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5. How Things Work - Engine Braking
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