What Is Engine Braking? Beginners Guide

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A lot of clients keep asking us – what is this engine braking thing everybody keeps talking about and why should I bother using it? No matter if you are an experienced driver or a novice, engine breaking might be a totally new concept for you but fret not, we’re here to give you a simple and concise explanation. 

Modern cars are built for longevity and efficiency; it’s just a matter of utilizing them in the right way to get the most out of them. By adding a little bit of driver involvement and adopting some new habits, you’ll get more mileage out of your car. Using the engine brake method happens to be one of these habits.

What Is Engine Braking

Modern combustion engines have come a long way since their first iteration. They have evolved from gas turbine prototypes to sophisticated systems that feature the latest tech and are controlled by a dozen of computers. However, technology aside, these engines remain the same at their core. When discussing cars and the engines that move them, we are referring to engines that use gasoline or diesel. Both diesel- and gasoline-powered engines can utilize engine braking to slow down your car save you some fuel. However, the way they achieve it is different.

Gasoline-Powered Engines

The Gasoline version achieves engine braking by restricting the airflow by closing the throttle valve. When you remove your foot off the throttle but leave it in gear, the throttle body will close, essentially creating a vacuum. When the pistons move down for the intake stroke, it sucks in the vacuum and has to work through it. This is what causes the deceleration and drop in power. 

Diesel-Powered Engines

So what about Diesel engines? Unlike Gasoline-powered engines, Diesel intakes are open all the time, and the power is controlled by how much fuel is injected, not air. The way car manufacturers enable engine breaking in diesel-powered vehicles is by adding a restriction called an exhaust brake. Similarly to the throttle valve, the exhaust brake can open and close. When closed, it doesn’t allow the air to go out, creating back pressure that the pistons have to work against.

How to Engine Brake

Engine braking can be achieved in both manual and automatic transmission cars, however, it’s slightly more exaggerated in the manual version. So the way you efficiently engine brake is by removing the foot from the accelerator, and slowly downshifting as the car decelerates. This will create the previously mentioned vacuum and slow down your vehicle without using your real brakes.

Engine Braking Downhill

Knowing how to engine brake while driving downhill is arguably even more critical. Overheating is a common occurrence when slamming on your brakes downhill, and when that happens, there is a possibility that the friction between the pads and discs is reduced. This can pose a severe safety hazard, especially for larger trucks.

Engine braking while driving downhill can reduce the pressure on the brakes, assure they don’t overheat and increase their lifespan. Shifting down to 2nd or 3rd gear will utilize engine braking to reduce the speed of your vehicle while driving down a steep hill. Automatic transmissions have special mods for driving downhill that simulate the same method.

Is Engine Braking Bad?

Some drivers avoid utilizing engine breaking because they have a false understanding of how it works and how it affects the engine of their car. What they are mostly afraid of is getting the revs up too high. Modern engines are designed to run at thousands of revs per minute for extended periods of time, so there’s really nothing to worry about. Of course, you don’t want to go crazy with downshifting, rather, do it at a steady pace, following the deceleration of your car.

Rest assured that you won’t damage your engine by using this technique. On the contrary, you will cause less wear, achieve better fuel economy, and much better braking performance.

For more driving tips, car news, and general articles related to the automotive industry make sure to keep up with our blog. If you’re traveling through the Greater Phoenix Area and are experiencing any kind of issues with your vehicle, our recovery professionals are standing by to help you out. Call us 24/7, and we’ll assist you in a matter of minutes.

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