The great engine breaking debate. If you read any car forums, chances are you’ve seen questions about engine breaking . Does it work? Will it hurt my engine or transmission? Lots of questions and just as many answers. We’ll explain what engine breaking is and debunk some of the myths surrounding it.

What Is Engine Breaking?

Engine breaking is the practice of taking your foot off the throttle and downshifting, or not upshifting at your normal RPM level and allowing the engine to slow your car. The engine breaking we’re talking about is not the “thwap, thwap, thwap” of an exhaust or jake brake in a big rig. This is simply taking your foot off the gas and not upshifting, or even downshifting a gear to slow the car down. All three create the same scenario in your engine.

How Does It Work?

Engine breaking works by closing the throttle valve in your engine. This creates a vacuum in your engine and slows down the engine and drive wheels. The same thing happens when you downshift your engine and keep your foot off the throttle.

Downshifting uses your transmission and your engine. The transmission is set to allow a certain speed in a certain gear depending on the gear ratio. By leaving your car in a low gear, or downshifting to a lower gear and keeping your foot off the throttle, the engine creates a vacuum and slows down the drive wheels. At the same time, the transmission is also preventing the car from going faster than it’s geared to go.

Myths About Engine Breaking

There are two big myths about engine breaking .

The first is that your car will overheat if you hold it in a lower gear for long periods. False. In most cases, you wouldn’t need or want to hold your car in a lower gear for long enough for anything to overheat. It also goes against how a car’s engineering works. Cars are designed to withstand extremely high temperature ratings. The coolant system in a car will open up as you downshift. You might even notice your engine getting cooler rather than hotter.

The second myth is that you’ll damage your engine and transmission if you engine brake. This myth comes from shifting to a very low gear at a very high speed. If you downshift one gear, you will not hurt your motor or transmission. This is what the system is designed to do.

On the other hand, if you put your car in first gear at 60 mph, that might damage your engine.

When Should I Use It?

curve road- engine breaking - texas motorcars
Image via Flickr by paul bica

Engine breaking is a great choice when going down long, steep grades. Brakes heat up and fade by the end of a long hill, and engine breaking will keep your speed down without burning up your brakes.

You can also use it when approaching stop lights. This is sometimes called “timing the light.” If you don’t have to come to a complete stop, you’ll save gas and save brakes.

Engine breaking has been around as long as cars. This accounts for many of the myths surrounding the practice over the years, but engine breaking really isn’t bad for your car after all.

Engine Breaking Isn’t All That Bad on Your Car After All

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