Engine brake on automatic

Submitted: Sunday, Jun 12, 2011 at 15:39
ThreadID: 86917 Views:2379 Replies:7 FollowUps:9
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I have driven a number of tractors in my time and always used the engine brake to deal with steep descends. I know trucks also do this. I drive an automatic land cruiser 100 now, fully laden and towing a camper trailer ( with electric brakes). We are exploring Mt Tambourine and Lamington national park (south qld - beautiful but cold and wet) and there are some very steep descends 15 degrees plus.

I have experimented with shifting the LC into 2nd / low gear to control my descent and save my brakes. It seems to work as per the manual method.

Is this an effective & safe method that others also use or should I stick to pumping the brakes and stay in drive?


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Reply By: snoopyone - Sunday, Jun 12, 2011 at 15:55

Sunday, Jun 12, 2011 at 15:55
Mostly when going downhill in a 100 when you tap the brakes you can feel them sort of stay on harder till you hit the loud pedal again.

As I never tow in drive I cant say but it does it in 4th as well

Is yours a 4 or 5 spd

Changing down saves brakes and may be safer but gearboxes are dearer tahn brakes my old man used to say.

I said not if you get fade and end up dead LOL
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Follow Up By: Member - Tony V (NSW) - Sunday, Jun 12, 2011 at 16:56

Sunday, Jun 12, 2011 at 16:56

That works on the 4 speed auto but not on the 4 speed auto.

Using a lower gear is ok as well.
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Follow Up By: snoopyone - Sunday, Jun 12, 2011 at 17:10

Sunday, Jun 12, 2011 at 17:10

Mine is a 5 speed auto and it does it with alarming frequency :-) when going down a small hill even, in the suburbs
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Follow Up By: Member - Tony V (NSW) - Tuesday, Jun 14, 2011 at 11:57

Tuesday, Jun 14, 2011 at 11:57
Opps (fat fingers) sorry Snoopy,

that works on the 5 speed auto but not the 4 speed auto...

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Reply By: Roughasguts - Sunday, Jun 12, 2011 at 15:59

Sunday, Jun 12, 2011 at 15:59
Dad use to do that all the time!

But then my brother in law wouldn't! as he said brake pads are a lot cheaper than an Auto transmission so he has a point with that.

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Reply By: Member - RobnJane(VIC) - Sunday, Jun 12, 2011 at 16:30

Sunday, Jun 12, 2011 at 16:30
Hi John,

A tried and tested rule of thumb, when in particularly steep country is to descend hills in the gear you would use to climb the hill, regardless of transmission type. These days brakes are a lot more effective than when the rule was first applied however the logic is still good.

By using 'gear/engine' braking to the extent you can in steep country means you have reserve capacity in your brakes as they should not be getting too hot.

Hope this helps your deliberations.


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Reply By: Motherhen - Sunday, Jun 12, 2011 at 17:07

Sunday, Jun 12, 2011 at 17:07
With an auto, i still select the gears when going down hill just as i would with a manual. Particularly if you have electric trailer brakes, use the brakes a bit to help on steep declines. We came down the Thunderbolts Way Bretti Hill (Brake Fry Hill) in a very low gear. All the warning signs to select low gears apply to auto too.


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Follow Up By: Gregh2 - Sunday, Jun 12, 2011 at 22:16

Sunday, Jun 12, 2011 at 22:16
We have a Pajero TD automatic towing a 20' Roma. On steep hills in automatic the transmission automatically drops a gear. However, I prefer to switch ovwer to manual then select the lowest gear and use brakes lightly. In wet, slippery conditions, I have applied the van brakes first to keep the rig in a straight line. I learnt that trick from a timber jinker driver, but not recommended for continual use. Tug and van brakes should sync together.
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Follow Up By: The Original JohnR (Vic) - Friday, Jun 17, 2011 at 21:18

Friday, Jun 17, 2011 at 21:18
Yes, Mutha, there is a simple rule to control you load. Use a similar gear on the way down a hill to what you would going up. if you don't have a clear run down a hill, you can be stuffed by the lack of control and less than effective brakes.
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Reply By: john & fi - Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 07:05

Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 07:05
Thanks to the those who responded.

We will be driving out of Lamington natonal park today (via the green mountains rd) and it is wet, steep & a looong descend.

I think I shall continue to experiment with the engine brake but only on the steeper and longer descends


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Reply By: Member - Frank P (NSW) - Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 15:29

Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 15:29
Can someone please explain to me why selecting a low gear in an automatic for engine braking on a hill would cause such wear in the transmission as to make cooking your brakes a preferred option "because it is cheaper to cook your brakes than cook a transmission".

Yes, there's a downshift involved, maybe a couple, maybe more, but once the gear is engaged, would not the wear factor on the transmission be the same as or less than going up the same hill?

I was taught and right now believe that the right way to control speed on a long descent is intelligent use of gears (auto or manual), modulated if necessary with brakes. On some of the downhill roads I regularly travel with a 2200kg caravan behind I'll use 1st in my 5sp auto Prado and use brakes if necessary to control RPM. My vehicle owners manual has no caution against the technique, and in fact the Prado, like the 5sp 100 Series, may change down from 5th automatically just by applying the brakes - ie it automatically applies the first degree of engine braking.

Continuous braking on long descents does more than wear out pads. You overheat wheel bearings, grease, seals, internal rubber brake components and you may run out of brakes half way. In Drive at low speed the engine may be working against the brakes, further compounding the problem at a time when you least need it.

I would be interested in a convincing argument as to why use of auto gears is wrong.



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AnswerID: 457279

Follow Up By: pop2jocem - Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 15:48

Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 15:48
Yeah, right on Frank, I too would like to see an argument for using service brakes instead of engine braking on a long steep descent. In fact if that is how you control your car and van I would much rather be in front of you than some peanut who thinks he would rather take the risk of overheating the vehicle brakes and loosing them completely than using the the gearbox (auto or manual) and engine braking which can be used continuously and still have full service braking if needed. If you don't believe me just observe how trucks descend steep hills. If the driver has selected the correct gear he hardly ever uses the service brakes.

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Follow Up By: Madfisher - Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 19:50

Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 19:50
I use to work for and ex army driving instructor. He would rap you accross the knuckes with a ruler if you relied on brakes desending a hill. His instructions where to be in a gear low enough that you only had to give the brakes a tap to slow for a cnr etc.
It is a pity 4wds do not have the option of exhaust brakes like trucks. When travelling between Bathurst and mudgee in our Isuzu 600 pantech the only time I touch the footbrake is for the stop sign at Ilford, but that is empty.
Cheers Pete
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Reply By: john & fi - Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 19:10

Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 19:10
A quick update on my experience today...

I used 2nd gear most of the way down (from lamington national park - 15 klms descent) and I found it gave me plenty of control and actually was a pleasant experience. The great thing about using 2nd gear was that it continuously controlled my speed as opposed to my brakes which are applied periodically.

I used my brakes to slow into a corner or shifted to low gear when it got really steep.

I would also like to understand what damage I could do to the transmission if I drove like this.

Thanks John
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Follow Up By: Member - Frank P (NSW) - Tuesday, Jun 14, 2011 at 18:31

Tuesday, Jun 14, 2011 at 18:31
I think the jury is in on this, John.

Use your gears, whether auto or manual, and save your brakes as much as possible for when you may need them.

In an extreme situation you might consider low range - some vehicles (not mine, unfortunately) will allow low range with centre diff unlocked so you can drive around corners on sealed roads avoiding transmission wind-up and get the benefit of extreme engine braking.

Blackdown Tableland in QLD (very steep, long, fully sealed road) comes to mind as a likely candidate for that if you're towing something substantial.




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Follow Up By: member - mazcan - Friday, Jun 17, 2011 at 14:13

Friday, Jun 17, 2011 at 14:13
hi frank p
im right with you frank and your driving safe and proven sound practice

these drivers who think it's ok to descend steep hills relying on their brakes are one step out of the long box
and imho are a hazard to themselves and all others on the roads
if when descending a hill you are getting engine rev increases you need to go to the next lower gear and the engine will hold back the over-run that you would get in a higher gear and cause one to apply the brakes

brakes can overheat at anytime but particulary in hotter months and are then near to useless
use the gears no matter what the box is - manual or auto

maybe thats why there should be a driving course for these people
so they can be taught the correct and proven way to control a vehicle towing a van the same as one has to learn for other heavy vehicles
in a lot of instances caravans are to large and heavy for the vehicle towing them and the drivers aren't up to the task and throw caution to the wind

i admire those on here that are concerned enough to ask about the safe way to descend a hill and the technical details
the others are gambling with there wits and lives
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