Is Engine Braking Bad For Automatic Transmissions?

Truck towing boat up steep dirt road

Engine braking can be an effective driving technique under the right circumstances, but does it hurt your transmission? There are many instances where engine braking is suggested or even required.

When it comes to engine braking and how it impacts your automatic transmission, there are a few things to consider to prevent damaging your transmission.  Read on to learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of engine braking, and how to keep you transmission in good shape while doing so.

Engine Braking Advantages:

  • Reduces wear on brakes – Since you are relying on the engine and transmission to slow you down, this places less load or wear and tear on your braking system.  While you pads, rotors, and calipers will be less stressed, engine braking may not be a replacement stopping technique.
  • Decreased fuel consumption – Believe it or not, engine braking can help you save fuel. This is because your engine will use less fuel when downshifting without hitting the gas. When you use the transmission gearing to slow you down, the engine more or less coasts to a stop since RPMs raise without gas being increased

Engine Braking Disadvantages:

  • Greater load on transmission – With engine braking being dependent on the transmission gearing to slow you down, this may increase how much heat is being generated by the transmission, especially if you’ve downshifted to slow you down. With a downshift raising and holding your engines RPM based on speed, this puts more load on your transmission, and as we all know, transmission load = heat

Most common personal vehicles are not designed for continuous engine braking and with more load comes more heat.  We aren’t saying that engine braking is detrimental to your vehicle’s transmission, but it should be done on as as needed basis such as:

  • Towing
  • Racing
  • Driving in hilly or mountain areas
  • Descending a steep grade
  • Driving in the snow or in slippery conditions

To answer the question whether or not engine braking is harmful to automatic transmissions, the answer is no, not really.  As long as you are smart about it and not overly aggressive, engine braking with an automatic transmission is fine.

The thing to cognizant of though is transmission temperatures.  If you are in situations where you are constantly placing load on your transmission, it’s best to check the transmission fluid to make sure it’s not getting to hot, and consider installing a transmission cooler.