Can You Engine Brake In An Automatic And How? Must-Know Tips

If you’re a driver who likes to have more control over your vehicle, you might be familiar with engine braking. It’s the technique of using your engine’s resistance to slow down your car, instead of relying on your brakes. But what if you have an automatic transmission? Can you still use engine braking? And how do you do it without damaging your gearbox? 

This article will address several inquiries and provide informative answers. Specifically, it will explain engine braking in various automatic transmissions, outline the pros and cons of utilizing it, and advise on appropriate circumstances for implementation. Despite its name, engine braking is relatively straightforward and easily understandable.

How Does an Automatic Transmission Work?

Before delving into how engine braking works, it is crucial to understand the basic operation of automatic transmissions. Unlike manual transmissions that require drivers to manually shift gears using a clutch and gear stick, automatic transmissions perform this task automatically. But what’s the mechanism behind it?

There are three crucial constituents of an automatic transmission which include a hydraulic system, a planetary gearset, and a torque converter.

  • The torque converter is a hydraulic coupling that connects the engine to the transmission and enables independent rotation of both components while supplying variable amounts of torque multiplication based on their speed differences.
  • The planetary gearset is a collection of gears that can produce different gear ratios by locking or unlocking various parts of the gearset.
  • The hydraulic system comprises valves, pumps and clutches that control fluid flow through the transmission, identifying which sections of the planetary gearset need locking or unlocking.

Changing the configuration of the planetary gearset via the hydraulic system enables an automatic transmission to shift gears seamlessly. A computer controls the hydraulic system by analyzing input from various sensors like throttle position, vehicle speed and engine load.

Based on these inputs, the computer determines when to change gears and engage/disengage specific clutches ultimately resulting in smooth transitions between gears.

Can You Engine Brake in an Automatic Transmission? A Detailed Explanation

Yes, you can engine brake in an automatic transmission, though the method varies based on your vehicle’s make and model. Some modern automatic transmission cars come equipped with a feature called “grade braking” or “downhill support control,” which automatically downshifts to slow the car when traveling downhill.

If your vehicle lacks this feature, you can still manually downshift by selecting a lower gear (usually 3 or 2) while driving at higher speeds. This will increase engine RPMs and decelerate the car without requiring braking.

Using engine braking should be limited to emergency situations or downhill descents to prevent putting excess strain on the engine and transmission. Overuse can cause unnecessary wear and tear.

Additionally, some cities and states prohibit excessive noise from engine braking, so it’s essential to monitor surroundings and avoid creating excessive noise if possible.

Is Engine Braking in an Automatic Transmission Bad for the Car?

We have seen that engine braking works with automatic transmissions. Nonetheless, there are concerns that it may harm the vehicle by causing the transmission or engine to overheat or wear out quickly. Is this concern legitimate?

Actually, when employed in a controlled and measured manner, engine braking is not detrimental to automatic transmissions and can be used safely. Claims that engine braking causes transmission or engine damage resulting from overheating or overexertion are false.

Both components of a vehicle are designed to endure high temperatures and pressure. Moreover, using engine braking can decrease wear on brakes and manage transmission fluid temperature.

However, this does not suggest that you should use engine braking incessantly or in all situations as it can have some disadvantages such as reducing fuel efficiency, increasing noise emitted from the engine, and impacting vehicular stability. Additionally, be sure to adhere to the speed limits for engines and safe operating temperatures while engaging in engine braking.

So, is engine braking in an automatic transmission bad for the car? No, but it’s not always good either. You need to use it wisely and sparingly. 

How to Engine Brake in an Automatic Transmission

Engine braking with an automatic transmission can be easily done, but requires attention and practice. Follow these steps:

  1. Start by checking your transmission type and mode to ensure that you are using the normal mode. Sport or manual modes could interfere with engine braking.
  2. Assess your speed and road conditions, as engine braking works best while traveling downhill or approaching a stop sign or traffic light. Verify that the road is safe to use engine braking without endangering yourself or other drivers.
  3. Use the gear selector to lower the gear ratio. Select between different gear ranges such as D, 3, 2, and L to smoothly lower the gear ratio and increase engine speed for more resistance against your car’s motion for a slow down effect.
  4. Release the gas pedal to allow the engine to take its course and slow down the car. Using the brake pedal is unnecessary unless you want to come to a complete halt.
  5. Shift back to D when done using Engine Braking; if you need to make further adjustments or come to a stop completely, then apply brake pressure.

Once you get the hang of it, engine braking in an automatic transmission is actually quite simple. Though it may sound complicated initially, the process is straightforward.


To sum up, engine braking can be a valuable technique for automatic transmissions, but its usage depends on the make and model of the vehicle. Some modern vehicles have automatic features such as downhill support control or grade braking that shift gears to slow the car when driving downhill. For those without these features, manually downshifting at higher speeds is an effective way to reduce speed without relying on the brakes.

Using engine braking appropriately can decrease brake wear and better manage transmission fluid temperature. Overuse can cause unnecessary wear on the engine and transmission, lower fuel efficiency, and result in excessive noise.

If deciding to use engine braking, keep surroundings in mind and follow speed limits and safe operating temperatures. Confirm that the transmission is in normal mode before starting to use engine braking. Remember to utilize it judiciously and intelligently while prioritizing safety while driving.


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