Driving in hazardous weather conditions like rain, ice and snow can be tricky. You need to handle your vehicle carefully and use techniques like engine braking to maintain control. But is it safe to use engine brakes in all weather conditions? Let’s find out.
Here’s a quick answer: Engine braking can be utilized in rain, ice and snow if used properly, but traction is compromised in these conditions. Start with light braking and increase gradually. Avoid engine braking on wet roads or loose snow where wheels may lock up. Brake intermittently to allow wheels to regain traction. Drive smoothly without sudden acceleration, braking or steering to maintain control.
What Is Engine Braking?
Engine braking, also known as compression-release engine braking, is a method of slowing a vehicle by closing its throttle and running the engine against compression.
Here’s how it works:
- When you take your foot off the accelerator, the throttle valve closes. This cuts off air flow into the engine.
- With the throttle closed, the engine starts pumping air and compression is created in the cylinders.
- The compression makes it harder for the pistons to move down. This creates resistance and slows down the crankshaft.
- The moving vehicle is connected to the turning crankshaft. So as the crankshaft slows, the vehicle also loses speed.
Engine braking provides additional stopping power and reduces wear on the wheel brakes. It is commonly used in large trucks and diesel vehicles.
Is Engine Braking Safe In Rain?
Using engine brake in light rain under normal road conditions is generally safe. But you need to be cautious in heavy rain when roads get slippery.
Engine braking creates retardation by cutting off fuel supply to the engine. On slippery wet roads, this can cause the drive wheels to lose traction momentarily.
If the drive wheels lock up, you may lose control of the vehicle. It is best to disengage the engine brake in low traction situations on rainy roads.
Using Engine Brakes On Icy Roads
Roads become extremely slippery when covered in ice. The icy surface provides very little traction for the tires to grip. Caution is required when using engine brakes on icy roads.
On gentle slopes, it may be safe to use light engine braking in low gears. But on steep icy gradients, it is better to avoid engine brakes altogether. The sudden retardation can break traction and send the vehicle into a skid.
Rely more on regular brakes on ice. Apply them gently and intermittently to control speed without locking the wheels. Steer smoothly and avoid abrupt acceleration or braking.
|Use low gears
|Don’t use high engine braking
|Don’t brake suddenly
|Don’t make abrupt steering inputs
Using Engine Brake In Snow
Fresh snow offers very little traction, similar to ice. But as vehicles run over it repeatedly, the snow gets compacted to provide better grip.
In deep snow where the surface is loose, strong engine braking can break traction. It is best to disengage the engine brake and mainly rely on wheel brakes to control speed.
On roads where snow is packed tightly, light engine braking may help supplement wheel brakes. But avoid aggressive engine braking even on compacted snow to prevent skidding.
Winter Driving Tips
Here are some additional tips for driving safely in winter conditions:
- Install winter or snow tires for additional traction. All season tires also work in mild snow.
- Drive slower than normal and increase following distance. Give yourself plenty of room to slow down.
- Don’t brake hard, accelerate fast or turn sharply. Gentle maneuvers prevent skids.
- Watch for black ice. Roads may appear clear but can be dangerously slick.
- Beware of snow plow trucks that may throw snow on the road unexpectedly.
- Equip your vehicle with emergency supplies like food, water, flashlight, shovel, blankets etc.
- Keep the fuel tank adequately filled to avoid getting stranded.
- Remove all snow from windows, lights, mirrors before driving. Clear fog or frost inside too.
When To Completely Avoid Engine Braking
There are certain situations when engine braking should be avoided altogether:
- On very slippery surfaces like black ice where wheels lock up easily
- While descending steep hills covered with snow or ice
- When visibility is poor due to heavy snowfall or fog
- If the road surface is obscured and you can’t assess traction
- When following other vehicles closely behind in slippery conditions
In such scenarios, it is safest to press the clutch pedal and allow the vehicle to roll down gently. Use wheel brakes delicately without locking the wheels.
The Risks Of Improper Engine Braking
Using engine brakes incorrectly on slippery roads is extremely risky and can result in dangerous situations including:
- Skidding out of control: Braking too hard can cause wheels to lock and break traction suddenly. This may result in uncontrolled skids and make it impossible to steer.
- Jackknifing: Aggressive braking on slippery roads may jackknife tractor-trailers. The trailer whips around pushing the truck into a spin.
- Stalling: Releasing the clutch too quickly while engine braking at high rpm can stall the engine. This cuts off all power to the wheels.
- Loss of steering: When wheels lock up, power steering and ability to steer is lost. The vehicle may slide straight ahead irrespective of steering input.
Applying engine brakes incorrectly on low traction surfaces can have grave consequences due to loss of control and inability to steer. It is critical to exercise great caution and avoid sudden/excessive braking that can break traction abruptly.
Tips For Safe Engine Braking
Using engine braking properly is crucial for maintaining control in hazardous conditions. Here are some important tips:
- Assess road surface for traction before engaging engine brake
- Apply light braking and work up gradually
- Shift to lower gears for controlled deceleration
- Adjust braking based on vehicle weight and gradient
- Avoid on wet roads, black ice or loose snow
- Use judiciously on packed snow; steer smoothly
- For maximum traction, let wheels roll in deep snow
- Engage brakes intermittently, avoid continuous slip
- Allow wheels to roll briefly to regain traction after braking
Careful modulated application of engine braking is key to harnessing its benefits while maintaining vehicle control.
Is Jake Brake Safe In Bad Weather?
Jake brakes are a powerful engine braking system used in heavy trucks and diesel engines. They work by opening the exhaust valves during engine compression to release air pressure.
Jake brakes provide substantial retarding force making them effective for controlling speed. But the sudden braking action can cause skids on slippery surfaces.
It is recommended to turn off Jake brakes when driving on wet or icy roads. The abrupt retardation can break traction on the drive wheels before you realize it.
Use Jake brakes judiciously at reduced capacity along with wheel brakes to control speed in snow. Even with these measures, jackknifing is a risk with Jake brakes on low traction surfaces.
Maintaining Vehicle Control In Slippery Conditions
If Front Wheels Skid:
If the front wheels lose traction and start skidding, it’s crucial to avoid panic reactions that could worsen the situation. Slamming the brakes will further break the compromised traction. Instead, smoothly ease off the gas to stop accelerating. Look and steer gently where you want to go. Make smooth, small steering inputs to straighten the front wheels. Throughout the skid, control inputs – braking, accelerating and steering – need to be gradual and measured.
If Rear Wheels Skid:
Similarly, if the rear wheels begin sliding sideways, avoid the natural response of braking hard. That will only exacerbate the skid. Gently ease up on the accelerator to stop powering the wheels, allowing them to slow down and regain traction. Carefully steer in the direction the rear is sliding, counter steering gently until you gain control again.
If All Wheels Skid:
When all four wheels lose grip, quickly lift off the accelerator but again, do not brake aggressively. Shift into neutral gear to allow the wheels to spin freely and regain traction. Look in the direction you want the car to go as the wheels start gripping again. With smooth, subtle steering inputs, guide the vehicle to continue heading in your intended direction of travel. Once fully in control, shift back to a low gear and gently accelerate.
The basic rule is – Don’t brake hard, don’t overly correct with steering and don’t accelerate fast. All inputs should be gradual to maximize traction.
Engine braking can be useful to safely control speed in slippery driving conditions if used correctly. Start with light braking and increase gradually. Completely avoid engine braking when traction is seriously compromised.
Focus on smooth deliberate steering, braking and acceleration inputs. Driving in rain, ice or snow requires extra caution. Slowing down, allowing longer distances and planning maneuvers in advance goes a long way in retaining control in hazardous weather.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is engine braking completely unsafe in rain or snow?
No, light engine braking can supplement wheel brakes in damp or packed snow conditions, provided traction is not compromised. But avoid aggressive engine braking that may break traction suddenly.
Can I use Jake brakes on icy roads?
It is not recommended to use Jake brakes on icy roads as they can cause sudden loss of control. Regular brakes applied gently are safer.
What if I skid in snow?
If skidding, ease off the gas, avoid hard braking, steer gently into the slide and accelerate smoothly once out of the skid.
Should I ever completely switch off engine braking in winter?
Yes, in situations with dangerously compromised traction due to black ice, loose snow or steep icy gradients, it is best avoid engine braking completely.
How can I maximize traction on snow?
Use snow tires, drive in lower gears, avoid abrupt acceleration/braking and make smooth steering inputs. Letting wheels roll in deep snow helps regain lost traction.
Engine braking in hazardous road conditions requires skill and practice. Follow the tips outlined to drive safely through rain, ice and snow. With caution and controlled maneuvering, you can utilize engine braking to enhance control without loss of traction. Drive attentively.