How to Turn On Engine Brake on a 2020 Freightliner

As an experienced truck driver, you know that safely navigating those steep downhill grades requires mastering the art of engine braking. Also known as compression braking or jake braking, this handy technique uses the truck’s engine to slow the vehicle instead of relying solely on the service brakes. Not only does engine braking reduce wear and tear on the break pads, but it gives you much greater control on descents.

When driving a 2020 Freightliner, you’ll be pleased to discover they come equipped with a premium engine braking system. However, you need to know how to operate that system properly to utilize it to its full potential. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! In this comprehensive guide, we’ll teach you step-by-step how to activate the engine brake on your 2020 Freightliner. Soon, you’ll be engine braking like a pro!

Here’s a quick answer:

To activate the engine brake on a 2020 Freightliner, reduce your speed with the service brakes, shift to a lower gear for added compression braking, then push the engine brake lever located on the steering column downwards to the “Medium” or “High” position. Monitor engine RPMs, keeping below 2,100 rpm, and adjust lever up or down as needed to increase or decrease brake intensity.


Before attempting to turn on the engine brake, you need to ensure your Freightliner actually has the system installed. Nearly all 2020 Freightliners come standard with engine brakes. However, it’s worth taking a quick peek at your owner’s manual or asking your mechanic to make certain.

Once you’ve confirmed there’s an engine brake under the hood, familiarize yourself with the primary control device – the engine brake lever.

Understanding the Engine Brake Lever

The engine brake lever on your Freightliner serves as the activator switch for engaging the brake. Conveniently located on the lower right side of the steering column, the easy-to-reach lever features three intensity settings:

  1. Off Position (top) – engine brake disengaged
  2. Medium Position (middle) – moderate engine braking
  3. High Position (bottom) – maximum engine braking

Think of the lever as a dimmer switch for the engine brake. You can dial the braking power up or down based on driving conditions and your needs at the moment.

Activating the Engine Brake – Step-by-Step

Now that you know the basic equipment, let’s go through the simple process for switching on the engine brake:

  1. Approach the Descent
    As you begin descending a large hill, take your foot off the accelerator and allow the truck to start gradually slowing while still in gear. Apply the service brakes lightly to assist in decreasing speed. Reduce to a safe engine braking velocity of 40-45 mph.
  2. Shift to Lower Gear
    Shift the automatic or manual transmission to a lower gear. This gives the engine more leverage for braking. Just don’t over rev!
  3. Flip the Switch
    When nearing your target speed, simply flip the engine brake lever downward to the Medium or High setting.
  4. Monitor the RPMs
    Observe the tachometer as the engine brake engages. The RPM level will swiftly rise until it nears the maximum limit. On the Freightliner, peak it at about 2,100 rpm.
  5. Adjust as Needed
    If you require more or less braking force, just toggle the brake lever up or down until achieving the desired intensity.
  6. Use Service Brakes if Necessary
    The engine brake won’t bring the truck to a complete halt. Be prepared to apply the service brakes whenever you need to decrease speed rapidly or come to a full stop.

Helpful Braking Tips

With a little practice, activating the 2020 Freightliner’s engine brake soon becomes second nature. But even seasoned pros can benefit from these handy braking tips:

  • When in doubt, start out in Medium – For novice users, engaging the medium setting first allows you to safely get a feel for the braking dynamics before progressing to high.
  • Avoid over-revving – Watch the tach to prevent exceeding the recommended rpm range and potentially damaging mechanical components.
  • Downshift progressively – For maximum engine braking oomph, downshift through gears steadily rather than skipping gears.
  • Combining brakes is key – Alternate between engine brake and service brakes for controlled deceleration driving.
  • Terrain dictates intensity – On wet, icy or poorly graded roads, keep intensity low to prevent brake lockup.
  • Practice makes perfect – Take advantage of descents to hone skills. In no time, you’ll be a braking black belt!

Engine Braking Best Practices

Along with the operating tips above, adhering to smart engine braking best practices ensures safe, optimum performance:

  • Inspect braking system during daily pre-trip
  • Follow manufacturer’s brake maintenance schedule
  • Increase following distance when braking on declines
  • Ensure cargo is properly distributed and secured
  • Carefully monitor cabin temperatures when braking long distances
  • Limit continuous braking periods to avoid overheating
  • Engage brakes only when transmission is engaged

Troubleshooting Your Engine Brake

Even quality built Freightliner engine brakes are subject to mechanical issues now and then. Being able to quickly diagnose problems allows you to take prompt corrective action. Review this engine brake troubleshooting checklist:

IssuePossible CauseSolution
No engine braking occurs when lever is engagedBrake system failureHave certified Freightliner technician inspect
Tripped circuit breakerCheck and reset brake circuit breaker
Braking seems weakBlocked intake screensRemove and clean intake screens
Low compressionTest compression; repair as needed
Loud clanging noiseDefective brake valveReplace brake valve
Overheating brake warningExcessive continuous brakingLet brakes cool; reduce braking periods

Safely Stopping in Any Situation

As any experienced operator knows, successfully navigating perilous mountain passes or handling emergency stopping situations begins with having exemplary brakes. The factory-installed engine brake on the 2020 Freightliner delivers the enhanced control and stopping power needed for dealing with almost any driving circumstances.

We hope our guide has demystified proper engine brake activation techniques. Now that you’re armed with this knowledge, you’ll breeze through braking basics training. Soon you’ll be handling the dash down the Rockies or the unexpected construction zone stop like a true braking pro! Put your skills to work on the road today!


Do all 2020 Freightliner trucks have an engine brake installed?

Nearly all new 2020 Freightliners come equipped with an engine brake as standard equipment. But in some cases it may be an optional add-on. Check your owner’s manual or ask your dealer to confirm if your truck has an engine brake.

When should I downshift gears when using the engine brake?

As a general rule of thumb, downshift to a lower gear as your truck speed approaches 45-50 mph when descending a grade. This allows the engine to provide greater compression braking without over-revving.

What rpms should I avoid exceeding with the brake on?

It’s critical to monitor rpm levels when the brake engages. Don’t allow the engine to exceed 2,100-2,300 rpm in most cases to prevent valve float or damage. Each model may have specific limits.

Can I leave the engine brake on continuously?

Avoid continuous use. Let the brake cool down for a few minutes after every 15-20 minutes of braking to prevent overheating the turbocharger and muffler system.

Why isn’t my engine brake working properly?

There are a few common reasons – clogged intake filters, defective brake valve, low engine compression, or an electrical issue like a tripped circuit breaker. Have a certified Freightliner technician troubleshoot the exact cause.

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