If you drive a car with a manual transmission, you’ve undoubtedly been told that you’re supposed to downshift to slow down, instead of relying completely on the brakes. But what is the science behind that, and does it matter? Matt's Transmission in Murfreesboro explains.
Most likely, this is one of those pieces of vehicle knowledge that was developed decades ago, had a place at one time, and has simply remained in the automotive zeitgeist since. Old cars had notoriously bad brakes; anyone who has driven a non-boosted, drum brake equipped, two-ton classic can attest. The brakes on those cars were inefficient, heated quickly, and wore out sooner than modern cars do. In a vintage ride, downshifting is often a far more productive and smooth way to slow down than wrestling with the brake pedal and saves a lot of brake wear and tear.
But does this knowledge still have a place in a world of light, brake efficient automobiles? The answer is yes, and no. Using the brakes saves a little gas, allowing the car to drop RPM as soon as you hit the clutch. It also saves your engine and transmission from some wear and tear, allowing it to simply drop into idle as you slow down. Downshifting, on the other hand, means you use the brakes less, which means your brakes will last longer. Honestly, in either scenario, the pros and cons of both are probably negligible.
However, downshifting is still a useful technique. If you need to take off a lot of speed fast, a combination of downshifting and braking can be very effective. In traffic situations where you need to moderate speed slowly, downshifting is also convenient; it slows you down a bit and ensures you’re in the right gear and ready to go when traffic picks back up. Finally, it’s most useful going downhill; by staying in a lower gear to regulate the speed your car, truck, or SUV can travel, you’re saving your brakes from strenuous use, overheating, and rapid wear.
In conclusion, simply use your best judgement. You know your car better than anyone, and in the modern-day, braking vs. downshifting is really a matter of situational differences.
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