Brakes. Driving correctly


Super Active Member
Platinum Supporting Member
Dec 26, 2009
Albuquerque, NM
Even the automatics I learned to drive on and owned in the 70s and 80s allowed one to downshift to 1 or 2. I didn't really learn to downshift and use it well until a) I bought my first stick shift in the late 80s, b) moved to a place with mountains to drive in more frequently than I had, and c) married a man who was adept at downshifting to use engine braking. My first stick shift was so light that it didn't seem to engine brake as much as others since then. (3 cylinder Chevy Sprint that weight less than 1600#)
I was thinking about this post yesterday, as we took a long scenic drive, up and over a couple of passes, not to mention curvy roads up and down. These are the types of roads where there places for runaway vehicles to move off the road and be stopped by deep surfaces that allow sinkage and barrels. Signs that say 6% or whatever grade for x number of miles, trucks use lower gear.
Our current tow vehicle is a '17 Chevy Silverado 1500. It has a tow setting, which changes the shift points, it will also engage engine braking on some declines. We can choose "manual" and downshift too, which is what Courtenay was doing yesterday. Interesting how little he had to touch the brakes using lower gears and engine braking.
I don't remember which state at this point had the statute, but it said something to the effect that one much be in control of the vehicle at all times. Someone had told me that they shifted into neutral at each stop light, I think the idea was to save wear and tear on something or other. Made not sense to me, if one needed to react to other traffic and such, but it seemed as though "in control" included not driving (including being stopped at a light) in neutral.


Super Active Member
Jul 30, 2008
I have a 1994 pickup I bought new. I tow often with it and use the transmission for braking. It has 245k miles on it. The truck still has the original clutch. It's needed 3 or 4 sets of front pads. The original rotors lasted to about 200k. It still has the original shoes on the back.


Active Member
May 29, 2016
Mt. Wachusett area, MA
Coasting is illegal in at least one state:
Code of Virginia
The driver of any motor vehicle traveling on a downgrade on any highway shall not coast with the gears of the vehicle in neutral.
Code 1950, § 46-218; 1958, c. 541, § 46.1-200; 1989, c. 727.

Lucky for me my transmission gears in that car remain engaged when the input shaft disengages from the flywheel. The result is the same but the technical compliance is there.
and what about my electric car with no transmission gears?



Super Active Member
Jun 6, 2011

Lucky for me my transmission gears in that car remain engaged when the input shaft disengages from the flywheel. The result is the same but the technical compliance is there.

and what about my electric car with no transmission gears?

An EV often uses regen braking so effectively using engine braking.

And what is this input shaft disengage you speak of? What model transmission? Wiki link?
Never EVER put it in neutral going down a hill. If in neutral, you lose an aspect of control. As above, use a lower gear. Former truckdriver here, and we had a trial run of disc brakes for trucks circa '85-89, and the key to disc brakes is to apply firmly, then let off to cool. If you stay on them, the rotors will overheat and warp with heat.In the switch to 4 wheeling, I'm known to verbally apply my "jake brake" down the hills!!


Active Member
Mar 15, 2013
I found from experience that disc brakes can overheat. I had an Aliner (1600 lbs fully loaded) with electric brakes pulled by a Highlander with 5,000 pound towing capacity. After pulling the Aliner through the mountains of Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and California I found I had set the brake controller too low so the electric brakes were not doing enough of the work. Coming down a 15% grade from Idaho to the Grand Tetons, the brakes started shuddering and I pulled over as soon as I could. The brakes were extremely hot and the left front wheel had smoke coming out of it. After that (since the Highlander is automatic) I used the paddles on the steering wheel to downshift and use the engine for braking. A scary experience.
Jul 20, 2014
Information from a site that researched another question, but included which states have laws against coasting on a downgrade. They are:
New Jersey
New York
Rhode Island

For some of the other states there is no information, and some are listed as having no such law.


Dec 29, 2014
Plenty of posters said to not coast downhill in neutral, but nobody mentioned why. There are two main reasons:
  1. Engine braking helps slow the vehicle, which will reduce heat on your brakes,
  2. Most importantly, if your engine dies for some reason, you will quickly loose your power brakes and you may only have a few seconds to diagnose and react. Your brake booster works off of the vacuum created by the gasoline engine and the closed throttle. This vacuum will work even if the engine is dead but in gear (pistons are moving), but not if it is in neutral and dies.


Apr 11, 2022
I'm sitting a repair shop getting new break pads.
I'm wondering if my theory got me here.
Driving a 96 Ranger, manual transmission, and pulling a mid 70s Coleman Valley Forge.
No problems pulling it. Pretty light camper.
But some of these mountain passes, like Wolf Creek in Colorado, I would put it in neutral and coast on the down side using my brakes to slow down.
Would I have been better off leaving it in gear while I came down the other side? I kept it slow. Is it about the same either way? I didn't want to use down shifting to save wear and tear on the transmission.
Thanks for your insight.
Jimmy, first off, never coast downhill in neutral towing. As a lifelong mechanic honestly this did contribute to premature death of your pads. Using your brakes causes friction which causes heat. Heat (unless you’re using carbon brakes like on a dragster) fade with heat. Your brakes will be less responsive when they are hot and if you need to emergency brake you may not be able to. Use your engine as a brake, with the occasional application of the vehicle brakes (pikes peak actually has a checkpoint where they stop you and if you did this descending they force you into a lot and wait for them to cool). You won’t hurt your driveline using the engine as a brake.
Sep 17, 2012
Before setting off on our first cross-country trip through the Rockies, I read up on best practices for driving with a standard transmission. The key term ended up being HYPERMILING for maximum fuel efficiency. Going downhill in neutral is a bad idea, both for control (as others have commented here) and for efficiency (I remember learning that the engine in appropriate gear optimizes fuel use better than just idling in neutral). In any case, we've travelled to both coasts with fantastic gas mileage! (Especially with regular checks of tire pressure and engine oil.)


Active Member
Jan 28, 2012
I tow a ten foot Starcraft StarFlyer XL with a much heavier 96 Ford Bronco and find that at least taking it out overdrive and into 3rd on even interstate downhills is much easier drive on the downhill. I have also noticed that shorter wheel based vehicles are more likely to have sway from the trailer trying to push the TV around that sometimes it helps to manually put on some trailer braking before applying the regular brakes if you can. Even with the little Tent trailer we have I can get sway going down hill if it's not packed perfectly... So it's very nice that the starcraft has Trailer brakes.


Feb 7, 2020
Also, if you have an "issue" you would be found at fault and cited as it is illegal to place a vehicle in neutral to coast down hills. (i think in all states, but could be wrong...)


New Member
May 11, 2021
Here is a link to a blog where there is a list of all the states that is legal and illegal to coast downhill in neutral. I didn't do the research myself on all the states but I know when I was teaching driver's Ed in Maine 20 yes ago it was illegal in most states then too.