Is it more cost-effective to use your brakes rather than downshifting?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 1997

Dear Tom and Ray:

My future brother-in-law claims that it's more cost-effective to use your
brakes rather than downshifting. He says this is true for both hills and
normal driving. He argues that it only costs him a couple of hundred
dollars to replace his brakes, while engine overhaul may cost thousands. Is
it more cost-effective to use your brakes? -- Eddy

TOM: It totally depends, Eddy. "Hills," and "normal driving" are two
completely different situations in this regard.

RAY: Let's take "normal driving" first. It's not the engine that gets takes
the brunt of downshifting. It's the clutch that takes the punishment. Think
about it. If you shifted up from first gear to fifth and then downshifted
all the way back down again, you'd be using your clutch twice as often, and
therefore wearing it out twice as fast, right? And a clutch can cost many
hundreds of dollars.

TOM: So in "normal driving," it is much better, as your wise future
brother-in-law says, to use the brakes to slow and stop the car.

RAY: On steep down hills, however, it's a completely different story. And
you'd be crazy to listen to the advice of your knucklehead future

TOM: If you overuse your brakes on long, steep hills, you can cause the
brake fluid to boil. If the brake fluid boils, you can lose your brakes
entirely. And if you check with your local body shop and emergency room,
they'll confirm that having "no brakes" is not a very cost-efficient way to
go down a hill.

RAY: So on steep hills, you're much better off putting the car in a lower
gear and using the natural braking action of the engine to keep the car at
a reasonable speed and take some of the load off the brakes. And, since
you're not doing a lot of shifting in and out of gear, the extra wear on
the clutch is negligible.

TOM: So on one count, your future brother-in-law has proven to be a genius,
and on the other count, he's proven to be a knucklehead. So average those
two together if you want to know how seriously to take his advice in the
future, Eddy.

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