Know facts:

  1. When your car brakes (e.g. because of the weight) can't stop the car, it's recommended to use downshift (engine braking) to help brake the car.
  2. The best way to stop the car is to brake at maximum without locking the wheels (like ABS does).


When you car can brakes (maintain that maximum force without locking the wheel), does downshift together help to stop the car?

  • I think the original intent of the question may have affected by the edits. I believe the OP's intent was to ask if engine braking is beneficial when the vehicle's brakes are fully capable threshold braking.
    – chilljeet
    Apr 23, 2015 at 9:33

3 Answers 3


No. Your tires locking is based on the static friction of the tires to the road.

Once the static friction is overcome, regardless of whether it is from engine braking or normal braking, the tires will lock.


I'll expand this answer based on the edits.

Your tires locking is based on static friction between your tire and the road. Braking on ice will lock the tires much easier than wet asphalt, which is also easier than dry asphalt.

Your ability to brake is based on your brakes and engine braking, and other source of friction applied to the rotation of your tires. You can also do other (highly NOT recommended stuff) like put your gear in reverse, go into gear and shut down your engine, etc. Whatever it is that causes the wheels to not rotate as well.

Where the source of braking comes from don't matter. You simply want to get as close to the static friction limit as possible without exceeding the static friction limit.


EDIT Brakes must be capable of locking the wheels (with ABS disabled). If the brakes can't provide this force, then there's something wrong. To brake effectively, you must regulate the brakes (or the ABS must) such that the force is just below the amount required to lock the wheel. This is done by intuitively understanding the vehicle's tell (pedal feel) by practicing threshold braking. In the case of ABS, sensors are used (wheel speed, G sensors etc) to determine wheel lock.
Engine braking definitely aids the brakes while braking. The known fact you've mentioned is axiomatic.
Now to your question as I understand it -
Is there any benefit in using engine braking (by downshifting) when your brakes are fully capable of threshold braking?
I would read from your question an additional doubt about threshold braking and would urge you to read up about it. Knowing how to brake hard is, i guess, one of the most overlooked skills in driving/riding (I'm not talking about pros). This here is an easy read.
Good brakes must be able to lock your wheel. To be able to brake most effectively (threshold brake) , though, you must apply (or the control system like in ABS must regulate) the maximum amount of braking pressure that the surfaces in contact (your tire is only half the story) can allow before the wheels lock. A tiny amount of wheel slip is beneficial, but that's another topic.
Using engine braking aids your regular brakes, and hence, quite simply, it takes some work off your brakes.
Engaging the clutch as soon as you start to brake isn't good practice-

  1. You want to be in gear should you find yourself the need to accelerate out of a situation
  2. Engine braking is not utilized
    Eg. for pt.2 - while driving on hilly roads, being on the right gear can greatly help in regulating the speed of the vehicle. Depressing the clutch and continuously using the brakes (say on down-slopes) can cause the brakes to heat up and can severely affect the performance of your brakes in critical situations.

Having said that, I would argue, for a non-professional, that for critical-emergency braking situations, it's best to concentrate on braking and steering without additionally thinking about downshifting. There is no additional stopping power derived from using engine braking while braking at the limit. Downshifting, if done incorrectly will have the tendency to upset the vehicle and even cause the wheels to lock due to abrupt application of engine braking.


No, if you apply additional braking force when the ABS is already active, you will only make the ABS work harder. You won't see an improvement in stopping distance.

If you're doing an emergency stop and you need to quickly trim about 2-5 meters off your expected stop, you can use the emergency brake while simultaneously jerking the steering wheel to one side when your speed is relatively slow (e.g. under 30km/h). You will slide sideways, losing momentum. This technique utilises the same theory that underpins trail braking (what experienced racers use to maintain speed coming into corners).

  • Please read the original question (before the edit) and try to ascertain if this is actually what he meant - mechanics.stackexchange.com/posts/16510/revisions. I believe the OP read somewhere that Engine Braking can be used in situations where the brakes fail to provide enough braking force. His follow up question seemed to question the need/benefit of using engine braking when the vehicles brakes are fully capable of braking at the limit.
    – chilljeet
    Apr 23, 2015 at 11:37
  • Also - I don't think I fully understand the benefit of using the method you described. Using ABS allows you to brake close to the threshold and importantly maintain directional control . Where ABS may not be as effective is on lose gravel, where the brake-release (cadence type strategy employed by abs) isn't as effective as a straight up tire lock.
    – chilljeet
    Apr 27, 2015 at 5:14
  • The angular momentum robs your straight-line momentum. It's the same as trail braking or rolling after jumping off a high building (parkour). Apr 28, 2015 at 7:39
  • Sorry , the previous comment (now deleted) was for a different question , where , interestingly enough , your comment made sense! here -mechanics.stackexchange.com/questions/16606/…
    – chilljeet
    Apr 28, 2015 at 9:55

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