Give Me A Brake

 Posted by at 12:02 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 032011

A couple of readers have e-mailed me with questions about braking and auxiliary brake systems for RVs. Keeping in mind that I am not a technical person, I’ll share what I told them, and I welcome your input as well.

Two readers questioned me about my comment in a recent blog about not using an engine brake on wet roads. Kay said her husband had driven truck for years and had not heard this, and Chris said they were coming down a five mile long 7% grade in Oregon with blowing wet snow, and they used their engine brake all the way down. She asked for information on why and when the engine brake should be turned off.

First of all, for our purposes, I use the term exhaust brake, engine brake, and Jake brake interchangeably. They all work a little differently, but all are designed to slow a diesel vehicle down, using the engine’s compression.

As I understand it, if you let off the accelerator on a wet road and the exhaust brake comes on, it can cause the rear of the vehicle to slide. Here is a link to a Department of Transportation article that includes a warning not to use an engine brake on wet roads:

And here is a discussion on the topic on the FMCA forum:

And also, an article from a trucker’s website that discusses mountain driving, and cautions about not using an exhaust brake on wet roads:

But what do you do if you are on a road like Chris described above? Do you go down a steep grade in the rain or snow without the help of the exhaust brake and run the risk of building up too much speed, or do you use the exhaust brake and run the risk of a skid? I’m not sure. I’ve done it both ways, and survived. The main thing is keeping your speed down to start with. The old trucker’s rule was that you always go down a grade in the same or lower gear than you went up it.

I’m a wimp when it comes to mountain driving. In my years publishing small town newspapers in the mountain west, I have covered way too many accidents where truck drivers lost control coming down a steep grade and went over the edge. I’m perfectly content to get over in the right lane and creep down a steep grade, letting faster traffic pass me by. It may take me a few minutes longer to get to the bottom, but getting there in one piece is my priority.

Another blog reader questioned me about auxiliary braking systems for towed cars, and what the legalities were from state to state. Some states require an auxiliary brake on a towed vehicle and some don’t. Check the individual state’s Department of Transportation for details.

However, in my opinion, anybody who does not use an auxiliary braking system is asking for trouble, no matter what kind of motorhome they drive, and what kind of toad they pull. For years, we pulled a Toyota pickup behind our MCI bus conversion, and did not use an auxiliary brake. I always figured that the bus was plenty heavy enough to stop the Toyota. I was wrong.

We were in a small town in Alabama when a fellow ran a red light in front of us, and I had to slam on the brakes. The Toyota ended up sitting on top of the motorcycle rack on the back of our bus. Fortunately, there was no bike on the rack at the time, and the only serious damage was to the rack and to our tow bar. But it could have been much worse, and we learned  a lesson from the incident. We now use an SMI Air Force One auxiliary brake, which uses our Winnebago’s air brake system to activate it proportionally. I wouldn’t want to pull out of a campground without it.

When it comes to telling it like it is, Bad Nick never puts the brakes on. Check out his new Bad Nick Blog post titled Trailer Trash, and leave a comment.

Thought For The Day – There are old pilots, and bold pilots. But there are no old, bold pilots.

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Nick Russell

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  8 Responses to “Give Me A Brake”

  1. Another good reason to use an auxiliary braking system is legal COYA. If you get into an accident without one, some legal shark is likely to make the fact that you don’t have one an excuse to make you at least partially responsible for the accident, even if it is clearly not your fault. I believe it’s called “contributory negligence”.

  2. Pretty much for the same reasons you should never use cruise control when driving in inclement weather.

  3. Allison makes available something called a “transmission retarder” as an option. I am not a technical person, but our used motorhome has the transmission retarder and let me tell you, it works. It works really well. We often come to a full stop without ever touching the service brakes. And, in a panic mode the retarder and the brakes combined are awesome.

  4. Nick – also no expert – With the engine brake in use, the driver is in control and the thing on your shoulders has to be used. In the current trucks, I’m not a motorhomeist, the antilock brakes have wheel speed sensors that keep the wheels turning so that you do not skid and have control. The exhaust brakes, slow the rear wheels with out any control other than the operator’s hatrack. It requires thinking, and we all know (ask Bad Nick) the level of that today.

    As for the toad brake control, it amazes me the extent some people go to try to circumvent logic. Consider a brake control part of the package to tow a toad. Which states are legal and which not? Who cares, bite the bullet and do it!! One less worry in the bucket, it helps all the way around for control, and your legal everywhere. (Sorry, just another of those what the??? moments)

  5. Safety, Safety, Safety! Yours and the other guy! You cannot/should not put a price tag on this. Just do it!

  6. I got a little behind on reading your blogs but glad to see you’re in the area. I know what you mean by rain, rain, and more rain. I’m a newbie to the area and everyone keeps assuring me that this isn’t like a ‘normal’ June in the Bay area. Who was it that said the coldest winter they ever spent was a summer in San Francisco????

    Safe travels to you and it’s back to work for me. Ah……a few more months and maybe semi-retirement for me also!

  7. Any truck driver that has never heard of not using a Jake on sllippery roads is not very well trained. In certain slippery conditions and under certain loads a Jake can be used. But in general all training will tell you not to use it in very slippery conditions.

  8. nick
    i have 36 + years as an O/O as a oversize an superload driver(boats) thas 16wide60long 15tall in all 48
    my truck 80,000lb is set up with a 18 speed eaton 600 cat , with a 3 stage jake
    stage 1(25%) is ok to use any time (rain/snow)
    stage 2 (50%) under35/ 40 mph down hill( light snow/rain)
    stage 3 dont even think about it(go to your lowest low gear and stage 1 or 2 (rain/snow)
    on (in) a coach go down to about 25/35 mph and you will be all right most only have a stage 1 setup

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