Why Does Braking Use Fuel

Did you ever stop to think that braking might have an impact on fuel and overall fuel efficiency? With the gas prices continuing to rise, it can sometimes feel like our checks are being poured into the gas tank. It’s a horrible feeling, isn’t it? And that’s why so many of us are looking for everything we can do to possibly conserve gas and spend less time at the pumps. I’m sure you’ve gone researching for ways to increase fuel efficiency so let’s have a look at this one.

So why does braking use fuel? It’s the way you brake, rather than braking itself. Continuously slamming the brakes causes less fuel efficiency as the car works harder to accelerate, so taking it slow and easing to a stop or using engine braking is a better solution to saving fuel.

So how can we make sure we are being as conservative as possible when it comes to braking, and how does braking relate to fuel efficiency? Let’s take a closer took.

Braking and Accelerating: You’re Doing it Wrong

First and foremost let me tell you this: if you’re slamming on the brakes, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Not only is slamming on your brakes incredibly damaging for the brakes themselves, but you’re going to be using more fuel in the long run.

Let’s take a step back and look at it this way:

  • You’re going down the road at 40 miles per hour. You’re following the speed limit, and that’s great. But there’s a yellow light up ahead and you know you’re going to have to stop. Instead of gradually stopping from a half mile back, you decide to go full force and slam on your breaks at the end. Firstly, you’re screwing up your brakes and rotors. Secondly, you’re going to have to accelerate when the light turns green, and that takes a LOT of power out of your engine- and that’s exactly where the fuel loss comes into play.

You see, when you’re stopped at a red light, the car is basically asleep. It’s not really using any energy to keep going, so you’re not wasting gas by hanging out at the red light. But once your foot hits the pedal, your engine has to do a lot of work to get going again. Going from 0 to 40 miles per hour is going to take plenty of energy- AND FUEL- to do. This means that every time you decide to stop and go, you’re wasting more gas.

Now, I understand that this can’t always be avoided. Anyone who lives in the city knows that highways and freeways are a disaster at 7AM and 5PM, and that just so happens to be the time you’re going to and from work. In situations where traffic is at a stop and go, you can’t help but use more gas fighting through this traffic. Yes, it is unfortunate, but in 5 o’clock traffic let’s face it- there is no way out.

What I will tell you is this: if you can, try and ease off your heavy foot if you can. If you know you’re going to be stopped ahead, it would be best to let your foot off the gas and slow down until you get to the stopped point. This is also beneficial because you’re more likely to reach the stop light when it turns green again. This means that your car won’t need to use as much energy to accelerate again, as you’re already rolling along. Pressing the gas at this point won’t take nearly as much fuel as starting up the car from 0.

What About Engine Braking?

Anyone who tells you that engine braking can save gas isn’t lying to you; in fact it IS a great way to save on fuel and acquire more fuel efficiency. But engine braking can cause problems if it is not done properly. Let’s break this down a bit.

  • Engine braking is essentially avoiding the brakes altogether, letting the engine do the stopping for you. Sound crazy? It’s not, especially if you’re the owner of a manual car and know how to do it.

With engine braking, you will want to downshift to 2, and then 1 (depending on where you started off from). But you need to make sure that your car is ready to be down shifted. If you try to go from 3 to 1, it’s not going to work and you may cause some pretty serious damage to your car. What you need to do is take your foot off the gas, let the car slow down on its own, and when it’s ready to be downshifted, do it.

Downshifting paired with release of acceleration will cause the vehicle to stop quicker; and you never have to place a foot on the brakes. And in case you were wondering, yes, this can be done on an automatic vehicle as well. Plenty of automatic cars have the option to use manual downshifting, so use it if you’re trying your luck at engine braking.

Keep in mind that engine braking can cause damage to your car if not done properly. It should also never be used in a situation where you need to step on the brakes to avoid an accident. Engine braking is likely to be used in a situation where there’s plenty of room on the road before you hit a red light or you’re headed downhill and need to slow down.

Save Your Breaks, Gas, and Money: Brake the Right Way

To put it simply, you want to take it easy on your brakes in order to not only have a set of brakes that will last you a decent amount of time, but to also up your fuel efficiency. The best way to avoid using fuel when braking is to take it slow. Remember, we want to avoid slamming on the brakes and accelerating over and over again. A heavy foot while driving is never a good option, for brakes or accelerating!

Now, slowing down before you reach a stop light or engine braking before a stop light is a good option for fuel efficiency. But when it comes to stop signs, things get a bit more tricky. For stop signs, you have to stop completely. But the same rule should be kept in mind: slow down before you hit the stop sign, and lightly accelerate when it’s your time to go. You will still be going from 0 on up, but it won’t cause as much intensity for the engine, and therefore you will save your gas (and money).

Aside from ensuring that you’re not paying extra at the pumps because you’re breaking wrong, doing this proper way of breaking will save your brakes; and if you have ever had to have your brakes and rotors replaced, you know that this can put a major dent in your wallet. Brakes and rotors typically cost upwards of $200-$800 (each), and that’s something you don’t want to shell out money for.


Braking and fuel efficiency go hand in hand, even if it isn’t the actual process of braking that destroys gas levels. Make sure you’re being gentle with your car, especially when it comes to braking, to ensure that you aren’t wasting more gas than need be.


I'm Arwood, but the grandkids call me Big Papa. After retiring from teaching automotive classes for 30+ years I decided to create a blog about all the questions I used to get about brakes!

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