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5 Reasons Why You Should Consider an Exhaust Brake

Posted by Alex Smith on

If you have ever hauled a large load down a mountain, you know what kind of nightmare scenario this can present for your brakes. Trying to slow down for a sharp curve with thousands of pounds riding your tail isn't exactly fun for you, either. And while downshifting can help ease the wear on your brakes (and your nerves), your diesel would do well with a supplemental braking system to halt your momentum on steep grades.

Enter the exhaust brake.

The exhaust brake is a butterfly valve that sits in your exhaust line. When activated, either manually or via the vehicle's computer system, it closes to create backpressure in your exhaust line. This pressure makes it more difficult for the pistons to expel the exhaust out of the combustion chamber and slows down the engine's rotational speed. Naturally, your vehicle will decelerate as your engine begins to lose power.

While heavy-duty diesel trucks, buses, and RVs generally come equipped with a supplemental braking system, having an exhaust brake is not required for medium- and light-duty vehicles and 4x4s. But just because it's not required doesn't mean you don't need it.

Fixed Vane (FGT) vs. Variable Geometry Turbochargers (VGT)

The question comes down to what kind of a turbocharger you have, or want to have, in your vehicle. There are two main types of turbos - Fixed vane (fixed geometry turbochargers) and VGT (variable geometry turbochargers). Each has its pros and cons, depending on how you use your truck, the torque curve you want, how much horsepower you're looking for, and your aversion to reliability issues.

The turbine in a variable geometry turbo contains moving vanes that increase or decrease airflow in response to the RPMs, allowing for a more optimized boost across a broader range of RPMs. However, due to its greater complexity, it has more parts that can fail. Installation and maintenance costs tend to run higher, as well. One of the significant advantages of a stock VGT is that it comes equipped with an exhaust brake right off the factory floor.

Fixed vane turbos have a much simpler design, focus power in a smaller RPM range, and are considerably less expensive than VGTs. However, they also don't include a supplemental brake system. So, suppose you're looking to swap out your VGT for the increased horsepower and reliability of a fixed vane turbo. In that case, you'll need to factor in additional money for an aftermarket exhaust brake. Aftermarket kits can run anywhere from $600 to just under $2000.

No matter which turbo you decide on, one thing is for sure - an exhaust brake is worth the expense, whether it's included in the cost of your turbocharger or as an aftermarket add-on. Here are some of the reasons why according to our qualified technicians who work with rebuilt diesel engines every day:

1. It Prolongs the Life of Your Regular Brakes

The beauty of an exhaust brake is that you can leave it on anytime you drive, not just when you're navigating tight mountain passes or towing heavy loads up and down hills. You won't harm your engine, and constant use will help keep soot from accumulating in your turbo and save your disc brakes from overuse and possible damage.

2. It's a Reliable Emergency Braking System

Brake discs and pads are not designed to be engaged for long distances, which is precisely what happens when you're forced to ride your brakes all the way downhill with a full trailer in tow. The intense friction can quickly overheat your brakes and brake fluid, leaving you without any stopping power.

If you choose to turn on your exhaust brake from the very beginning of your drive, you may never even have to engage your wheel brakes, thus saving them from damage. On the flip side, if you use your wheel brakes first, the exhaust brake will kick in to slow your vehicle long before your regular brakes start to feel the strain.

3. It Can Be Installed on Any Diesel Vehicle

You can put an exhaust brake on almost any diesel engine, whether it's your vintage 1980 LF9 350 Chevy V-8 diesel or a modern Ford 6.7L Power Stroke, making it a universal application. Companies such as BD Power, Pacbrake, Banks Power, and Fleece Performance offer a variety of brake assembly kits to match whatever you're driving. Your local diesel parts supplier is the best place to start looking for high-quality new and rebuilt exhaust brake systems.

4. It's Quiet

Even on their best days, wheel brakes and other supplemental braking systems (think engine or compression brakes) make a lot of noise. If you must stop on a dime, you're bound to hear a loud wail of protest from your discs. And compression brakes are so loud that many areas have restrictions on when trucks are allowed to travel through because of the noise pollution they cause.

Because an exhaust brake works internally to control exhaust flow and slow your engine speed, it doesn't make a sound. What a beautiful thing!

5. It Lasts for a Long Time

While most exhaust brake warranties only cover parts for one to two years or up to 100,000 miles, overwhelming anecdotal evidence suggests that these brakes can continue to perform without any significant issues for almost as long as the engine itself. Owners cite frequent use and regular general maintenance (e.g., oil and filter changes, lubrication, etc.) as the keys to making your exhaust brake last longer.

If you tow frequently over hilly terrain, relying on your disc or engine brakes may be pushing their limits. Installing exhaust brakes can significantly enhance your ability to control your speed and keep you and your load safe wherever your adventures take you.



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