Using brakes or lower gear

Travelling back & forth to work everyday, I have to negotiate two extremely steep hills. Each about a 1/4 mile long. Is it better to use the brakes to slow my descent or better to use a lower gear? 2003 Toyota Camry LE / 4cyl / 82,000 / automatic.

This question has been posed on this forum and you will probably get conflicting replys. Many say to save your transmission and use the cheaper brakes. I have 97 and 05 Camry’s and at least turn off the overdrive when decending. If it is very steep I shift to a lower gear: I just feel safer.

For a normal stop, like a traffic light, it is recommended to use the brakes.  That is what they are made for.  They are cheaper to replace or repair.  However you are talking about a moderately long steep grade.  I would downshift and use engine braking.  

That ? mile is about the dividing line.  On long steep grades you want to use engine braking.  Brakes can get too hot to work on a long steep grade, then you are comparing saving a little wear on the transmission to possible life and death issues. 

There is no precise distance or grade.  [b] That is why you will get different advice from one person to another.  There is also a wide range of correct answers.  You just don't want to be at either extreme. [/b] If the sign says 10% grade next 5 miles, you really really want to downshift.  If you are just coming up on a stop sign, you should just use the brakes.

You have the right idea about using a lower gear on a long, steep downgrade, but a ?-mile slope doesn’t qualify. It’s too short for drastic measures. A few pulses on the brake pedal will handle your needs quite nicely, thank you.

I can’t imagine what would cause an increase in wear by manually down shifting an automatic transmission to let the engine’s compression slow the vehicle. Many late models have the computer programmed to drop out of overdrive as soon as the brake pedal is pressed, prior to the brakes becoming engaged. This is programmed engine braking and as speed decreases downwhifting is done more aggressively to make the best use of the engine to slow the car. I suspect that Toyota uses such a system but does it as discteetly as possible, likely unnoticeable to the driver.

I have a hill like that on one of my local roads and I just hate to ride my brakes down that hill just as much as I hate to use a lot of engine braking, both amount to throwing energy away. The road has a 65 mph speed limit and instead of going the speed limit at the top and needing to ride the brakes all the way down, I anticipate that hill and let my car coast down to about 40 or so and then let the hill accelerate me back up to the speed limit again. No energy thrown away!
Yes, I always think in terms of throwing energy away when I drive. There’s a reason my 2008 Yaris got 45.29 mpg on the last tank.

I recently rented a Chrysler 300 and noticed that under cruise control on a downhill, the car downshifted to control the speed.

If it isn’t slippery I guess you can downshift if you judge it to be warranted. I always tell people that brakes are cheaper than transmissions, but do I follow my own words. Yes and no. Sometimes.

Bill, thanks so much for your reply about braking vs down-shifting. I never thought about using my cruise control. Great idea.

That’s the only cruise control I’ve noticed doing that. I wouldn’t use my cruise control for braking, I just brought it up as relevant, ie, a major manufacturer thought it better to use the transmission for braking instead of the brakes — They could have used the ABS to slow the car down instead, they chose the tranny.