Posted by: Mark Polk | 2013

RV 101® – How to Prevent Brake Fade

Brake fire

Brake fire

The brakes on your motorhome or tow vehicle were designed to effectively stop a specific amount of weight. When you add more weight to the equation it not only affects your stopping distance, but the heat generated by stopping the additional weight can lead to brake fade. When I was in the military, in charge of large fleet maintenance operations, one of my goals was to teach vehicle operators how to properly use their vehicle braking system. Brake fade is a reduction in the vehicle’s stopping power usually related to overusing the brakes when hauling a heavy load and/or when descending steep grades.

Many vehicles are equipped with some type of auxiliary braking system that helps slow the vehicle down without overuse of the foot brake. These auxiliary braking systems are usually some type of exhaust brake or transmission retarder. Note: If your vehicle is equipped with a transmission retarder watch the transmission temperature gauge when using the retarder. The transmission fluid temperature can quickly start to rise resulting in other problems. If your vehicle is not equipped with an auxiliary braking system you can slow the vehicle down by shifting the transmission into a lower gear or using the tow/haul mode if equipped.

Truck & Truck Camper

Truck & Truck Camper

We just returned from cross-country RV trip to Colorado with our truck and truck camper. The loaded weight was within 400 pounds of my vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, so I was cautious of my stopping distance and using my vehicle brakes to slow the truck and camper down when descending steep downgrades. My truck has a tow/haul mode that helped limit my speed when descending grades, and on particularly steep and long downgrades I would put the transmission in a lower gear.

As I have seen many times before, when we were descending a downgrade, somewhere in West Virginia, there was a truck that caught on fire because of the heat generated from overusing the vehicle’s brakes. Brake fade is a serious problem that can happen quickly in any vehicle equipped with a friction braking system. When you add more weight, as is the case with a motorhome towing a vehicle or a truck towing a trailer, brake fade is more apt to occur even with a supplemental braking system or trailer brakes.

The good news is dealing with brake fade, and vehicle fires resulting from overusing your vehicle brakes, is just a matter of being educated on what brake fade is and what you can do to prevent it from happening to you.

Safe Travels,

Mark Polk

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