Full-Exhaust-Brake-vs-Automatic-When-to-Use-On a-RAM-2500

Full Exhaust Brake vs Automatic: When to Use On a RAM 2500

Modern technology has created different ways for vehicles to stop. Sometimes they are good methods and other times they can be confusing. For example, when do you apply the full or automatic setting, and what color is the icon. Those decisions can get confusing.

It seems that the full exhaust brake setting has the orange icon color and it is supposed to be for mountains and hills. While the automatic setting has the green-colored icon and it is more for flat roads and the full setting is more aggressive than the automatic one.

To learn more about this braking system and when to use which setting, just continue to read our article. It has the information you need to know so you can get the most out of your exhaust brake technology. It is a safer way to tow trailers.

What is an Exhaust Brake on a Diesel?


First off, the name does describe the location and function of this braking system. It uses the exhaust and is placed in the exhaust system to slow your vehicle’s speed. This technology does this by creating back pressure with the exhaust and that back pressure helps slow the truck down.

This additional braking system is added safety as it helps you keep your vehicle at a reasonable slower speed and helps you stop better. This is done without you using your traditional braking system.

What an exhaust brake is not, is a compression braking system. What it also does is prolong the life of your brake pads, rotors, drums, and other braking components. It does all of this while helping to reduce your braking distance.

How Exhaust Brake Works

The technology for this system enables the exhaust brake to trap engine pressure in the exhaust system. This action then forces the engine to rotate slower. This is done by making the pistons work harder to expel the exhaust created by the combustion engine.

The butterfly valve is partially closed at this time making it harder to move that exhaust out. The additional force needed slows the rotation speed and as that takes place, the vehicle slows down.

In some cases, the vehicle’s computer controls the implementation of the exhaust brake and in other cases, the driver is in total control of its implementation. The mechanism closing the butterfly valve can be hydraulic or air pressure or electronic means.

Why use an Exhaust Brake?

One main reason is that you get better braking power. That line of defense is backed up by your traditional brakes, so you have twice the braking power as a vehicle without one of these systems installed.

Another good reason to use this braking system is that it should extend the life of your traditional brakes. With less wear and tear on those brakes, you shouldn’t have to repair or replace the parts very often.

Plus, they do not require a lot of upkeep to be effective. That cuts down your maintenance time giving you a little more free time to focus on other items that need your attention.

Also, if you are going down a steep grade, the exhaust brake should keep your traditional brakes from overheating. Overheating is a leading cause of brake failures thus you and your family are safer when you tow a heavy trailer over the mountains.

Smart Exhaust Brake


The smart exhaust brake is not too much different from the automatic option. Both need to have a button pressed to engage them. Some owners have been reporting that all they have to do is tap the brakes to engage the brakes when they are going downhill.

Then tap them a second time to go even slower. The difference in this system is that it is supposed to be quieter than normal systems. Also, your RPMs may jump quite a bit with each tapping of the brake. You do not always have to tap the brake as holding it for a few seconds will engage the brake and put it a very slow level.

To release the brake, all you have to do is hit the accelerator. You may not notice the brakes working when you are not towing a heavy load.

Full Exhaust Brake vs Automatic

The biggest difference between these two settings is that the former setting can be very aggressive and kicks in when you release the gas pedal pressure. It is also called the manual setting.

The automatic option will slow your vehicle down but it also remembers the speed you want to go at so you do not have to accelerate anytime soon. The automatic keeps you at the new speed you want to travel at.

That setting is good when you are traveling downhill. Both systems need to have the engine running at 1500 RPM for them to engage and do their work. Manual or full is best when you are towing a trailer and automatic is best when you are driving without a trailer and running around town.

Can You Put an Exhaust Brake on an Automatic?

The word is that yes, you can put this exhaust brake system on an automatic. In fact, it is supposed to work on all vehicles. In looking at one outlet, there are several different models of this braking system made including Ford, Dodge Ram, and Chevy trucks.

The cost is going to be a bit high if you are looking at an aftermarket option but it may be worth it as you get superior braking power when you need it. Also, you will need to do a little shopping around to find the best option for your particular vehicle as several are made for those top truck brands.

There is one key point to bring to your attention. Not all exhaust brakes are 50 state compliant. You may have to check with your state to see if it is or not.

When are Exhaust Brakes Most Efficient?


From our research, it seems that the best time to use these brakes is when you are traveling and towing downhill. That is when the brakes are at their best. Plus, you need to be going at least at 1500 RPM for them to engage.

Once kicked in, the brakes can raise the RPM up 500 to 700 points and in some cases, even higher than that. Some owners keep their brakes on all the time. This does not damage the braking system but has them prepared for anything as they drive.

When To use an Exhaust Brake on a RAM 2500?

This is up to your judgment. Many owners use them all the time, while others only engage them when they are towing, driving downhill, and so on. It is up to your preference when you turn them on.

Some people do not like them on when they are driving in a city without their trailer. The constant stop and start bother them and they rely on their traditional brakes because they are not going really that fast.

Then there are some owners who switch between full and automatic modes on the same trip. It will depend a lot on where you are driving and how the brakes feel as you drive. You just have to play around with them to find the best mode and driving conditions to use them.

Using Exhaust Brake all The Time

You are free to do this and it will depend on the driving situations and conditions in the city or road you are on at the time. Having them on all the time does not harm the brakes and they will engage at the proper times no matter what.

Some people prefer having the automatic on all the time when they are traveling through hills and mountains. That mode remembers the new speed and keeps your vehicle at that speed until you change it.

Do some experimenting with the braking system to see which is best for you and your traveling situation. Every driver has their own preferences and you should use the brakes according to yours. That way you will get the best use out of them.

Where is RAM 2500 Exhaust Brake Button


You should be able to find this button on your dash down below the stereo middle button. According to one owner, the button looks like a funky little light that is next to the automatic rear window switch and light load button.

You may get a little confused by all the buttons technicians place in a truck these days. If you can’t find it, do not be afraid to go to your truck’s discussion forum and ask these questions.

Getting advice from experienced drivers who had to search for the same button helps and speeds up the process. You won’t look stupid because you asked. You might get the odd wise guy but if you do not know, then you need to ask.

What Does The Exhaust Brake Button Look Like?

The icon should be the same with all brands of trucks but if not, this description will give you an idea of what to look for. The inside of the icon looks like a blowing wind surrounded by a circle and encased between two parentheses - it looks something like this- (0).

The button can be a rectangle shape or a round shape or the interior may be missing the blowing wind part and just have two straight lines to it but that one is still in the circle with the two brackets.

Plus, it may be next to your tow/haul button so you have to be careful when you reach for it and not hit the wrong one. It will all depend on your brand of truck’s design.

Does The Exhaust Brake use More DEF?

DEF is an acronym for Diesel Exhaust Fluid and it looks clear, colorless, non-hazardous liquid while having a slight ammonia odor. This fluid helps create cleaner exhaust fumes as you drive.

From our research, there is not a significant use of this fluid when you engage the exhaust brake system. Unless you drive with the exhaust brake on all the time then you might see more use of this fluid.

Just be careful where you buy your replacement fluid. It seems that some truck stops sell it in bulk and not in jugs and you can get a bad replacement batch. But it is cheaper buying it that way. The jugs can get quite expensive if you are not careful.

Do Exhaust Brakes use More Fuel?


While there is some debate on this topic, the consensus is that there is no difference in fuel mileage. If you drive it on full time or if you only use it in temporary situations you should get the same gas mileage.

But do your own experiment and drive identical routes, one with your exhaust brake on and one time with it off and see what happens with your fuel. What happens with other people may not be what happens with your vehicle.

The system does not consume any fuel when enacted so that is a plus but since it impacts inertia, you may see a little difference in your fuel mileage. Inertia does have an impact on fuel mileage.

Also, the glow plugs get cooled and when that happens they do not burn fuel as efficiently as without using the exhaust brake.

Are Exhaust Brakes Hard on Engines?

Prior to 2006, Dodge trucks had a problem with damage done to the reverse thrust bearings because of the exhaust brakes. However, since 2006, Dodge has built their motors to be compatible with exhaust brakes and now there should be no issues with your engine.

The brakes are not hard on them due to the redesign 16 years ago. Also, if you leave the brakes on, there should be no wear and tear on your motor. The exhaust is the only item inside that is blocked.

Because of the design change, you should not have any worries that you are hurting your engine even if you drive with them on full time.

Can an Exhaust Brake Damage The Engine?

No, they can’t and if they do over time, it may be due to installation and not the exhaust brake at all. Just make sure to have them installed by experts who know what they are doing.

What the exhaust brakes do is extend the life of your traditional brakes and make life easier for them. Also, it may help keep soot out of the turbo which will help that part out immensely.

One thing to be aware of is that the exhaust braking system is an all-or-nothing style of brakes. It operates when the on button is turned on and shuts off completely when that same button is switched to off.

In other words, you either have exhaust brakes working or you don’t. There is no middle ground.

Does The Exhaust Brake Help Warm Up?


The word on the street says that this is a good way to warm up your vehicle’s engine. With the brakes engaged, it seems to help warm up the engine faster letting you drive away quicker.

There also seems to be no negative effects by engaging the brakes as you wait for the engine to warm up. One owner says that you have to get the dealer to get this function to work but that turns out to be for the high idle and not the warm-up.

After you start the motor, press the button and in about 30 seconds you will hear the brake turn on. Some trucks may need the high idle turned on for this system to work when you start your truck.

How To Make Exhaust Brake Louder

We searched and searched but we did not find one website talking about this topic. We did find a myriad of websites talking about how to make your exhaust louder and that may be the way to go.

Adjusting your exhaust system, in general, would make the brakes sound louder than they really are. This braking system is supposed to be quieter than normal so it may not be a good idea to fiddle with success.

We checked a retail outlet and there was no mention of making this system louder than it already is. Even one video said they were able to do it but no one heard the difference.

Some Final Words

The exhaust brake sounds like a good idea and the good news is that you can get this braking system in an aftermarket installation kit. It is a little expensive starting at around $1000 give or take a few hundred dollars but it will save your traditional brakes and pay for itself that way.

This system is worth the expense as you get better control over your trailer and tow vehicle.

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