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Retrofitting an Aftermarket Engine Brake

There comes a time when many truckers realize the need for increase engine or exhaust braking power. Besides having an extra layer of safety, engine brakes permit exploring new and exciting routes out West or throughout Appalachia.

Aftermarket engine brakes are available to help take the load off the service brakes and are not as difficult to install as you might think. For under $2,000 you can purchase the entire kit and have enough left over for a torque wrench, sockets and extenders, and the feeler gauges required for installation. Also necessary are wire strippers and a hairdryer for shrink-wrapping new electrical connections and a long wrench to rotate the engine to top dead center.

The system itself can best be considered an engine head attachment with a electrical solenoid exhaust valve actuator. The cast and machined brackets are simply bolted onto the engine head and the solenoid's slave cylinder clearance adjusted. An electrical controlling device is then plugged into the ECU and can be mounted anywhere convenient. Detailed instructions with photographs can be obtained by the manufacturer.

The control switch is simply routed through the firewall into the cab and a clutch pedal cutoff switch can be added as well. This allows for easy hands-free operation and does not interfere with anything since the engine brake will not slow you down with the clutch depressed anyway. Torque specifications should of course be followed and copper anti-seize silicone is recommended for head cover bolts.

Aftermarket market engine brakes are sometimes of the 'bleeder' type which constantly keep the exhaust valve open slightly when braking. These are not as powerful as the dual-action ones that open and close the valve since no vacuum is produced to create additional second-cycle braking. Nonetheless, bleeder-type aftermarket market brakes can produce about 300 horsepower (reverse) and usually come in three 'speeds'. Bleeder-types are quieter than all out Jacobs brakes and can be even more powerful when coupled with a variable geometry turbocharger. Aftermarket Pacbrake engine brakes are specifically designed for the popular Detroit Diesel engines found in Freightliner's.

For a few thousand dollars and a weekend, most backyard mechanics should be able to tackle this job. The amount spent is offset by a safer vehicle and less wear on the brake pads, rotors, and tires. The money saved buying a pre-owned truck can be put to use installing additional braking systems if desired, and Michigan Truck & Equipment Sales is a good place to start. 

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