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Have you ever heard a loud, rumbling engine sound behind you and wondered what it was? Chances are, it was a truck driver using engine braking—more commonly known as Jake Braking. From its origin to the benefits and drawbacks of this practice, let’s dive into the basics of engine braking and why it’s known as Jake Braking. 

What is engine braking? 

A blue semi-truck driving  down a highway, potentially using Jake Braking.
semi-truck on the road | Getty Images

Engine braking also referred to as “Jake Braking” or “Jake Brake,” is a method used by truck drivers to slow down while minimizing wear and tear on service brakes. It works by slowing down the truck’s engine speed and releasing kinetic energy that would be lost when the truck slows down.

Truckers use Jake Braking because it can help reduce their stopping times significantly if done correctly. However, engine brakes can be dangerous if used improperly—they can cause damage to the engine or transmission if applied too abruptly or at too high a speed. Matheson states, “Truck drivers should also be sure to let the engine warm up before using an engine brake. If they use a Jake Brake with a cold engine, it can cause damage.” It’s also essential for the driver not to push the RPMs over the engine’s maximum RPM limit. Again, proper training is critical to using them safely. 

The origin

So, how did “Jake Brakes” get its name? According to The Drive, “The name Jake Brake comes from a product that, unsurprisingly, is named the Jacobs Engine Brake. The company that makes them, Jacobs Vehicle Systems, says that its system is a diesel engine retarder that uses the engine to help slow the vehicle. It alters the engine’s exhaust valve operation so that the engine acts as a power-sapping air compressor.” 

The term has been used interchangeably with “engine brake” when referring to this type of braking system found in diesel engines. Other names include “Jacobs Brake” or “Jake Nett Brake.”

What are the drawbacks of engine braking or Jake Braking?

How to Bleed Your Brakes?

While there are certainly some benefits to using engine brakes, like reduced wear and tear on service brakes, there are some drawbacks. Utilizing an engine brake requires extra fuel because it essentially burns off energy to slow down faster than traditional braking methods. Another downside is that the type of braking can create an incredibly loud noise—some people even compare it to a jet taking off! And although Jake Braking is not illegal everywhere, some neighborhoods and towns have banned it. 

The bottom line    

All in all, understanding how engine braking works and why it’s also known as Jake Braking is important for anyone who drives a truck with a diesel engine. While this practice does offer some benefits, there are potential drawbacks, like the added risk of damaging your vehicle if not done correctly. As always, make sure you understand all aspects of operating any motor vehicle before attempting any driving maneuvers so that you can stay safe and avoid high maintenance costs.