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What is a Jake Brake? – A How-To Guide for Truck Drivers

Truck Driver Academy / Blog  / What is a Jake Brake? – A How-To Guide for Truck Drivers

What is a Jake Brake? – A How-To Guide for Truck Drivers

Have you ever heard a semi-truck make an extremely loud sound while slowing down or coming to a stop? If you have, then you’ve likely heard a Jake Brake in action. But what is a Jake Brake on a truck and what does a Jake Brake do, you ask? A Jake Brake, also known as a compression release engine brake, is a braking mechanism for large diesel engines. Essentially, it’s a way of slowing down the vehicle without having to employ the service brakes. This can be really beneficial in preserving your service brakes, effectively extending their lifetime, and reducing costs since your brakes will require maintenance less often.

Understanding the functionality and benefits of a Jake Brake is essential for truck drivers who prioritize safety and cost-efficiency. The Jake Brake’s ability to slow down a truck using the engine’s power distinguishes it from other braking systems, offering a unique advantage, especially on long descents where brake wear can be a significant concern.

So, what is the purpose of a Jake Brake, and how does a Jake Brake work? Read on to learn more about Jake Brakes and tips on how to use them properly.

What Is a Jake Brake?

As briefly mentioned above, a Jake Brake is an engine brake that uses the engine to slow down a semi-truck rather than using the traditional service brakes. In addition to compression brakes, there are actually various types of other brake retarder systems like exhaust brakes and variable-geometry turbo brakes, but the Jacobs Engine Brake (nicknamed the Jake Brake) has become synonymous with engine brakes as a whole.

The Jake Brake’s significance in the trucking industry cannot be overstated, as it represents a critical evolution in how trucks manage speed and maintain safety on the roads. By utilizing the engine’s mechanics, Jake Brakes provide a method of deceleration that is both efficient and, when used correctly, safer for both the driver and the vehicle’s brake system over time.

How Does a Jake Brake Work?

When employed, a Jake Brake opens the exhaust valves on the engine to release the compressed air that is held in the cylinders, hence the alternate name “compression release engine brake”. By releasing this compressed air instead of returning this energy to the crankshaft, effectively slowing the vehicle down and allows the driver to maintain or gain more control.

This process of utilizing the engine’s own mechanisms to aid in slowing down is a marvel of engineering, offering an ingenious solution to the issue of brake wear and overheating. As the Jake Brake engages, it leverages the natural properties of compressed air and the engine’s design to create a braking force without the direct application of mechanical brakes.

Jake Brake vs. Exhaust Brake

Although they are both brake retarder systems, Jake Brakes and Exhaust Brakes are essentially opposites in how they function. As you now know, a Jake Brake releases the compressed air that gets trapped in the cylinders. Exhaust brakes, on the other hand, trap the engine’s air within the exhaust system. This creates back pressure that actually forces the engine to rotate more slowly.

The distinction between Jake Brakes and Exhaust Brakes is crucial for drivers to understand, as each system is suited to different driving conditions and vehicle types. The choice between using a Jake Brake or an Exhaust Brake often depends on the specific needs of the journey, the load being carried, and the driver’s familiarity with each system’s operation.

While both types of brake systems have their pros and cons, one of the main oppositions to the Jake Brake system is that it is known to be very loud. People often compare it to the sound of a machine gun. Despite the excessive noise, Jake Brakes are very powerful and can be an incredibly useful tool.

The auditory impact of the Jake Brake, though often cited as a disadvantage due to noise pollution concerns, underscores the power and effectiveness of this braking system. The sound, while loud, serves as an audible indicator of the Jake Brake’s engagement and operation, informing both the driver and nearby individuals of the vehicle’s deceleration.

no jake brake

Tips For Using a Jake Brake

When using a Jake Brake, there are a couple of key things to keep in mind:

  • Jake Brakes are not meant to be used in icy or slippery conditions, so be aware of weather conditions before using your Jake Brake.
  • Pay attention to signage as “No Jake Brake” signs can be placed in areas to prohibit the use of Jake Brakes. This is because of their excessive noise which can be disruptive to the surrounding area.
  • Ensure your engine has warmed up before using your Jake Brake.
  • Check that your engine isn’t low on oil before use.
  • Operate the Jake Brake in the shifting range of about 1100-1400 RPMs – this will help protect the motor.

Adhering to these guidelines can significantly enhance the effectiveness and safety of using a Jake Brake. It’s a tool that, when used properly, can save wear and tear on the vehicle’s braking system, reduce the risk of brake failure, and improve the overall control the driver has over the vehicle, especially under heavy loads or in steep terrain.

Participating in formal training programs, such as those offered by CDL training schools, is highly recommended for drivers looking to master the use of Jake Brakes and other advanced driving techniques. These educational opportunities not only provide hands-on experience but also deepen the driver’s understanding of the mechanical principles behind these critical safety tools, ensuring they are prepared to handle the complexities of modern truck driving.

If you’re interested in learning more about Jake Brakes and how to use them, check out our CDL training school for instruction on this type of brake system and more.