What Do “No Jake Brake” Signs Mean and Why Are They Posted?

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“No Jake Brake” signs are common in residential areas. Here’s what they mean and why they’re there.

You may have seen “No Jake Brake” signs in your neighborhood and wondered why they are where they are and what exactly they mean. In a nutshell, these are signs prohibiting truckers from using a braking method that is very loud. The trucks’ engines are involved in the braking and the loud exhaust bark of the engine as it performs this braking action is disruptive to the neighbors who happen to live in the area where truckers want to use it. Despite the name, Jake Brake signs are not specific to firefighters in fire trucks, often called “Jakes” in the New England area. The name is strictly coincidental. Interestingly, firefighters in the East consider the word Jake a term of endearment, but firefighters in other parts of the U.S consider it an insult.

You may notice that Jake Brake signs are always near a hill, red-light, or stop sign. Obviously, hills are where truckers may want to supplement the rig’s wheel brakes with another form of braking. This keeps the truck’s friction brakes cooler and preserves them in the event they need more stopping power than they expect. Truckers seem to love the loudness of the systems and post up their own videos showing off the loud Jake Brakes. Here’s a good example, but be warned there is a bit of classic New England profanity at the end of this video recorded inside Boston’s Big Dig.

We reached out to our favorite former trucker turned auto writer, Aaron Turpen for some explanation of the reasons truckers need the Jake Brake options. Aaron told BestRide, “A lot of truckers use them to slow the rig down whenever slowing down is needed. I used them on off ramps to truck stops that weren’t in noise zones, for example. When the engine brakes can’t be used, the truck’s physical brakes have to be used instead and that wears on the brakes and can cause heat issues.”

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The name Jake Brake comes from the system first developed by Jacobs Vehicle Systems more than fifty years ago. Even before that, truckers, and vehicle owners of all types would use the engine’s compression to help slow a vehicle. Jacobs made modifications to the engines of trucks that greatly enhanced the ability of diesel trucks to slow the vehicle down by in effect, reversing the engine’s compression power. The engine’s exhaust and intake valves are specially modified to handle the braking system’s needs. Today, Jake Brake systems are not unique to eighteen-wheelers. BestRide has tested Ford pickup trucks with engine brakes.

Aaron Turpen also gave us some good insight on why the signs are posted and why truckers are not always thrilled to see them, saying, “In most of the areas where ‘No Jake Brake’ signs are posted, it’s because residents are tired of noisy trucks farting their brakes through an area at all hours. I personally never had a problem with that. Though it is annoying when the highway’s speed drops from 55 to 35 with one sign and no warning and then a big ‘No Jake Brake’ sign is also posted. Slowing down 80,000 pounds is not a quick or easy task.”

The signs are not without controversy. In many areas, residents fight with local government or state government to have the signs posted. The residents feel that the heavy trucks and their loud noises should not be part of the quaint local vibe, but truckers feel that the system makes trucking easier and safer.