The Sound and Fury: Engine Brake Noise and How to Stop It

avoid engine braking sign
Newest edition of the Avoid Engine Braking sign (I-076 series), released fall 2021.

Engine brakes, also known as “Jake Brakes,” are an important piece of safety equipment for commercial vehicle operators. Trouble is, they can cause an irritating pulsating noise when combined with modified engine exhausts.

In fact, a few comparisons we’ve heard people use to describe the rattling “blat-blat-blat” sound include:

  • a machine gun
  • a jackhammer
  • a woodpecker drumming on a chimney pipe (the birds do this to establish a territory and attract a mate, by the way)

There’s even a common term coined for the sound: the “Jake Bark.” And you bet we receive letters of concern from residents near highways that use these, and many other creative similes, when reporting high noise levels coming from trucks travelling through their communities.

But the fact remains: engine brakes improve braking capabilities on trucks, increasing their overall safety, which results in improved safety for all travellers. So how do we reconcile the bad (noise) with the good (safety)? Let’s explore.

What is an Engine Braking System?

Without getting too technical, engine braking systems hold the exhaust valves closed, which slows down the operation of the engine and, subsequently, slows the vehicle down when the transmission is engaged.

Once upon a time, engine brakes were optional aftermarket additions. However, truck technology has evolved to a point where engine brakes are now part of a truck’s integrated engine and braking management system, installed at the time of manufacture.

Why? Well…

Why Engine Brakes are so Big for Safety

Commercial vehicle operators use engine brakes primarily when descending steep grades, where brake pads and drums are at greater risk of heating up and failing. If you’ve ever descended a mountain pass, such as the Coquihalla, you’ve likely noticed off-ramps that seem to rise up into nowhere in particular… that’s a runaway lane, designed as a last resort for truckers with failing brakes. Engine brakes reduce wear and tear on standard braking systems, prolonging their life and reducing risk of brake failure.

Engine brakes can also be used in standard transmissions to assist drivers in shifting. When you are upshifting and have the engine brake on it immediately slows the engine when you let off the accelerator, which allows a faster, smoother upshift.

Modern factory engine brakes do not typically cause the irritating pulsating noise – that comes after the vehicle’s powertrain system has been modified for some reason.

What We’re Doing to Reduce Engine Brake Noise Near Communities

Chances are you’ve seen signs located near residential communities and other populated areas (i.e. parks) asking commercial vehicle operators to avoid the use of engine brakes. We’ve recently updated these signs, making them easier to read, and will be replacing the old version of the signs over time as they become worn out. Compare the new version of the sign (above) with the old version (below).

old engine brakes sign
Old version of the Avoid Engine Brakes sign, introduced in 2006.

Much better, eh? There are various tabs that can provide further clarity to the new sign, depending on the location. Here are examples:

residential tab

city wide tab

next xx km tab

next xxx m tab

Note: these signs are information/awareness signs, not regulatory signs that establish a law (like speed limit signs). As such, commercial drivers cannot be ticketed simply for activating their engine brakes in these areas.

Enforcing against irritatingly noisy engine brakes is a challenge because there is no defined, reliable procedure for measuring and testing what the BC Motor Vehicle Act refers to as “excessive noise.”

One option for our Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement (CVSE) officers is to issue a Notice and Order to complete an inspection with an authorized inspector in an attempt to find engine exhaust system modifications causing the noise.

CVSE has increased patrols in populated areas prone to irritating engine brake noise, and when they carry out their concentrated inspection campaigns, they watch for these trucks as best they can, discussing the issue with drivers as needed. CVSE also reaches out to trucking associations to help reinforce the message with their members.

When it comes down to it, the solution begins with commercial drivers being aware of how their actions are impacting others and respecting the posted signs.

If you are a commercial truck driver and you know your engine braking system causes irritating noise, please avoid using them when you don’t have to in populated areas with “AVOID ENGINE BRAKING” signs posted.

The locals thank you.

Interested in reading more about commercial vehicle issues? Try these blogs:

>> DON’T Do This Pt. III: 5 More Vehicles CVSE Wants Off the Road

>> How Weigh2GoBC Keeps Safe Trucks Moving in the Lower Mainland

>> What You Need to Know About Commercial Vehicle Safety Inspections

Share this page:SharingFacebookTwitterLinkedInCopy Text

Page 1 of 50 comments on “The Sound and Fury: Engine Brake Noise and How to Stop It”

Leave a Comment

  1. There is a lot of dangerous truck traffic on highway 3 between Rossland & Trail.

    It’s unfortunate you keep removing my comments about this specific complaint. Thankfully, I have taken screenshots of this disregard and discrimination from a Provincial Authority that has legal obligation to refrain from such behavior.

    Please take this seriously. There is no enforcement happening & safety should e prioritized.

    Reply
    • Hi again, K

      We aren’t removing your comments, this system automatically holds comments for our review before they are posted publicly to the site. Please see our responses to your concerns under your previous comments and let us know if you have any other concerns or issues.

      Reply
  2. Who enforces the laws for commercial vehicles? Especially excessive noise and common practices like crossing over the center lanes and neglecting to chain up? Why do large trucks have to cross 3 lanes of traffic on HWY3 between Rossland and Trail to access a runaway lane? Is safety as much of a priority as convenience/money?

    Reply
  3. We live at Christina Lake Bc. Often in the summer months, when windows are open at night, many truckers use engine brakes coming into town on eastbound #3 highway. This is not a excessively steep hill and there is no runaway lane. There is no more hills beyond that point for many kilometers. This area should be deemed a violation zone as it would be easy to slow the vehicle before entering town to the posted limit without engine braking. Having been a class 1 driver for many years I know this to be true. As far as the drivers veiw point it does not look like there are houses close by, but there are quite a few hidden behind the trees and forested areas. This area should be changed to a violation vs a warning to curb this ongoing problem.
    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comments, Don, about engine brake noise on Highway 3 at Christina Lake. I have forwarded your comments to our operations manager for that area, for their consideration.

      Reply
    • Hi Don, our area manager says there is signage posted on Highway 3 eastbound as you drop into Christina Lake that advises commercial vehicle operators that it is a residential area and that excessive noise is prohibited. Motorists are expected to obey traffic signs and any enforcement concerns should be directed to the RCMP or CVSE. The area manager will double check that the sign is still in place and visible.

      Reply
    • Same in Rossland. Commercial trucks upon descending to Trail take very little effort to avoid excessive noise, often going so fast if they cut into the turning lane after a blind corner, locals have to frequently risk their lives. Not to mention having the runaway lane cross 3 lanes of traffic. All to save the 1-2 hours from having to drive to Castlegar then Trail. Our safety and right to not have your house *vibrate* from truck noise at 3am pales in comparison to the rights of these companies to make their money.

      Reply
  4. As a licensed commercial driver of 40 plus years, it’s not the engine brake, it’s the modified exhausts, some of the tractors going by my home on hwy 5a are quieter with their eng brakes on than most cars. This needs to be enforced… its the same with very noisy bikes”I’ve also
    had one” far too modified and don’t come out of the factory like this!

    Reply
  5. Fraser Hwy east of Aldergrove and then through town westbound about 5am is terrible. I’m sure if you got the receivers manifest from Britco pork slaughter house you could schedule your tickets in advance. That is 90% of the worst offenders

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing this with us, Anonymous. If you ever have any concerns about the safety of commercial traffic – you can report them directly to our CVSE hotline: 1-888-775-8785

      Reply
  6. Save money on the signage. If it is not being enforced it is a waste of money. There is absolutely no reason to use engine brakes on in Summerland by jones flat roadway….s so safety reason is a poor excuse. Day and all night. Never see cvse ever.

    Reply
  7. I live near 56 ave surrey (Hwy 10) . Trucks are using their Jake Brake (thats right, it is spelled Brake) …all day and all night, they don’t care. I have had a Class 1 since 1987, and I have NEVER used my Jake Brake in the City, as it is never needed. I have been compiling videos to make a case with CVSE, and hopefully deal with this. The trucks going by ……even at night……. DO NOT need their Jake Brake, and DO NOT need to be doing 90km in a 70km zone. All the truckers here trying to justify this is a joke. Remember, I have a Class 1 and can drive the same trucks, and have never used a Jake Brake in the city.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comments about trucks using their Jake Brakes at 56 Ave and Hwy 10, in Surrey. I will forward them to our people responsible for traffic management and CVSE in that area.

      Reply
    • Hi Daryle,

      CVSE has informed me that they do not have legislative authority, as this is a municipal by-law and depending on the municipality, may either be enforced by the RCMP or by-law officers or both. You will need to reach out to Surrey By-law with your concern and to request assistance.

      Reply
      • Thank you for your reply. I reached out to RCMP and Surrey Bylaws years ago. RCMP say they cant enforce as its a Provincial Hwy, (even though they pull people over on that same road for speeding) they suggest CVSE. Surrey Bylaw said its an RCMP issue. Everyone is just not willing to deal with it. But back to my original fact, nobody needs to use a Jake Brake. [putting a Jake brake on will not stop a truck from hitting a kid….please…..) It slows a truck, doesn’t stop it. Ive even seen trucks with no trailer going up hill use their Jake Brakes. They just keep using them because nobody does anything. If ever you people want to see footage of all the Jake brakes, I have tons. Its not hard to get footage when a truck is doing it every 3 min here.

        Reply
        • Hi Daryle,

          Further to you response, in fall of 2011, the ministry created signs that state “avoid engine braking”. CVSE is unable to write tickets to offenders because these are not regulatory signs — hence by-laws. When CVSE has a focused campaign with local law enforcement they watch for these vehicles. Officers can then issue a Notice and Order for the vehicle to go to an authorized inspector, to have its brake system checked, to determine if there is an excessive noise issue.

          Reply
  8. There are times you have to use it for example a car pulls out of a side street without stopping or a child ball comes out from nowhere . I’m not going to have a accident or injur a child

    Reply
  9. You know what’s even louder then the engine break. It’s the crashing of a semi in to something when there breaks fail

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment, Marc. To clarify, we are not saying commercial truck drivers shouldn’t use their engine brakes. Engine brakes are an important safety feature. We are saying they should avoid using them through residential areas when they are not needed.

      Reply
    • Thanks for sharing your suggestion with us, Ted. Enforcing against irritatingly noisy engine brakes is a challenge because there is no defined, reliable procedure for measuring and testing what the BC Motor Vehicle Act refers to as “excessive noise.”

      One option for our Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement (CVSE) officers is to issue a Notice and Order to complete an inspection with an authorized inspector in an attempt to find engine exhaust system modifications causing the noise.

      CVSE has increased patrols in populated areas prone to irritating engine brake noise, and when they carry out their concentrated inspection campaigns, they watch for these trucks as best they can, discussing the issue with drivers as needed. CVSE also reaches out to trucking associations to help reinforce the message with their members.

      Reply
  10. Its ridiculous that the government is choosing to go after truckers on this but let motorcycles and passenger vehciles with modified exhaust systems make all the noise they want all over cities and towns at all hours. Your priorities should be making the road safer not catering to the people who constantly are whining about every little thing.

    Reply
  11. Frustrating to hear it used in the last 10% of the decline which it has flattened out considerably and then near residential areas.
    Especially with an empty load.

    Reply
  12. The trucks that are licensed out side of any aircare and pollution city usually owner operators they pull their mufflers off then the jake brakes sounds 10 times louder then normal
    And is really annoying to the public
    These are the trucks that you have to clamp down on to put their mufflers back on because I’m not allowed to run my vehicle with out a muffler
    I think it makes them feel big and macho
    There should be a number to call 📞 to report the plate number of a truck that jakes threw town so they can be stopped and made to put mufflers back on plane and simple
    40 years of driving truck I know this is what’s happening
    My in counters of these trucks it’s usually the cattle liners and vehicle liners. Cow 🐄 and car 🚗 haulers
    STOP THEM ASK THEM TO SHOW YOU THEIR MUFFLERS PLEASE
    This will stop 75 % of the complaints

    Reply
  13. Give me a brake (pun intended). People bulding close to a highway should not complain. Truckers require engine brakes with the heavier loadsbeing carried. Government should not permit residential building near a highway on down hill grades.

    Reply
  14. Why are these signs identical to regulatory signs if they aren’t regulatory signs?

    The commercial driving book tells drivers that rectangular white signs show regulation that “is an offence under the B.C. Motor Vehicle Act to disregard.”

    Why create the confusion? Why not make it a warning sign (yellow)?

    Reply
    • Hello Brett,

      the ministry considers the engine brake signs to be “information” signs. These signs are not in the warning (black on yellow) sign series because they are not a warning. A warning alerts drivers to a potential hazard. Using one’s engine brakes in an urban area is not hazardous to the driver. These signs are not specifically mentioned in the regulations as regulatory signs because there may very well be a good reason to use engine braking – like if one is experiencing issues with brakes. While engine brake signs could theoretically be ticketed against as a general traffic control device, the Ministry considers the engine brake signs to be information signs. This means it is not illegal to use engine brakes, but as a considerate person, we are asking drivers not to use them in areas where the signs are placed because there are homes nearby. We hope this information is helpful.

      Reply
  15. I would like to know what direction to take in having a engine brake sign installed in my area. Thank you: Patrick Lang

    Reply
  16. What sound would you rather hear? A Jake Brake or the sound of the crash as somebody overheats their brakes and can’t stop and runs into a house or a family in a car??Those highways were there long before these whiny people starting bitching about engine brakes.You bought a house or moved into a area with a highway or steep grade close by.Kamloops hill for one or Merritt,PG,Vanderhoof, the list is endless.
    Engine noise is a subjective cash cow and money grab,CVSE are better deployed getting these POS trucks that run the scales or never cross them and these idiot drivers that can’t stay on the road on a straight dry stretch.

    Prove me wrong…

    Reply
    • Hi Dan – thanks for your comment. We understand that these are important safety tools in the commercial driver tool kit. We only ask that drivers be mindful of how and when they use them. These signs are information/awareness signs, not regulatory signs that establish a law (like speed limit signs). As such, commercial drivers cannot be ticketed simply for activating their engine brakes in these areas. Modern factory engine brakes do not typically cause the irritating pulsating noise – that comes after the vehicle’s powertrain system has been modified for some reason. One option for our Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement (CVSE) officers is to issue a Notice and Order to complete an inspection with an authorized inspector in an attempt to find engine exhaust system modifications causing the noise. When it comes down to it, the solution begins with commercial drivers being aware of how their actions are impacting others and respecting the posted signs.

      Reply
      • I call BS I’m sorry. My truck passed it’s CVI 13 days prior and because some whiny person called the scale I ended up with a notice & Order Box 2 and had to spend another 300.00 for a CVI to prove my exhaust was unmodified. Met OEM specs for the model year she is. So don’t feed me your crap. I stand by my original post of this being a cash cow and highly subjective to abuse. Get after the drivers and the trucks that shouldn’t be on the road to start with.

        Reply
    • Yes engine brake’s are a great tool when used in the Wright place so your saying it’s ok to use it in towns like Golden or Hinton where a lot trucker try sleep like me, And there’s a lot of trucks on road with modified exhaust, There’s also a fine in place if there’s a sign it’s somewhere around $100.00

      Reply
    • Gear down below speed limits and pad your brakes …. easy peasy! And the complaint is noise, noise from altered exhaust..

      Reply
  17. Don’t build pompous residential homes in areas where Jakes are REQUIRED. Just as you wouldn’t tell a police officers to not take their bullet proof vest or gun with them…telling a driver they can not use ALL braking means available is ignorant. I would rather hear a Joke than a truck smashing into my house. How about you??

    Reply
    • Hi John – thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, lots of BC real estate exists on steep grades and, while we understand that Jake Brakes are important safety features in commercial vehicles, we ask that drivers be mindful of where and when they use them.

      Reply
      • I live in NS and the terrain is full of hills etc too. Truck drivers don’t use these Willy Nilly. This totally seems like people making rules for a profession they do not do.

        Most truck drivers don’t use these brakes when not needed. The problem is the loads are very heavy and you cannot rely on air brakes alone in some circumstances. This whole post is ridiculous.

        Reply