There are a lot of parts to a car that we tend to take for granted. They’re there. We may use them from time to time. But we rarely think much about them.
That defines the parking brake perfectly.
The parking brake is designed for what its name suggests: to add extra security to your vehicle when it’s stopped, resting, and you’re away from the car. Of course, that’s not it’s only function. Which is why it is sometimes referred to as an emergency brake, e-brake, or hand brake too.
When you think parking brake, think safety. That’s what it’s designed for. But what is its true function?
Let’s start at the beginning.
How does a parking brake work?
A parking brake is a part of a car’s braking system. It connects to the rear brakes, and when engaged, engages the vehicle’s primary braking system with less force.
Looking back at history, the parking brake was an important part of the braking system. It was designed to give a driver another option to stop the car if, by chance, the hydraulic brakes fail while driving.
On modern cars, however, the parking brake is rarely needed in that circumstance. That could be why the name has morphed over time from the emergency brake to the parking brake.
While your primary brakes operate through a technology-driven hydraulic system that gradually brings your car to a stop, the parking brake is designed to hold your car in place.
Today, we use the parking brake as an extra precaution for keeping our vehicles motionless while parked. This can be a big benefit when parked on steep inclines or declines.
As our vehicles get more sophisticated, the way systems operate is changing too. In general, there are four different types of parking brake systems. You can check your owner’s manual to confirm what comes equipped on your vehicle.
- Stick lever – on older cars, you’ll find this located on the instrument panel
- Center console lever – this is located between the two front seats
- Foot pedal – this is located on the floor on the left side of the pedals
- Push button – with newer cars, you’ll find the parking brake can be activated by a button located somewhere on the console
When should you use your parking brake?
As the name implies, a parking brake should be used whenever you park your car. Whether you drive with manual or automatic transmission, the parking brake adds extra security when you walk away from your car.
While some will tell you that parking brakes are more important when you park on an incline or decline, others will tell you it’s equally important to use it no matter where you place your vehicle. Your braking system uses a device that keeps your brakes locked and engaged whenever you put your car into park and walk away. However, failure can occur, and it’s not just the brakes that can cause the problem. If the gears aren’t engaged, it can cause your car to roll, even on what appears to be a flat surface. Engaging it each and every time you turn off your car ensures your car stays where you place it.
Here’s a tip for reducing the stress on the drive train. If you are parking on an incline or decline, leave your foot on the brake pedal as you move the gears to park position. Before you take your foot off the brake pedal, engage the parking brake too.
Have you ever let your foot off before engaging the parking brake? Have you felt your car jolt forward or backward as it adjusts to sitting on an incline? That action over time can damage both your transmission and braking systems. That means costly repairs before their time. Engaging the parking brake first prevents this action from occurring, protecting various systems throughout your vehicle.
When you’re ready to drive, start your engine, press down on the brake pedal to engage the brake system, release the parking brake, and then move into drive. Driving with your parking brake on can damage your vehicle.
Why is a parking brake important?
Get into the habit of using your parking brake every time you stop. It gives you added stability while your vehicle is inactive. While this can be important to keep your vehicle stable while resting on an incline, there are other circumstances where this is important too.
For example, if you’re sitting on a busy street or in a parking lot, and someone hits your vehicle, the parking brake decreases the chance of it rolling, increasing the likelihood of damage.
It also keeps your car in overall good working condition. If you don’t use parts, they start to wear. A parking brake that is rarely used can stiffen, rust, corrode, weaken, and wear down, meaning it’s less likely to work when you need it most.
Like every part of your car, it’s important to have the parking brake regularly inspected to ensure it’s in proper working condition.
Potential problems with your parking brake
While parking brakes rarely present problems, you may likely find yourself in one of these situations:
Parking brake frozen – ice can cause the parking brake to freeze when it’s really cold. Leaving the engine run for a few moments can start to heat your car and make the ice melt. If this doesn’t melt it, you can find which wheel it’s connected to, and melt the ice with a hairdryer.
Rust or corrosion – over time, corrosion or rust can infiltrate the mechanism inside the parking brake, making it harder to work until it freezes altogether. It might be difficult to diagnose without having it towed in. You can apply and release the brakes a few times to see if you can disengage it. Shift between reverse and drive to see if it loosens up the debris enough to take the parking brake off. If not, your only choice is to have it towed and repaired.
Engaged too hard – when people are in a hurry, they often make quick movements that can hurt more than help. That’s often the case with the parking brake. If you pull up too hard, it can jam it. Pulling with all your strength can get the brake shoe stuck in the wheel drum. It can stretch out the cable that runs from the wheel to the brake handle enough that makes it impossible to disengage. If you’ve tried and can’t release the parking brake, it may be time to seek help.
Whether you have a question about a specific problem, or just need an inspection and check up to keep you on the road safely, we can help.
How can we help you today?