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The Parking Brake: How To Use It, Fixes, Types

July 13, 2021

The parking brake acts as a backup to your vehicle’s primary brake system. 

But how does it work?

And what are the different types of parking brakes available today?

In this article, we’ll answer those questions and let you know when you should use your parking brake. We’ll then go over what you can do if you’ve got a stuck parking brake and the best way to keep your vehicle’s parking brake in perfect condition.

This Article Contains:

Let’s get started.

What Is A Parking Brake?

The parking brake (aka emergency brake or handbrake) is a part of your vehicle’s braking system, designed to keep your vehicle stationary or motionless when parked. 

For example, if you park your vehicle on a steep hill and want to keep the vehicle from rolling down, you can engage the parking brake.

However, this wasn’t the only reason it was created.

Its original purpose was to act as a backup brake system that would bring your car to a halt when the primary brakes (drum brake assembly or disc brake assembly) failed. 

However, modern-day parking brakes don’t have the same stopping power as the primary or service brake system. As a result, the parking brake is now solely used to keep your car stationary. 

This brings us to a question:

How does an emergency brake keep your vehicle stationary when parked? 

How A Parking Brake Works

For starters, your parking brake exists and works independently of the vehicle’s primary brakes.

While the primary brakes use a hydraulic braking system to slow down your vehicle, the emergency brake usually employs a mechanical braking system (made of levers and steel cables) to hold your car in place.

When you engage the car’s parking brake, steel cables attached to the parking brake lever tighten.

With a drum brake system, the tightened parking brake cable activates a lever that compresses your parking brake shoe against the rear wheel brake drum. As the parking brake shoe pushes against the brake drum, it generates friction that helps stall vehicle movement. 

On the flip side, with a disc brake system, the parking brake cable activates a corkscrew mechanism, pushing the brake caliper piston against the brake pad. The brake pad then squeezes against the rear brake disc (or brake rotor) to generate stopping friction.

However, many modern-day vehicles have now started using electronic parking brake systems. 

Instead of the parking brake lever and the parking brake cable, an electric parking brake uses an electric switch and motor to hinder wheel movement.

When you push the electric park brake switch, an electric motor within each caliper of your rear disc brakes or drum brake assembly activates. The electric motor forces the parking brake shoe (or brake pad) against the rear brake drum (or rear brake disc) to restrict rear wheel motion.

Now that you know how the parking brake or emergency brake works, let’s take a look at the various types of parking brakes available:

3 Different Types Of Parking Brakes

Generally, you’ll come across these three types of parking brakes:

A. Center Lever Parking Brake

The center lever parking brake (or handbrake) is the most common type of emergency brake. It consists of a lever located between the two front seats of your vehicle.

To engage a center lever parking brake, you just need to pull the parking brake lever up. 

To disengage the handbrake, all you have to do is press the button at the end of the lever and then push the center lever down.

B. Foot Pedal Parking Brake

A foot pedal parking brake system (or foot brake) has a small pedal located to the left of the driver’s footwell. 

The driver’s footwell is the space below the steering wheel that houses the clutch pedal (in a manual transmission vehicle), regular brake pedal, and accelerator pedal. 

To activate the foot brake, you’ll have to press down on the parking brake pedal till you hear a click sound — at this point, your parking brake is engaged. To release the foot brake, locate the lever right above the brake pedal and pull at it.

C. Push Button Parking Brake

The push button parking brake (found in vehicles that use an electric park brake system) is probably the easiest to use.

Simply push the electronic parking brake button on your vehicle’s console to activate the emergency brake. To release the electric parking brake, just press the button once again.

However, regardless of the type of parking brake your vehicle uses, it’s essential to know when and why you should engage your emergency brake.

When Should You Use The Parking Brake?

Like many car owners, you probably engage the foot brake or hand brake only when you have to park your car on a steep slope, like a hill. Besides, if your vehicle uses an automatic transmission, chances are that you use the parking brake even less.

Unfortunately, if the car’s parking brake or emergency brake remains unused over long durations, the parking brake cable and other components can degrade and lose their functionality. As a result, your emergency brake may not work when needed, making it a safety risk.

Additionally, parking your automatic transmission vehicle without engaging the hand brake or foot brake can cause wear and tear to your vehicle’s parking pawl. 

The parking pawl (or pin) is a small gear fitted to your vehicle’s automatic transmission system. When you shift your vehicle’s transmission into Park (P), the parking pawl locks the gears of your automatic transmission in place.

Every time you park your vehicle on an incline without engaging the emergency brake, a lot of stress is induced on the small parking pawl. And this intense stress can cause it to fail, damaging your transmission system.

To sum up:

As a general rule, engage the parking brake every time you park your vehicle.

Do it irrespective of whether the terrain is hilly or flat and whether you’ve got an automatic transmission or manual transmission vehicle.

Now, what should you do if your car’s parking brake gets stuck?

What Should You Do In Case Of A Stuck Parking Brake?

Over time, due to environmental exposure and other factors, the parking brake in your vehicle might get stuck. For example, rust in the parking brake cable can cause your parking brake to lock up and cease functioning.

If you’ve got a stuck parking brake, try to get your parking brake system fixed ASAP.

While it can be tempting to try and fix the locked-up parking brake on your own, it’s not advisable. 

Why?

Without the right tools (such as jack stands, wheel chocks, lubricants, etc.) and proper expertise, you may not be able to diagnose and fix your parking brake problems properly.

We recommend that you request a mechanic to inspect and fix your car’s parking brake problems.

A mechanic would:

1. Place wheel chocks at the wheels (usually the front wheels) unaffected by the parking brake.

2. Jack up your car and use jack stands to keep the vehicle elevated.

3. Remove the wheel and locate the parking brake cable (for a mechanical parking brake system) or electric motor (for an electric parking brake system).

4. Diagnose what’s causing the parking brake to lock up or get stuck.

5. Service, repair, or replace the parking brake components based on the underlying issue.

6. Reattach the wheels and lower the car to the ground.

7. Engage the hand brake, foot pedal, or electronic parking brake switch to check if it’s working as expected.

Note: When hiring a mechanic to repair your emergency brake, ensure that they:

But where do you find such mechanics?

The Best Way To Keep Your Parking Brake In Good Condition

If you notice any parking brake problems, it’s best to call a mechanic over to save you the trouble of driving to a repair shop.   

That’s why you should get in touch with RepairSmith, a convenient and hassle-free mobile auto repair solution.

With RepairSmith, you get the following benefits:

Closing Thoughts

The parking brake, when activated, keeps your parked vehicle stationary.

But, when left unused, your parking brake may start to degrade and lose its effectiveness. To ensure that your parking brake continues to work the way it’s supposed to, try to engage the parking brake every time you park your vehicle.

And if your parking brake gets stuck for some reason, you may require a parking brake service.

To get your vehicle inspected, serviced, or repaired conveniently, just get in touch with RepairSmith
Our certified technicians will come to your driveway to take care of all your brake service needs, be it issues with your parking brake, brake fluid, master cylinder, or anything else!