How and When to Use a Parking Brake?


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The panic trickled from my eyeballs to my toes when I answered my dad’s phone call at 1 a.m. on that Saturday night. I was one beer deep into my roommate’s 21st birthday celebration at a bar in Mizzou’s downtown when I heard the words, “I just got off the phone with the Columbia police.”

Scurrying away from the bar, I weaved through underage kids to get outside to hear better. But before my dad could finish, I knew the reason for the call. As I stepped to the curb, I saw my 1997 Acura Integra sitting in the middle of the street causing a scene of backed-up traffic illuminated by flashing cop lights. I had forgotten to set my parking brake.

Aside from the crushing embarrassment I felt, the incident caused no damage and did no harm, but it sure as hell freaked me out. Without the brake engaged, the Integra had slowly rolled into the street and come to a rest on its own terms. 

It’s a feeling we never want to experience again, and we hope you never understand the emotion we speak of. To ensure this doesn’t happen to you, The Drive’s editors, especially the author, are here to spread the gospel of the parking brake. Below, we cover what it is, what it does, how it works, and when you need to use it. Let’s get it.

What Is a Parking Brake?

A parking brake, previously known as an emergency brake, is a secondary stopping system designed to keep a vehicle in place. 

Where Does the Parking Brake Clamp Down?

In most cases, the parking brake is applied to the two rear wheels.

Types of Parking Brakes

Not all parking brakes are the same, especially if you have a new car.

Electric (Button or Switch)

Many new cars commonly use electronic parking brakes. These come in the form of buttons or switches.

Mechanical (Lever or Pedal)

If you have an older car or a car with a manual transmission, you’ll likely have a mechanical parking brake. These come in the form of a pedal activated by your foot or a lever typically activated by the driver’s right hand.

Do I Need To Change My Parking Brake?

If the parking brake becomes stuck, too loose, or no longer holds your vehicle in place, you will need to check and service the brake. As a general rule, check your parking brake components every time you do a normal brake job.

When Should I Use My Parking Brake?

As a general rule, with all cars, it’s a safe bet to use it every time you park the vehicle.

Car With Automatic Transmission

When you put a car with an automatic transmission into park, a device called a parking pawl locks up the transmission so that the car cannot move. Technically, this is enough to keep your car in place, and we’d be lying if we said we always used a parking brake on automatic cars. 

However, using the parking brake with automatic cars can protect the transmission. If you park the car with your foot on the brake, activate the parking brake, then set the transmission into park, the weight of the vehicle will be on your parking brake rather than the transmission. Some people say this is a priority, others are indifferent. As always, better safe than sorry.

Car With Manual Transmission

ALWAYS. When driving a car with a manual transmission, always activate the parking brake before you exit the car, as there’s no parking pawl here.

How Do You Release a Parking Brake?

Regardless of the parking brake type, always make sure your foot is on the brake pedal when you manually release the brake pedal. With lever-type brakes, press the button and drop the lever down. With buttons, press the button. With switches, flip it in the instructed direction.

On certain modern cars with electronic parking brakes, they will automatically release if you are seated, buckled in, in Drive or Reverse, and hit the gas pedal.

FAQs About Parking Brake

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q. So Where Is the Parking Brake Located?

A. A parking pedal will be located on the left side of the driver’s footwell, a parking lever will most commonly be located in between the front seats, and an electric parking brake switch or button will likely be located somewhere in the center console or center stack.

Q. Why Is the Brake Light On the Dashboard On?

A.That light indicates that your parking brake is on.

Q. Then How Is a Parking Brake Different From an Emergency Brake?

A. Some people call the parking brake the emergency brake or e-brake, and it’s not technically incorrect. In the case your primary braking system fails, you can use the parking brake as an emergency stopping method. However, on modern cars with electronic parking brakes, this might not be possible.

Q. Will The Emergency Brake Stop a Car?

A. Eventually, yes, but it will take time and distance, as parking brakes are not strong enough to provide immediate stop-on-a-dime-relief.

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Let’s Talk, Comment Below To Talk With The Drive’s Editors! 

We’re here to be expert guides in everything How-To related. Use us, compliment us, yell at us. Comment below and let’s talk! You can also shout at us on Twitter or Instagram, here are our profiles.

Jonathon Klein: Twitter (@jonathon.klein), Instagram (@jonathon_klein)

Tony Markovich: Twitter (@T_Marko), Instagram (@t_marko)

Chris Teague: Twitter (@TeagueDrives), Instagram (@TeagueDrives)


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