For most drivers, their emergency brake is an afterthought—something to be used when and if they park on a hill or steep incline, and nothing more. While emergency brakes (also known as a hand brake, e-brake, or parking brake) do assist drivers parked on inclines, many are surprised to find that experts recommend using the emergency brake whenever you park your car.
HOW IS MY E-BRAKE DIFFERENT THAN MY REGULAR BRAKES?
Your regular braking system operates using hydraulic lines filled with brake fluid. When you depress your brake pedal, pressure is applied to the fluid in your brake lines, magnifying the force of your pedal press and clamping brake calipers down on wheel rotors to bring the car to a stop.
Originally designed to be a secondary braking system drivers could use in the event of a primary brake system failure, the “emergency brake” in most cars is operated by wire and is connected to the rear brakes of your vehicle. Although it does apply less force to the calipers than the primary brakes, the e-brake can stop your car or truck in the event of a brake failure.
Drivers should avoid thinking of their e-brake as an “emergency only” tool, even though this is what it was designed to be. Get to know the e-brake in your vehicle and learn how it can be used to help keep a car stopped and prevent damage to other vehicle components.
WHY SHOULD I USE THE E-BRAKE WHENEVER I PARK, EVEN ON FLAT SURFACES?
When you put your car in park and take your feet off the pedals, have you ever noticed your vehicle roll slightly then stops? This is because of the “parking pawl” in your transmission.
Any time you shift your car into park, the parking pawl is a small metal component that engages with gears in your transmission to prevent them from moving. So when you feel your car move slightly after parking then come to rest, this is your pawl engaging with the gears inside your transmission to keep them stationary.
While the pawl alone can keep your car stationary in most situations, parking without using the parking brake means the entire weight of your vehicle is resting on the pawl and gears inside your transmission. Manufacturers and auto mechanics advise drivers to always engage the e-brake before shifting their vehicle into park to prevent wear and tear on intricate vehicle components.
Repeatedly using only the pawl, especially when parked on an incline, rests the entire weight of the parked vehicle on the parking pawl and the components within the vehicle’s transmission. If the car is struck by another vehicle or simply parked on steep hills repeatedly, over time undue wear and tear on your internal transmission components and engine can occur, leading to expensive repairs.
Drivers should get in the habit of engaging their parking brakes whenever they park, fully engaging the brake before shifting into park. By taking this small, extra step, drivers will ensure that the pressure and stresses of their parked vehicles are exerted on the braking system, protecting the delicate components of their transmissions and engines.
HOW DO I USE MY EMERGENCY BRAKE IN AN EMERGENCY?
Things happen fast in an emergency and there are few more dire than a primary braking system failure while your vehicle is in motion. In the event of an emergency, drivers should resist the urge to yank or fully engage their emergency brake right away as this could lock the rear wheels of the vehicle, sending it into an uncontrollable skid.
Rather, drivers should take their foot off the gas pedal and gradually engage the emergency brake, slowing the vehicle to a stop. This will help maintain control while also ensuring that the wheels of the vehicle don’t lock into a dangerous slide.
IS THERE A TIME WHEN I SHOULDN’T USE MY EMERGENCY BRAKE?
Drivers should take care not to use their emergency brake during driving. This may seem like a no brainer, but sometimes drivers will forget to disengage their parking brake. If drivers continue to operate their vehicle with the e-brake engaged, this can cause heat build-up in the rotors and calipers which will eventually spread to the brake lines and fluid inside, bringing the brake fluid to a boil. Boiling brake fluid usually results in a catastrophic failure of the primary braking system.
Drivers should also resist the urge to use the emergency brake during an ice, snow, or rain emergency as slick conditions can make it much easier to lock up the wheels of your vehicle and lose control.
It’s also good to keep in mind that the emergency brake operates by wire, not hydraulics like your primary braking system. This means that in below-freezing weather, your e-brake cables may freeze or lock up.