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Know Your Parking Brake

Car Parking BrakeWhile making sure your engine is running optimally, it’s equally important that your vehicle is able to stop when necessary. As you know, all vehicles are equipped with brakes that allow the vehicle to slow down or come to a complete stop. Vehicles are also equipped with a less popular but equally important brake known as the parking or emergency brake. The parking brake is just as significant as your regular brakes and has specific tasks and can also be utilized in the event of an emergency situation should your regular brakes fail.

Parking brakes are often located in one of two places –  A hand lever situated between the two front seats or a smaller foot pedal just to the left of the standard brake pedal. There are two types of parking brakes installed in vehicles, caliper mounted or drum/brake shoe. Caliper mounted brakes are connected to the brake caliper via a cable that is connected by the handle or foot pedal. When the cable is pulled, it immediately clamps the caliper to the rotor. A drum or brake shoe type also has a cable but instead of being attached to the caliper, it is connected to the brake shoes in the rear brakes. The shoes expand within the drum preventing the vehicle from moving. Older vehicles used the same rear shoes for regular braking as well as the parking brake, however, vehicles today utilize special shoes within the rear disc rotor.

When to Use the Parking Brake

Your Brakes Have Failed

An emergency brake will be quite useful in case of an emergency and your regular brakes fail. The emergency brake, is a completely mechanical brake system that bypasses the hydraulic system entirely. In the event of complete brake failure, the vehicle can be brought to a full and complete stop, safely.


In Automatic Transmission Vehicles – The general assumption is that when the vehicle is placed in the ‘park’ position, the brakes are engaged to keep the vehicle from moving. On the contrary, the transmission is responsible for keeping the vehicle from movement. A small pin within the transmission engages and locks the transmission entirely. However, utilizing the ‘park’ position in your vehicle does not keep it from moving completely as it is able to rock back and forth. Utilizing the parking brake is the best defense in preventing the pin from breaking or causing movement.

Parking on a hill places excess stress on the transmission with the gravitational pull from the weight of the vehicle being supported by the park pin. Allowing your vehicle to “roll” slightly after the vehicle is in park is considerably difficult on the transmission. Likewise, when attempting to place the vehicle back into the ‘drive’ position, you may notice some resistance, which can ultimately harm the transmission.

In Manual Transmission Vehicles – Unlike automatic transmissions, standard vehicles do not have the pin that disengages the transmission, nor do these vehicles have the ‘park’ position. Manual transmission vehicles should be left in first gear with the parking brake engaged to prevent rolling, especially on hills or uneven surfaces.

Maintenance and Care

Parking brakes don’t require much maintenance. In fact, the best way to maintain your emergency brake is to use it! Each time the brake is engaged, it automatically adjusts. Keep in mind though, that while they do adjust automatically, they do require occasional cleaning. Caliper mounted cables need to be lubricated to avoid locking up from rust and/or debris. Drum or brake shoe configurations are more labor intensive as the whole brake system must be disassembled. Once the drum has been removed from the rear wheels, the shoes are accessible and should be cleaned, checked, and adjusted.

Avoid driving with the parking brake engaged. Your vehicle may attempt to resist movement, however, in some cases the vehicle may allow you to move. Driving with the parking brake on can damage brake components and require extensive repair. If this does occur, you’ll want to have a professional inspect the brake system thoroughly.

Knowing how to use an emergency brake can save your life in the event of brake failure and can also prevent costly transmission services down the road. Use your parking brake often to preserve the pin within the transmission. Need an inspection on your parking brake? Contact the Brake Experts at Sun Devil Auto to get more details on our FREE Visual Brake Inspection. Our team of professionals are here to ensure your vehicle is safe, from start to stop.