How the Parking Brake Works

Schedule Parking brake won't engage Inspection
Service Area

$79.99 - $89.99

Price range for all vehicles
Average rating from 126,673 customers who received a Parking brake won't engage Inspection.

A parking brake (also known as an emergency brake) is part of the vehicle’s braking system. You will see a lever inside the car, often by the center console, which may be engaged when needed. Because of this lever, another term that is also used to describe the system is a handbrake.

What a Parking Brake Does

The original designation for a parking brake was to stop the vehicle if the main brake system should fail, which is why it was known as an emergency brake. In modern vehicles, the emergency brake isn’t very effective at this task because it cannot adequately stop the vehicle with the small amount of force applied. The parking brake is connected to the rear brakes, which do not exert as much force in braking as the front brakes and will do little to stop a vehicle moving at high speeds.

Most modern applications of the parking brake is to ensure that a parked vehicle stays in place, especially on hills and other declines. When engaged, it locks the wheels in place and works with the parking pawl to ensure that the vehicle doesn’t roll away. While a parking brake isn’t required to be engaged for the vehicle to stay stopped, it works to prevent your vehicle from rolling, especially on steep inclines, and to reduce stress on the transmission. This is why manufacturers recommend using the parking brake even when the driver doesn’t feel like he or she needs it.

When a vehicle’s gear shift is put into Park position, a parking pawl is engaged in the transmission. This is a pin that locks the gears into place to prevent them from rotating. The pawl stays in place until the gear shift is moved out of the Park position. The problem with relying on this mechanism for the vehicle is that it puts stress on the transmission constantly, which can result in eventual failure. Manufacturers recommend engaging the parking pawl after using the parking brake. The brake provides additional security and reduces the amount of stress on the transmission and driveline components to prevent costly repairs and parking failure.

Components of a Parking Brake

The typical parking brake has fewer components than the main brake system. They include variations of the following:

  • A lever to engage and disengage the parking brake, found within the cabin of the vehicle
  • Steel cables to connect to the main brakes of the vehicle located in the rear, often called a parking brake equalizer

The cable system features a “Y” design that allows a set of cables to be connected to each rear brake. A separate cable attaches to the equalizer or “Y” connection and the lever inside the vehicle. Often, these cables are contained inside an outer shell or shielded. The lever may have a separate button to deactivate the emergency brake. Some foot pedals require you to depress the foot brake twice to deactivate it.

Types of Parking Brakes

There are four basic types of parking brakes:

  • Stick lever – found in older models and located under the instrument panel
  • Center lever – located between front bucket seats and seen in many newer model vehicles
  • Pedal – located on the floor to the left of the other pedals
  • Electric or push button – located on console with other controls

How the Parking Brake Works with Various Systems

Because not all braking systems are identical, the differences impact how the parking brake works. Vehicles with automatic transmissions often have parking brakes with automatic releases while some later models require the main brake pedal to be depressed before the transmission can be switched out of park. Anytime Drive or Reverse is selected on the automatic transmission, the parking brake is automatically released. Older models would only require the gear shift to be moved without pressing down on the brake pedal.

The parking brake will press against rear drum brakes mechanically with a force that is less than what is used with the main braking system. With disc brakes, the emergency brake activates the calipers or a small drum brake that is contained within the hub of the disc. Larger vehicles often come with power-operated parking brakes or ones that are power assisted. The driver will pull the lever and hydraulic pressure is allowed into the brake cylinder, applying force to the brake shoes. This is an added safety mechanism that is often seen on commercial vehicles.

A recent development in parking brakes is the electric parking brake. It functions much the same way as the traditional parking brake, except that it engages at a push or pull of a button instead of using a mechanical lever. The more advanced designs even use a motor that is controlled by a computer to engage the parking brake. Some high-end luxury models have a system that automatically engages the parking brake when the engine is stopped. It is released once the gas pedal is pressed with no other human intervention necessary.

Issues with the Parking Brake

One of the main issues with the parking brake for owners is corrosion. When the parking brake is not engaged on a regular basis, it begins to corrode. Shielded cables are especially vulnerable because water and road debris gets trapped in the outer shell. You won’t realize there is a problem until you need the brake, which is why regular inspection is important. It is also recommended that you use your parking brake every time you park to keep it in working order.

With regular inspection and maintenance, you may never need to replace your parking brake. You want to ensure it is in good working order in case you must rely on it for any reason.


Next Step

Schedule Parking brake won't engage Inspection

The most popular service booked by readers of this article is Parking brake won't engage Inspection. Yourmechanic’s technicians bring the dealership to you by performing this job at your home or office 7 days a week between 7AM-9PM. We currently cover over 10k cities and have 100k+ 5-star reviews... LEARN MORE

SEE PRICING & SCHEDULING

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

Recent Parking brake won't engage Inspection reviews

Excellent Rating


YourMechanic Parking brake won't engage Inspection Service

Average Rating

4.9/5

Number of Reviews

126,673

Rating Summary
118,186
4,743
947
657
2,140
118,186
4,743
947
657
2,140

Dave

22 years of experience
303 reviews
Dave
22 years of experience
Mazda 6 - Oil Change - San Jose, California
Nissan Versa - Brake Light Bulb Replacement (Passenger Side) - San Jose, California
Dave was quick and helpful in resolving the issue

Lee

33 years of experience
66 reviews
Lee
33 years of experience
Toyota Camry - Parking brake won't engage - Marietta, Georgia
Awesomeness! Resolved my issue within 10 minutes! Very informative, very professional! On time arrival as well. Thank you for your superb services!

Chris

14 years of experience
312 reviews
Chris
14 years of experience
Saab 9-5 - Valve Cover Gasket - Carlsbad, California
I had Chris come to my home today to replace the valve cover gaskets on my 2003 Saab 9.5, Chris was on time and on budget and the car was repaired in a very professional manor. Chris is highly skilled and very thorough and did a great job. Chris will be my mechanic whenever I have a need in the future and I am glad I was able to have Chris work on my car as he did a fantastic job and and at a very reasonable price. I would also say that this was the best experience I have ever had with a mechanic and services and the most reasonable costs for a job well done. I wish Chris all the best and success with his business. Kind Regards, Don Gisler

John

35 years of experience
316 reviews
John
35 years of experience
Volkswagen Jetta - Oil Change - San Mateo, California
John was awesome! Super friendly and knowledgable.

Need Help With Your Car?

Our certified mobile mechanics make house calls in over 2,000 U.S. cities. Fast, free online quotes for your car repair.

GET A QUOTE