The number of drivers that don’t know how to use the handbrake in a car is probably low.
Due to the simplicity of using it, it seems there isn’t much to know.
Or is there?
Despite how obvious it is, even seasoned drivers may overlook certain things that can over time cause damage to the handbrake or even the whole brake system.
No need to say how dangerous this can be.
This article will perhaps help to avoid these things and help you use the handbrake properly.
Besides this, you have a video at the end of the article that you can also watch on our YouTube channel.
Before we start we must mention that this article shows how to operate the classic handbrake system, not the modern electric one.
The working principle for both of them is basically the same but there are significant differences, mainly how you use it and that the electric one works automatically.
But even if you have an electric handbrake on your car, the tips you’re going to see might come in handy.
HOW DOES THE HANDBRAKE WORK?
Just a few words on how the handbrake works.
The handbrake, also known as a parking brake or emergency brake is a part of the car’s brake system that stops only the rear wheels.
The main purpose of the handbrake is to ensure that the car doesn’t accidentally move anywhere when parked.
Also, it’s an emergency backup if the main brake system stops working for some reason.
The lever of the handbrake is connected, through cables, to the rear calipers or brake drums and once you pull it, it engages the caliper or brake cylinder and presses the brake pads or brake shoes against the disc or drum.
To simplify, by using the handbrake, you manually engage the rear brakes.
For a more thorough explanation of the whole subject, click here to see a great article from Wikipedia.
HOW TO USE THE HANDBRAKE IN A CAR?
To engage the handbrake, you simply pull the brake handle.
To release it, you push the release button located on the handle.
Simple as that.
This system is the same on most cars, it varies depending on where the release button is and what is the layout of the handbrake system.
For instance, in some cars, the release button may be on the side of the handle instead of the top.
The location of the handle varies from car to car. The most common places are:
- Between the front seats, just after the gear shifter
- In the footwell near the pedals (like in the Mercedes). It s conveniently engaged with the foot and released manually with a lever.
- There is the mentioned electric parking brake which is engaged and disengaged with the push of a button, automatically.
TIPS FOR USING THE HANDBRAKE ON A CAR
In this part on how to use the handbrake in a car we’ll mention some useful tips that help when using it but also may prolong the service life of the whole system.
1. USE MEDIUM FORCE WHEN PULLING
When pulling the handbrake, use medium force.
Some drivers engage the handbrake somewhat violently, they use a strong yank.
Know that this can cause damage to the handbrake system.
For instance, because of the sudden tension and pressure, the calipers or brake cylinders can get damaged and even start to leak.
This goes double if you don’t use the handbrake a lot.
So, when engaging the handbrake best use medium force.
If you can hear every distinctive click of the mechanism when pulling the handbrake, then you’re doing it right.
2. WHEN RELEASING, PULL THE HANDBRAKE UP A BIT
When the handbrake is pulled, it’s under tension. This sometimes causes the release button to get stuck making it very hard to release the handbrake.
If this happens, don’t use excessive force.
Instead, slightly pull the handbrake up and then press the button.
This way the mechanism is relieved of tension and the handbrake is easily released.
3. ALWAYS PUSH THE HANDBRAKE TO THE END
When releasing the handbrake, always make sure to lower it to the end.
The best way to be sure that you did this is to listen when releasing.
When you hear the characteristic thump sound when the handle reaches the end guard, you’ve done it properly.
Otherwise, if you leave the handbrake partially engaged, it can damage the brake system not to mention heavily increase the fuel consumption because you’re driving while the brakes are engaged.
4. PAY ATTENTION TO THE WARNING LIGHT ON THE DASHBOARD
In relation to the previous tip for how to use the handbrake on a car, always pay attention to the dashboard warning light.
It lights up when the handbrake is engaged and its main purpose is to warn you that you’ve forgotten to lower the handbrake.
Make a habit of taking a look at the dash before you start to drive, just in case. It may well save your brakes.
5. WATCH HOW YOU USE THE HANDBRAKE DURING THE WINTER SEASON AND IN THE SNOW
If you drive in countries where there is lots of snow and very low temperatures, then you should know this.
Because of the temperature difference between the cold temperature outside and the heat caused by the friction of the brakes, a water condensate forms between the brake discs or brake shoes and the drum or disc.
When left engaged, the condensate freezes leaving the brakes seriously jammed to the point that the car can’t be moved.
In winter conditions it’s best to avoid pulling the handbrake altogether.
But if you have to, try pulling it after the brakes have cooled off a bit.
6. USE THE HANDBRAKE OCCASIONALLY
Lots of drivers, especially in places where there are no hills, use the handbrake rarely.
This is mainly because putting the car in park or in first gear keeps it in place.
But know that not using the handbrake causes the whole system to get stuck over time and eventually cease to work.
So, even if you don’t tend to use the handbrake often, pull it at least a couple of times every month in order to keep the system functional.
7. DON’T USE THE HANDBRAKE IF THE CAR IS IN STORAGE
If you plan on keeping the car in storage for some time, then don’t pull the handbrake.
Know that when the handbrake is engaged, it puts strain on the whole system and besides this keep the brake shoes and pads locked onto the brake disc or drum.
If left for a longer period of time like this, they will probably get stuck.
All of this can later cause serious problems and repairs when you decide to use the car again.
So, when putting the car in storage, make sure the handbrake is released.
8. WHEN USING THE HANDBRAKE IN AN EMERGENCY, KEEP THE RELEASE BUTTON PRESSED
The handbrake is also known as the emergency brake. It’s called that way since if the standard brake system on the car malfunctions, you can pull the handbrake and stop the car.
If you are forced to use the handbrake this way, it’s best to keep the release button pressed all the time so the locking mechanism doesn’t jam it while you’re using it.
You essentially get a manually operated brake for the rear wheels
This way, you have total control over emergency braking which is very important.
9. SOMETIMES YOU DON’T HAVE TO PULL THE HANDBRAKE ALL THE WAY
In certain situations, you don’t have to pull the handbrake all the way.
For instance, if it’s winter and you’re afraid that the wheels will jam, pull it halfway or 70 percent.
This should give enough friction but will at the same time, release more easily since there’s less tension.
You can also do this if you’re parked on a flat surface and don’t need much braking force.
10. AVOID USING THE HANDBRAKE FOR EXHIBITION DRIVING
When mentioning how to use the handbrake in a car, this must be told.
Some drivers, especially the more „enthusiastic“ ones, would like to use the handbrake for making exhibitions.
Drifting, spinning, and making so-called donuts are just some of these.
Know that this is very dangerous and should be avoided no matter how capable of a driver you think you are.
Blocking the rear wheels, especially during driving, will, in most cases, send you in in an uncontrollable spin or destabilize the vehicle.
This will probably lead to some sort of accident not to mention the probable damage to the brake system.
Know that drivers that are capable of doing these kinds of exhibitions have experience and knowledge and have prepared cars for this purpose.
Best use the handbrake as it’s meant to be used and you won’t have any headaches.
For the end one more word of advice. Keep your handbrake in good condition.
If you notice a flabby handbrake, you don’t sense any resistance when pulling it and the wheels don’t hold so to say, check it out and fix it as soon as possible. It’s a matter of safety.
Again, a huge help for prolonging the service life of the handbrake is to use it from time to time.
The handbrake is one part of the car that isn’t used much, but when you need it, it may be a lifesaver.
Written by: Sibin Spasojevic
Former car technician, life-long car and DIY enthusiast, author for Despairrepair.com
HOW TO USE THE HANDBRAKE IN A CAR? YOUTUBE VIDEO