Three types of parking brakes

Three types of parking brakes (hand brake, ebrake, pedal brake)

The end of any journey by car, truck, or van can be exciting or exhausting, but parking the vehicle is the inevitable conclusion to the drive. At that point, parking brakes become important. Although parking brakes are more vital in some situations than in others, knowing how to use the different types of parking brakes is an important skill for any driver. With various types of parking brakes in different vehicles, drivers should know where to look for this very useful feature, no matter what kind of vehicle they are operating.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines a parking brake as an emergency brake, which in turn it defines as a brake that can be used when the main brakes fail or to prevent the vehicle from rolling away when it is parked. The issue of rolling away is far more pertinent for very hilly areas of the country than flat ones, but parking brakes can be useful even in areas where the possibilities of that are very slim. Even a slight incline could cause a vehicle to roll into another car or truck, possibly damaging both and potentially causing injuries.


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.

Single Modern Paddle

We’re seeing more automakers swapping the basic handle for something more like a paddle or an animal paw. This palm-friendly brake from the Citroen C4 Aircross is mounted in the traditional location at the center console, but features a button underneath the large handle to release the brake.

In The Dash: Part Two

The tiny Renault Twizy EV runabout would be a perfect candidate for an electronic brake, but that consumes electricity. The solution was a manually operated brake mounted low on the dash that operates with an awkward pull/depress action.

Drum Brakes

Drum brakes consist of a brake drum attached to the inside of the wheel. When the brake pedal contracts, hydraulic pressure presses two brake shoes against the brake drum. This creates friction and causes the vehicle to slow and stop.

3 Different Types Of Parking Brakes

Generally, you’ll come across these three types of parking brakes:

A. Center Lever Parking Brake

The center lever parking brake (or handbrake) is the most common type of emergency brake. It consists of a lever located between the two front seats of your vehicle.

To engage a center lever parking brake, you just need to pull the parking brake lever up. 

To disengage the handbrake, all you have to do is press the button at the end of the lever and then push the center lever down.

B. Foot Pedal Parking Brake

A foot pedal parking brake system (or foot brake) has a small pedal located to the left of the driver’s footwell. 

The driver’s footwell is the space below the steering wheel that houses the clutch pedal (in a manual transmission vehicle), regular brake pedal, and accelerator pedal. 

To activate the foot brake, you’ll have to press down on the parking brake pedal till you hear a click sound — at this point, your parking brake is engaged. To release the foot brake, locate the lever right above the brake pedal and pull at it.

C. Push Button Parking Brake

The push button parking brake (found in vehicles that use an electric park brake system) is probably the easiest to use.

Simply push the electronic parking brake button on your vehicle’s console to activate the emergency brake. To release the electric parking brake, just press the button once again.

However, regardless of the type of parking brake your vehicle uses, it’s essential to know when and why you should engage your emergency brake.

Next Step

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Smart Entry Start System (For Gasoline-powered Cars)

  • The method of operation may differ depending on the car model. Please check with the staff for details.

How to Start the Engine

Operate the car with the electronic key on you. Ch

Operate the car with the electronic key on you. Check that the parking brake is applied.

Check that the shift lever is in the P position.

Check that the shift lever is in the P position.

Firmly step down on the brake pedal. The Smart Ent

Firmly step down on the brake pedal. The Smart Entry and Start System signal light turns on.

Press the engine switch. Continue stepping down on the brake pedal until the engine starts up.

How to Turn Off the Engine

Operate the car with the electronic key on you. St

Operate the car with the electronic key on you. Stop the car completely. Move the shift lever to the P position.

Apply the parking brake.

Apply the parking brake.

The engine will turn off when you press the engine switch.

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.

What Should You Do In Case Of A Stuck Parking Brake?

Over time, due to environmental exposure and other factors, the parking brake in your vehicle might get stuck. For example, rust in the parking brake cable can cause your parking brake to lock up and cease functioning.

If you’ve got a stuck parking brake, try to get your parking brake system fixed ASAP.

While it can be tempting to try and fix the locked-up parking brake on your own, it’s not advisable. 


Without the right tools (such as jack stands, wheel chocks, lubricants, etc.) and proper expertise, you may not be able to diagnose and fix your parking brake problems properly.

We recommend that you request a mechanic to inspect and fix your car’s parking brake problems.

A mechanic would:

1. Place wheel chocks at the wheels (usually the front wheels) unaffected by the parking brake.

2. Jack up your car and use jack stands to keep the vehicle elevated.

3. Remove the wheel and locate the parking brake cable (for a mechanical parking brake system) or electric motor (for an electric parking brake system).

4. Diagnose what’s causing the parking brake to lock up or get stuck.

5. Service, repair, or replace the parking brake components based on the underlying issue.

6. Reattach the wheels and lower the car to the ground.

7. Engage the hand brake, foot pedal, or electronic parking brake switch to check if it’s working as expected.

Note: When hiring a mechanic to repair your emergency brake, ensure that they:

  • Are ASE-certified
  • Offer you a parking brake service warranty
  • And use only high-quality replacement parts

But where do you find such mechanics?

Dangers of the Emergency Brake

Even though the emergency brake cable is housed in a protective sleeve, with infrequent use, the cable can become corroded and rusted. This can result in cable failure just when you need it the most. Normal use prevents buildup and keeps the cable in good condition, though you should have the emergency brakes routinely inspected, as they sometimes need to be tightened [source: wiseGEEK].

In cold temperatures, the emergency brake cable can become frozen and fail to release when the lever is disengaged. Parking in a garage or other protected area can help you to avoid this problem. But if you have to park outside and it freezes up, you should not attempt to drive your vehicle. Solutions include waiting it out or jacking up the car and using a hairdryer. The best option in freezing weather is to simply not use the emergency brake at all [source: USACE]. If you’re on level ground in a manual vehicle, put the car in first or reverse and skip the e-brake.


­Be aware that in some vehicles, the emergency brake engages the front brakes, not the rear brakes. Knowing which brakes are set and properly chocking your vehicle wheels will protect you in situations where you must jack up the vehicle. Refer to your service manual before you raise the car. Believing the rear brakes are engaged when they aren’t can be extremely dangerous.

Now onto the big question: Is using the emergency brake safe when the other brakes fail? Yes and no. Pulling the brake lever quickly will cause the vehicle to fishtail, lock up or skid, essentially removing control of the vehicle from the driver. But if you’re ever in the highly unlikely but extremely serious situation of having your service brakes fail to function, try to stay calm and pull the emergency brake lever up slow and steady, bringing the vehicle to a longer but more controlled stop.

When E-Brakes Fail, Emergency Brakes and Toilets?

In April of 2008, comedian Jerry Seinfeld was driving in a vintage Fiat when the brakes failed. In an attempt to stop the vehicle, Seinfeld engaged the emergency brakes. They didn’t work. Seinfeld’s vehicle continued on toward an intersection before he jerked the wheel and rolled the car. Luckily, he escaped the frightening adventure unharmed [source: New York Post].

Other vehicles, including trains, use emergency brakes as well. But sometimes, the system is slightly flawed. In November 2008, a Swedish train conductor had to turn off the toilets in his train for fear of setting off the emergency brake system. Turns out the e-brakes are connected to the toilets, so if too many people flush, the train can come to a shrieking halt [source: United Press International].

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Proper use of the Parking Brake

One way to remember to release the parking brake is to engage it as fully as possible, which will make the vehicle slow and hard to drive until the brake is released. This may be difficult to do in winter, when cold temperatures can cause parking brake cables to freeze and fail to disengage. If it is impossible to leave the vehicle in a sheltered place in winter, it is a good idea to let the vehicle warm up before attempting to disengage the parking brake.

Although a parking brake is not normally strong enough to stop a vehicle going at high speeds in the event of a failure in the braking system, it can slow the vehicle down enough for the driver to find a safe solution. Still, it is important to use the brake properly, pulling up slowly and steadily to avoid causing the vehicle to skid or to swerve around the road. Losing control in this way could be just as dangerous as having no brakes, as drivers can panic and steer into another lane or crash into a barrier. However, using the brake slowly and cautiously can help the driver keep the vehicle moving forward steadily.

Using the parking brake regularly is a good habit for all drivers, whether they are operating manual or automatic transmission vehicles. This can help prevent corrosion in the braking system while also giving drivers a better sense of how the brake works. In an emergency, the driver will also know exactly where the brake is and how to engage it, rather than having to think about it. Whenever you drive, be sure to remember your parking brake.


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