Monday, April 28, 2014

Correctly using the parking brake.

The parking brake in your car is just that - a parking brake. Not a handbrake. Not an e-brake. Not an emergency brake. In fact, in the event of an emergency, the last control in the car that you want to touch is the parking brake. Locking the rear wheels at any speed will result in a spin.
When I moved to the US I was appalled at how many people (read : it seems to be everyone) don't know the most basic things about the parking brake. Like why you use it when you're stopped at an intersection.
I'll tell you why - if someone rear-ends you at an intersection, and you only have your foot on the regular brake, two things will happen. (1) you will jerk your foot off the brake because of the rear impact, which means that (2) you will either run into the car in front, or worse - roll into the intersection into oncoming or crossing traffic.
However - if you have the parking brake on, your foot coming off the brakes makes no difference, and the distance you will be pushed will be considerably reduced, and as an added bonus, you won't roll anywhere.
When I moved to the US and had to sit a driving test, the examiner thought I was bit funny in the head to use the parking brake at every intersection, until I explained the above to him, at which point he said "I'd never heard of that before." And he was not only a driving instructor - he was a tester/examiner! Explains a lot about how people drive around here.
I went on to explain to him why I always waited to turn across traffic with my wheels straight too. It's the same principal. If someone runs into you from behind, and your wheels are turned, you'll be shunted across the road into oncoming traffic. At least if the wheels are straight you'll go more or less straight ahead. Again - total confusion from the examiner.
Here's another tip for automatic gearboxes - the pawl that drops into the notch on the outside of the main clutch housing when you put the car in "Park" is not very strong. Not really strong enough to keep the car stationary on anything other than level ground. Sure - you just throw the car in "park" when on hills and everywhere, but that is slowly eating away the edge of that notch and one day, the parking pawl will slip out and your car will take off with the gear shifter firmly in "P". So here's the tip : use the parking brake every time your park - it reduces the chances of the "P" setting in the gearbox giving up on you one day.
What's worrying about all this was illustrated when we went to a 'new owners' evening at the dealership where we bought our car. It was one of those freebies to explain the nuances of that particular brand, with free drinks and snacks, in the hope that we'd buy accessories or something. Anyway, one driver asked "when should I use the emergency brake?" (aagh - it's not a fucking EMERGENCY brake!) The "expert" from the dealership said - verbatim - "Never - I don't know why they even bother putting them in cars any more."


Paul said...

Agree and disagree with you here Chris.
I do agree that it should be used when parked, I always do (well ok, In the Charger it is a foot operated parking brake and I have been known to not use it if I'm parked on level ground and am stopping to get a drink from a gas station) but the idea of using it when stopped at lights, or a stop sign, or a yield (if I have to stop) seems a little strange to me although I do understand your reasoning. And, I'm from New Zealand and learnt to drive there. I've never heard of that practice.
As for the terms hand brake or emergency brake, I can understand why it is called a hand brake because you activate most of them with your hand. Maybe that's a non-American term as I've never seen a car outside the US that has a foot operated park brake. As for emergency brake, I agree that that term is incorrect and could be misunderstood.

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Anonymous said...

I too agree and disagree with you Chris. I use the parking brake when parked, if I think it's necessary. If I'm parked on a level surface such that there is no stress on an automatic, or no pressure on a manual, I don't use the parking brake. However, when not on a level surface, I do, and I engage the parking brake before I release the foot brake, so as to keep the stress off the transmission. It sounds like you have never driven a car with a foot-operated parking brake, because to release the brake, you usually have to blindly grope under the dash to find the brake release, not something you really want to do every time you stop.

I also have used the hand brake to stop my car, and keep from hitting the car in front of me, when the brake master cylinder on my car failed and I had no brakes. So, it *can* be useful in some emergency situations.

And the one time I was rear-ended, my foot did *not* come off the brake pedal. Maybe that was an exception, I don't know.

I do keep my wheels straight at a stop when I am going to make a left turn across oncoming traffic for exactly the reason you stated.

Al said...

Citroën DS cars with hydraulic shift have the parking brake operated with the left foot. The purpose is to hold the car on a slope while you take your right foot off the main brakes pedal and move it to the accelerator pedal. The parking brake release knob can be locked in the "release" position so that when releasing the parking brake you don't have to pull the parking brake release. Manual shift cars have a pull handle in the earlier years; late in production all have a foot pedal parking brake.
Citroëns with inline engines have their parking brakes on the front wheels. Pre-1965 ones have a parking brake integrated in the front brake calipers; later ones have separate parking brake calipers with rather small pads unsuitable for much of an emergency application despite acting on the front wheels.

Typical FWD cars have the parking brake on the rear brakes. As they generally have only about ⅓ of the car's weight on the rear wheels, depending on the fuel and car loading, the rear brakes alone may not hold the car on a downgrade (front of the car downhill), especially on very steep grades and slippery surfaces. In such situations the "P" lock is essential.
Using the "P" without the parking brake on a steep grade can cause park lock, making it difficult or impossible to pull the selector lever out of "P" position. It may come out with a "bang!" Or you may have to get someone to push your car uphill with his car or truck to take pressure off the park sprag. Better to use a tow strap.

The parking brake is better than nothing if you have a total hydraulic brake failure. Rare since the mandate of dual circuit brakes.

I saw a car bump into a Cadillac Escalade in a grocery parking lot. The 'Lade rolled off making a "klunk, klunk, klunk" noise, the sound of the parking sprag banging in and out of the notched wheel. It rolled off down a slight grade and crashed into the side of another car.
If the Escalade driver had applied the parking brake this would not have happened, even with a defective "P" function.

Anonymous said...

Parking brakes are unnecessary and and cause more trouble than they're worth with rusting, icing, etc. Chris is also a pompous ass. Ever consider the probability of being hit from behind at an intersection? Sure, it happens, but it's a tossup as to whether it's better to absorb the full impact or roll into the car in front/intersection. (Call your local physicist and statistician to estimate risk in either case). Nobody I know has ever had a problem with the Park setting "wearing out." Ever. Could be because we gringos know how to properly curb our cars when we park on hills. I even had a Volvo once whose owner's manual cautioned against using the P-brake in the winter because it could freeze. The anal use of the P-brake is done in UK because it's always been done that way.
P.S.: Many years ago, it was a "fucking emergency brake." It was to be used in the event the main breaking system failed. Asshole.

Chris said...

Anonymous (september 13) : might want to go and visit all the manufacturers and inform them they're wrong if you think it's still an "emergency" brake. It's NEVER been used as an emergency brake - no parking brake has enough power to stop a vehicle. It's designed as a holding mechanism to keep an already-stopped vehicle from moving accidentally.
Similarly, just because 'nobody you know' has ever had the parking pawl fail on an automatic gearbox doesn't mean it doesn't happen. It's pretty common actually - look it up on the NHTSA stats if you have the time. (If you rely on the parking pawl, you're keeping the entire driveline and transmission under stress every time you're parked, especially on a hill.)
While you're there, look up the most common accidents - being rear-ended is right up there in the top 3. Again - just because it hasn't happened to you doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

Anonymous again said...

Poor reading comprehension: Was = past tense. That is why some people still use the term "emergency brake." I never said it is intended to be used that way now.

I would also point out that one is not "parked" at an intersection, only stopped. Same holds true if one is in the middle of a block waiting for the person in front to turn left. Use of the parking brake is inappropriate in either case; it completely eliminates the possibility of evasive action. Best bet is to remain ALERT and check the rear view mirror as well as forward and both sides. It keeps more options open-preparing for the impact is my last choice, but at least I will know it's coming.

Again, there is little stress on the driveline/transmission when parking on a hill if your wheels are properly curbed. Look that up.
I do agree with the part about keeping wheels straight when stopped.

Steve said...

I am living in Australia and am currently having the same argument with the people I work with. Let me give you some background first - I have driven for 35 years, mostly in the UK, but also in Germany (great drivers by the way) and Europe. I have always driven manual and was taught to use the handbrake every time you come to a standstill (traffic lights and stop signs etc). What I am seeing now in Australia is particularly bad driving all round, but when it comes to traffic lights, sooo many of them roll backwards because they are not taught to use the handbrake and while some can recognise a slope, many do not. The argument has made me realise how polarised people are on the subject, but the argument against using the handbrake is flawed for the following reasons: 1. people are inherently lazy and even reasonable drivers occasionally dont realise they are on a slope - by getting into the habit of using the handbrake (not emergency brake or any other name, it is another brake that is initiated by hand and allows full use and control of the car by freeing the feet), they are far less likely to lose control (even for a second). 2. Less wear on the clutch, which are expensive to replace. 3. Once you have practised with using it at lights you will not delay anybody - I do not even think about it and (like Chris says) I effectively do a hill start and so NEVER get caught out. 4. Its just lazy and gash not to.
The drivers in Australia have many bad habits that they (surprisingly) defend, not using the handbrake and riding the bumper in front are just 2 of many.
Chris is spot on and if you go to this site you will see that using the handbrake is recommended to pass a test: http:/ Even without this evidence it simply makes sense.

Steve said...

By the way, Automatics and also cars with foot-operated parking brakes are a whole different ball game and separate argument because it is a different process to move off.
I am also of the belief that driving an automatic makes drivers lazy and more 'disconnected' with what is happening around them. Older automatics often roll back when the driver takes his foot off the foot brake to engage the accelerator (have had a few moments when I thought they would hit me) and the rear brake lights definitely dazzle - especially in the wet! (more so now that the car bulbs are getting more efficient and brighter).

Steve said...

To 'Anonymous' your comments are mostly rants (Sep 13). The advice to Volvo drivers about not using the handbrake in case it freezes was probably aimed at drivers in Sweden, where everything freezes and probably meant when using it overnight, not briefly at traffic lights. Handbrakes do not rust if used often (like at every traffic light for instance). You spoke (ranted) about 'risk' and I would say that there is a greater risk of somebody not realising they are on a slope and rolling back if NOT using the handbrake than if they always used it. By the way, your swearing in print makes me picture one of the many angry, impatient, discourteous (usually young) drivers that I have seen so many of.

Anonymous said...

Steve: The interweb ate my response, so I will summarize. 1) Chris initiated the "swearing" on Ap 28; I only quoted him. To me, asshole is a descriptor and not really swearing. 2) Your reading comprehension is as poor as Chris', and your comments about hand-operated and foot-operated "parking" brakes (per Chris) are illogical. They are installed for the same purpose, perform the same function, yet you suggest they should be used differently. 3) I'm not angry, impatient, discourteous or young; I just dislike being preached to by those who don't know what they're talking about. 4) It seems to me the same inattentive drivers who wouldn't realize they are on a slope also would not notice a stopped car in front of them. Thus, I will remain alert when stopped to keep my options open. The parking brake will be off.

Anonymous said...

I've never seen anyone putting on their emergency (oops, parking) brake while stopping to an intersection and if you have your foot firmly on the brake you won't most likely let it go (but this is just my opinion). I've also seen people putting into park at a red light so they can take their foot off the brake (like it was a fatiguing thing keeping it down).

I certainly agree with you about using the parking brake whenever you park your vehicle, so you put less strain on the transmission (and you prevent it from prematurely breaking down) and give the vehicle a better hold on a slope.

I also recommend that whenever you park on an incline you follow these steps:

1. Select Neutral
2. Firmly and completely engage your parking brake
3. Take your foot off the brake pedal and make sure the vehicle is not going anywhere
4. Steer your wheels properly
5. Put your foot on the brake, select Park and turn off the engine

If you do so when you park, not only you prevent your parking pawl from breaking down, but you make sure your car won't go anywhere