Rebecca Bernard
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Do You Really Need To Use Your Parking Brake?

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I don’t know about you, but when I was learning how to drive in my (very flat) part of Ohio, I was taught that the handle next to my right leg was called an emergency brake, and that was what it was for. If I parked on a steep hill, drove a manual transmission vehicle, or my standard brakes failed, I would pull on the handle. Some people have even told me that using that brake too much would cause it to wear out and not be useful in an emergency situation.

Boy, were they wrong. Its proper name is the parking brake, and when reading the owner’s manual of my new Ford Focus, it told me in no uncertain terms to use it every time I parked.

I know several of you are already shaking your heads at me, wondering how I could be so stupid. But I also know that I’m not the only driver in America that believed this. Let me lay it out for you in black and white: Always use your parking brake.

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An automatic transmission is equipped with a device called a parking pawl to stop a car from rolling when it’s in park. In very simple terms, the parking prawl is a metal pin that, when engaged, stops a car’s transmission from sending power to its output shaft. However, this pawl is a relatively small piece of your vehicle, and like every other part it could be damaged or simply fail. Your Mechanic says this is not a terribly common thing, but if it happens, your car, which you’ve invested a fairly large chunk of change in, could end up rolling away.

Applying a parking brake means that there are two things holding your car in place, each one backing the other for the other if the system should malfunction. I should note here that many experts (but not my owner’s manual) recommend not using the parking brake when the temperatures are below freezing, because those brake lines are prone to freezing issues. Before you make any decisions for your own purposes, ask your mechanic and do your own research.

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As for how to how to use your parking brake, I’ll send you to your vehicle’s owner’s manual. While many sites recommend setting the parking brake before shifting to park (to reduce the strain on the parking pawl), my manual specifically tells me to apply the parking brake after I turn off the ignition, and to only use the button on the end of the lever to release it, not apply it.

This might not need to be said, but while we’re on the subject, please do not forget to release the parking break before you drive the vehicle. Leaving on while driving could damage your car’s whole braking system, not just the parking brake.

Source: Your Mechanic

  • Rebecca BernardEditor

    A Dayton native, Rebecca got her start blogging at the curiously named Harlac's Tongue while studying abroad in the UK. She loves tooling around town with her Ford Focus named Thomas Jerome Newton to the song they're playing on the radio. On any given weekend, you can find her with her camera at area festivals, concerts, and car shows, shopping at flea markets, or just taking a hike in an area MetroPark. See more articles by Rebecca.