What is the purpose of a car and truck’s emergency brake?

Parking on a hill does not feel secure on its own. As you prepare to get out of your car, you find yourself wondering if it will be in the same position when you return. Will it roll down the incline? For extra peace of mind and your vehicle’s security, you have an emergency brake system. These brakes help you protect other people and property, too.

This simple safety system of backup brakes hold your vehicle in place. Below, we explore emergency brakes and when you need to use them.

What is an Emergency Brake?

Emergency brakes do not work as part of your main brake system. Instead, car and truck emergency brakes work on their own to keep your vehicle in place. You also hear these brakes called parking brakes, e-brakes and hand brakes. Whatever you call them, they provide backup security should your main brakes fail.

In the past, emergency brakes also helped vehicles stop while driving. They do not perform this function in modern vehicles. Instead, car and truck emergency brakes of today only serve a parking security purpose.

How Emergency Brakes Work

Emergency brakes work independently of your vehicle’s regular hydraulic braking system. They lock the wheels in place using cables attached to the hand lever in your passenger compartment.

These brakes work in one of two ways, depending on whether your vehicle has drum brakes or disc brakes. For drum brakes, the cables activate a lever that causes the brake shoes to hold your car or truck in place. For disc brakes, pulling the e-brake lever causes a corkscrew mechanism and piston to pressure the brake pads. This, in turn, holds the vehicle where you leave it.

Four Types of Parking Brakes

Your vehicle has one of four types of parking brakes. These include:

  • Pedal
    These emergency brakes activate when you push a small pedal on the floor and adjacent to your clutch, gas and brake pedals.
  • Center Lever
    Mostly in late-model cars and trucks equipped with bucket seats, you find the e-brake between the two front seats. You pull the lever up to activate the parking brake and release it by pushing the lever down.
  • Push Button
    Using an electronic system, this e-brake is activated through a button on the dash console.
  • Stick Lever
    Primarily found in older cars and trucks, this type of e-brake is typically found beneath other instruments around or on the steering column.

When to Use Your Emergency Brake

You should not just reserve use of your parking brakes on hills. If you drive a vehicle with a manual transmission, you must use this brake every time you park your vehicle. In automatic vehicles, use of the parking brake is not required. But it is a good idea to use the backup system, whether you park on an incline or not.

Regular use of your e-brake keeps it working as it should. Not using it enables it to corrode. Then, when you really need it, the corroded brake could fail.

Simply activate this brake every time you park. It provides you with extra security and peace of mind, while also reducing the stress placed on your driveline and transmission when you park.

If you have a brake failure while driving, you can use your emergency brakes to help you bring the vehicle to a stop. Slowly apply it for safety. But it will not suddenly jolt the car to a stop, instead easing it into place.

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