How to Use a Parking Brake

by Jody L. Campbell

The parking brake mechanism in your car is a simple device. When applied, it extends the rear shoes or contracts the rear pads (depending on what type of rear brakes you have) and holds the weight of the vehicle by the rear brakes. Since the rear brakes only apply about 25 percent of the car's braking response, it's important to use the parking brake every time the vehicle is parked, no matter if it has a manual or automatic transmission. This diligent effort will help keep all the mechanisms that comprise the parking brake system functioning properly and, in some cases, keep the rear brakes adjusted.

Step 1

Drive the vehicle into the desired parking space and stop the vehicle with the foot brake.

Step 2

Place the vehicle into neutral gear with your foot still on the foot brake pedal.

Step 3

Apply the parking brake mechanism with the vehicle still in neutral and your foot on the brake pedal. There are different parking brake handle or pedal mechanisms in different vehicle makes and models.

Step 4

Place the vehicle into the desired gear (for manual transmissions, a popular gear is first) or park (for automatic transmissions). Release the foot brake pedal and turn the vehicle ignition off. This applies the parking brake before the transmission pawl is engaged against the transmission spline (in automatic transmission applications).

Reverse the procedure when you're ready to move the vehicle again. Start the vehicle with your foot on the brake pedal. Shift the vehicle into the desired gear position and then release the parking brake.


  • If you're not in the habit of using the parking brake, it's not uncommon to forget to release it. This will obviously cause undue stress to the vehicle as you will literally be driving with the rear brakes applied. However, people are creatures of habit and it shouldn't take long to get into the routine of always using your parking brake when you park (whether the vehicle is on a hill or not) and releasing it before driving away. The common misnomers of a parking brake is that it will "freeze" in cold weather if applied. As long as you use it regularly, it should not freeze. It could easily "seize" by getting stuck on the on position if you do not use it regularly and suddenly discover a need to use it once it a great while. Since the parking brake systems is composed of a three or more cables that when applied activate the rear brakes, the metal components of the system can easily rust and deteriorate if not used regularly. Always use your parking brake or never use your parking brake. Most states the conduct safety inspections on vehicles require a working parking brake. If you do not use it and the safety inspection station tests it for proper operation, it could easily stick or fail and incur expensive repair charges to restore the parking brake system.

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