Your emergency or parking brake ensures your vehicle stays in place when stopped. Without it, your car could roll or even damage the automatic transmission.
If you suspect that your emergency brake isn’t working, there could be more than one culprit.
In this article, we’ll cover the top five reasons why your emergency brake isn’t working, how to diagnose a faulty emergency brake, and signs that indicate a failing e-brake. We’ll also answer some frequently asked questions towards the end.
This Article Contains:
- Why Is My Emergency Brake Not Working? Top 5 Reasons
- How to Diagnose a Faulty Emergency Brake
- Signs That Your Emergency Brake Is Failing
- 4 Emergency Brake FAQs
Let’s brake it down.
Why Is My Emergency Brake Not Working? Top 5 Reasons
Mechanical problems aren’t unheard of; however, you should always take the ones involving your brakes seriously. Here are some factors that could affect your emergency brake:
1. Faulty Cable
A faulty parking brake cable won’t be tight enough to deliver enough pressure to the parking brake shoes or brake pad (in rear disc brakes). Please ensure that the rear cable on both sides are attached to the rear brakes for it to work effectively.
2. Worn Parts
Sometimes, the malfunction stems from worn parking brake shoes (in a drum brake system) or parking brake pads (in disc brakes). Worn parking brake pads no longer have enough grip to keep your vehicle in place.
3. Brake Shoes in a Poor Position
Improperly positioned brake shoes won’t provide proper contact resulting in a faulty parking brake. Adjusting any brake shoe usually requires the removal of the wheel, brake drum, or rotor and brake caliper (if you have disc brakes with an embedded drum parking brake mechanism.)
How does the adjustment work?
A drum-type braking system has a star wheel. The star wheel “self-adjusts” the distance of the shoe from the drum when you apply the brakes during reverse motion. Additionally, you can manually rotate the star wheel through a slot in the backing plate. This’ll help move the shoes away from the drum for removal or place them close to the drum after replacement.
4. Rust and Corrosion
5. A Frozen Parking Brake
Cold and wet weather can cause your brakes to freeze, and you’ll end up with a frozen parking brake. Since the parking brake consists of springs and cables inside a sheath, water can become trapped and freeze solid during freezing temperatures. This ice prevents the cable from sliding inside the sheath.
Luckily it can be “thawed” easily. Simply allow your vehicle to warm up before driving.
Now you know why your emergency brake might not be working.
Let’s look at ways to diagnose a faulty hand brake.
How to Diagnose a Faulty Emergency Brake
If you suspect your e-brake is faulty, call your mechanic ASAP so they can do some troubleshooting to confirm and fix the issue.
Here’s how they’ll do that:
1. Inspect the Parking Brake Lever or Pedal
Sometimes, lack of use can cause a stuck parking lever (brake handle) or pedal (in modern vehicles) that affects the operation of your vehicle. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to identify and fix a stuck emergency brake lever.
To check if the parking lever or pedal needs to be adjusted, your mechanic will:
- Park your car on flat ground and put it in park (if it’s automatic) or in first gear (for manual transmission).
- Use wheel chocks to secure the rear tires and then engage the parking brake.
- Gently wiggle the brake lever or pedal to see if it’s stuck. You could be dealing with a stuck parking brake because of rusty hinges or broken pins.
- Check for a broken or frayed emergency brake cable attachment. If there’s a bolt attached, they’ll check if the nut came loose.
- Try to reset the parking brake pedal or hand lever.
Fix: Adjust the Parking Brake Lever
Use a trim tool to detach the parking brake lever bezel and remove the protective boot from the lever to access the adjustable bolt. Tighten the adjustor bolt with a deep socket, extension, and ratchet.
2. Inspect the Parking Brake Cable
Your mechanic will want to inspect the emergency brake cable during this brake job. Your parking brake system can’t do its job if it’s damaged.
To examine the cable, your mechanic will:
- Use a floor jack or jack stands to lift your car.
- Once the parking brake cable is located, they’ll visually inspect it along the undercarriage for any wear or tear.
- Check if any bolts and mounts came loose.
- Check for signs of damage at connections where the rear brakes meet the rear cable.
Fix: Inspect and Fix the E-Brake Cable
Check that the e-brake cable is in good condition and connected to the brake drum. Replace or reconnect a faulty cable.
3. Inspect the Rear Drum Shoes or Brake Pads
During the brake repair, your mechanic will secure your vehicle and check the rear brake drum shoes or pads.
They’ll do the following:
- Loosen the lug nuts on each rear wheel.
- Raise the vehicle off the floor.
- Remove the lug nuts on the rear wheel to remove the wheels.
- For vehicles with rear drums:
- Hit the side of the rear drums with a sledgehammer. This frees it up from the wheel studs.
- Remove the drums.
- Check if the rear brake shoe is broken or worn.
- If your car has rear disc brakes:
- They’ll remove the caliper and check the rear brake pads for wear.
- If your car has rear disc brakes but a drum parking brake mechanism, they’ll remove the disc brakes and the brake rotor (rear rotor) to access the drum parking brake.
Fix: Replace the Brake Shoes or Brake Pads
A worn-out rear brake shoe or brake pad (if used as the e-brake mechanism) can cause emergency brake failure. So, the solution is to get these replaced.
Before contacting a mechanic to look at your brakes, let’s identify which signs point to a failing parking brake.
Signs That Your Emergency Brake Is Failing
Here are a few signs that point to potential e-brake failure:
- Observe your vehicle on non-level ground after applying the e-brake. If your car moves, your e-brake is bad.
- On some vehicles, the emergency brake light showing on the dash is a clear sign of a bad e-brake.
- If your vehicle fails a parking brake inspection, the parking brake is most definitely failing.
Note: Automatic transmission vehicles have a parking pawl inside. However, the parking pawl isn’t strong enough to hold the vehicle in place under heavy loads, which is why your car has an e-brake. If your e-brake is faulty, you shouldn’t rely on the pawl as a substitute. A damaged pawl can seriously affect your transmission and could turn into a costly repair.
Now it’s time to discuss some emergency brake FAQs.
4 Emergency Brake FAQs
Here are the answers to four questions about the emergency brake:
1. How Much Does it Cost to Fix an Emergency Brake?
Since you won’t need new parts for this service, it could cost around $106 – $130. The mechanic can take around 1 hr 30 mins to complete the job.
2. How Does the Emergency Brake Work?
Your emergency braking system connects to your rear brakes. It has a series of cables connected to the brake handle in your vehicle, and when you pull this lever, the brakes should engage. Most e-brake systems have a button that releases the brakes so you can lower the hand lever.
The majority of vehicles have primary brakes with disk brakes on the front and a rear drum brake system. The rear drums function doubly as the emergency brake to hold the vehicle stationary when parked. That’s why if your rear brakes have worn linings, your parking brake won’t hold the car still.
3. How to Prevent Parking Brake Failure?
There are a few things you can do to avoid brake failure:
- Use Your Parking Brake Regularly: Using your parking brake more prevents the brake cables from eroding and helps avoid potential failure.
- Let Your Vehicle Warm up: Letting your vehicle warm up can be a simple but slightly time-consuming fix. However, cold and wet weather can cause your parking brake to freeze, so letting your vehicle warm up will help.
- Don’t Pull Too Hard: Pulling on the e-brake too hard can cause it to get stuck. If you have a stuck parking brake, you could try to engage and release the brake a couple of times to see if that works. You could also try and pull the cable under the vehicle, or if it’s safe — rock the wheel.
If you’re uncomfortable getting under the car or unsure how to do it safely, try calling your mechanic.
4. Are There Different Types of Parking Brakes?
According to the Toyota Motor Corporation, there are three hand brake types:
1. Pedal Parking Brake: This engages when you press down the brake pedal and parking brake pedal.
2. Lever Parking Brake: It activates when you pull up the brake lever while stepping on the brake pedal.
3. Electronic Parking Brake: Automatic transmission cars have an electronic parking brake that automatically engages when you shift the lever into the P position.
Note: Other vehicle manufacturers may have a slightly different configuration for their parking brakes.
Driving with faulty primary brakes or a malfunctioning e-brake is not recommended. You should sort out any brake-related issues immediately. With that in mind, ensure you contact a trustworthy mechanic to handle your brake repair.
AutoNation Mobile Service is a mobile mechanic service with qualified technicians available seven days a week. Easily book an appointment with us using our convenient online booking system.
All repairs done by us come with a 12-month | 12,000-mile service warranty.
Contact AutoNation Mobile Service today for any brake job, and let us bring the auto shop to you.