The Great Parking Brake Debate

Breaking down the two sides of the debate - always apply your parking brake vs no parking brake needed. Which side are you on?

The Great Parking Brake Debate

If you grew up in the early '90s or '00s, you were probably taught that you always engage the parking brake (aka emergency brake) when you put a car into park. It doesn’t matter if it’s a manual or an automatic.

You push that button, or pull that lever and lock the car in place. Be it on a hill or flat space, your mom, your dad, or your driving instructor likely told you that this was a rule never to be broken, for fear of something like what happened to this FedEx driver. It turns out that, on the Internet, the debate about how to properly park is lively and relatively heated.

Reasons To Always Set The Emergency Brake

There are many kinds of hand brakes out there, all of which work differently. Most are controlled by a cable system, whereas others are electronically set that does not use a cable system. When you use a handbrake, it keeps the rear brakes applied by way of a series of steel cables.

This is recommended because many drivers subscribe to the theory that when not in use for a long time those cables can be corroded. The truth is those cables are exposed to the elements underneath your car anyway, and regardless of whether you move them back and forth a few inches every day, they will corrode. If you want a more in-depth discussion of how an emergency braking system works check out the blog post over at Mobil Oil.

Preserve Your Car's Internal Parts
Some drivers also say that applying the parking brake takes pressure off the transmission and other drive components while the car is parked, especially on a hill. As Jean Jennings points out, when you put your automatic transmission into the parking gear, the system engages a pin called the transmission parking pawl.

This stops the drive wheels from turning. As she points out, unless that pawl breaks and you’re parked on a hill, the car isn’t going anywhere.

Reasons To Not Set A Parking Brake

On the who-needs-the-parking-brake-unless-you’re-in-a-manual side, you have people like Jean Jennings who has driven a variety of cars over the last 30 years. She points out that in all her time owning and driving everything from NYC Taxi Cabs to supercars she’s never had a car roll away from her, and she never sets the parking brake.

Some in the no-parking-brake-ever group also point out that most modern cars have a electronic parking brake (EPB) that is supposed to automatically apply in case the car starts to move. It can also be engaged automatically when you put your car into park. A majority of modern luxury cars have these automatic systems.

Benefits Of The EPB

The EPB has been in use since the 2002 BMW 7-series launched. While it was originally slow to roll out to other manufacturers it’s an incredibly common option with any car made after 2010. According to ZF TRW, the major manufacturer of the EPB, there are more than 15 million cars on the roads today that have this technology.

The benefits of an EPB don’t stop there either. According to Bengt Halverson over at The Car Connection, the EPB saves weight: up to 16 lbs versus other parking brake technology. The EPB also works with the antilock braking system (ABS) and can stop all four wheels in an emergency.

Why Emergency Brake Systems Are Necessary

In the case of parking a manual transmission car, it’s always best to set the parking brake and leave the car in gear. Car Talk has a long discussion about this.

When you put your manual into gear while parking, nothing is locked in place. If your dog jumps into the back seat of your car or if you climb in, especially if you are on a hill, the car could slide out of gear and start rolling away. It’s always best to set the emergency brake in any manual car.

So it seems the big debate really comes down to the age, make and model of your car. All parking brake systems vary so check your manual for the best practices to keep your car from rolling away. Generally, your owner's manual will have good advice you should stick to, to increase the lifespan of your car and its systems. If you can't decide either way if whether or not to set the brake, just set it. This process takes about half of a second of your time and could stop your car from rolling into a house or, Heaven forbid, another car.

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Abigail BassettAbigail Bassett

Digital media content producer/consultant & former CNN senior producer, now running CN'TRL : Cars, Tech, Real Estate & Luxury.