“Parking” Brakes

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Hi Eric,

I have a beef. Cars used to have emergency brakes. I’ve been thankful to have them because I’ve had a couple of situations that could have ended in tragedy if I did not. One of them came when a muscle-bound clod cut my brake line because I owned a car that looked exactly like the car of someone that pissed him off. When I came to an intersection on a hill, I (and the opposing traffic) was lucky I was able to stop quickly and safely. Another time my brakes just failed on me and I was able to drive safely to have them repaired.

Now, without fanfare, the emergency brake has morphed into a “parking brake”. The difference is clear: an emergency brake stops a car. A parking brake slows a car. Sure, a parking brake will stop a car over time, but when brakes fail, you’re not likely to realize it until it’s an “emergency”.

I was told that this change occurred because there were yahoos out there who were not in uniform who were using their emergency brakes to pull 180s in their cars. I don’t know if this is the reason why we don’t have them anymore, but the recklessness of some yahoos is not a proper justification for removing a life-saving feature from our cars.


  1. Actually, terminology aside, the original poster is right: newer cars are taking longer to stop with their parking brake. I would love to see some performance comparisons.

    Problem one: Weight distribution. Ideally, weight should be 60% in the back, as Porche does. Our cars are loaded ~60% in the FRONT. Thus, 70%-85% of the braking force has to occur at the front wheels. Why so much? Because when applying brakes, the rear wheels pivot the car’s weight forward, which is why the rear suspension suddenly seems to be unloaded and the front acts as if it’s heavily loaded.. because it is. This further reduces the effectiveness of the rear wheels, which were already ineffectually light. Thus, trying to stop a car with just the parking brake, you’ll find your rear wheels skid and accomplish less than it seems they should.

    Problem two: Many newer parking brakes mechanically activate a caliper, which is a bad idea. The traditional choice was drums, which are “self energizing”: the motion or attempted motion of the car helps to activate the brake further, like driving a wedge under a spinning wheel. A caliper doesn’t, and thus requires significantly more mechanical pressure for the same braking action, and since that mechanical power has to come from a human, that’s a problem. So why the change? Because dealers put up a little check mark that says “4-wheel disk brakes” and made it a premium option. They still could have included auxiliary drums for the parking brake to compensate, but that cuts into their bottom line, and no customer asks, “What type of parking brake does it have?” LOL.

    And don’t get me started on computerized parking brakes. Demand your new cars have an emergency braking device that operates at your command and instantaneously, not one that processes your request and may or may not do what you ask it to when you ask it to by pushing a button.

    • Fun story related to this. My 48 willys jeep has a 5th brake drum located between the transmission and the drive shaft operated only by the emergency brake handle. Im a huge fan. It sees so much less wear that I trust it in the event of total brake system failure.

  2. The change in name is more for typical function and probably lawyering. The device is unchanged.

    Even back in the ’emergency brake’ days the handle could be something that would be difficult to operate while driving. Such as the ford T-handle in the dash. Now a days every car I know has the center console mounted lever, which is actually more useful in an emergency. Not sure if anything still comes with a bench seat or how it works in such vehicles. I suppose it would still be something like the ford T-handle or small ratchet pedal.


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