Reader Question: Parking Brake Doesn’t Hold?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Bret asks: My parking brake engages but it doesn’t hold the car, which I discovered the other day when it rolled back after I had “parked” it. The car has a manual transmission and I usually leave it in neutral with the parking brake applied. Usually, the brake holds it just fine but this it didn’t. I was lucky I was able to jump back in and stop it from rolling down my driveway and into a culvert. Any thoughts on why the parking brake engages but doesn’t hold?

My reply: The parking brake – the old school manual/mechanical type with a foot lever you depress or a handle you pull – needs occasional adjustment to take up slack that develops in the cable as the (rear) brake pads/shoes (if rear discs) wear.

There is usually an adjustment nut on the cable – a service manual will tell you where, exactly – that you turn in or out to increase/decrease the play on the cable. Once properly adjusted, the brake should hold the car in place again. But you probably ought to make doubly sure by putting the transmission in gear rather than neutral when parking/leaving it!

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  1. I think I was 14 the first time I ever got into this dilemma. I had to install brakes on my pickup since they didn’t work(worn plumb out)and neither did the parking brakes. After installing new brakes I noticed I had parking brakes again but not to the point I though they should hold like my buddy’s brand new 62 Ford pickup. Then I found the adjustment on them and they good.

    But ever since then when I do a brake job I adjust the parking brake cable right up there to where the smallest pull will set them and have never had to readjust my cable again. If nothing is worn but the brakes and drums, then getting the shoes tight to the drums(or same on disc), the parking brake is tight also. If the disc or drum is worn and you tighten with an automatic tensioner or do it manually, there could be a little slack but I’ve never had that problem again. I did pull up to the gate and apply the brake and when I got ready to do it broke but that’s a different thing. I only needed to get another pull cable end. I was accustomed to really putting a bind on the parking brake since I was often pulling a trailer. Too bad you can’t get a steel end for the cable. Same thing happened with the wife’s car on the hood release. Instead of buying all those new plastic pieces that are bolted to the floor beside the seat, I clamped a tiny set of vice grips to the cable and they’re still there.


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