How to use the handbrake in cars? Check when and how to use it!

Team AckodriveJun 7, 2022

A car has two types of brakes: one operated by your foot via a pedal and the other operated by your hand via a hand lever; hence the latter is called handbrake or parking brake since it’s mainly used when you park your car. It can also come in handy in emergencies, which we will elaborate on in the following sections of this article. So, how do you use a handbrake in cars? This article throws light on when and how to use a parking brake.

How to use the handbrake in cars?

What is a hand brake system in a car?

The handbrake in cars is a type of brake that you operate with your hand via a lever located next to the driver's seat. Typically you can activate the parking brake in a car by pressing the button on the lever and pulling it upwards. Once done, you can release the button. Modern vehicles also come with a button to engage the parking brake. The button is also located near the gear lever.

Some high-end cars even come with automatic handbrakes. It automatically engages when you stop the vehicle and disengages when you step on the throttle pedal.

How does a handbrake work?

When you pull the handbrake lever, it engages the rear brakes. It is generally used to prevent the car from rolling forward/backwards when it’s parked. Go through the points below to understand the car handbrake working mechanism.

  • A metallic cable connects the lever to the rear brakes.

  • When you pull the parking brake lever, the cable squeezes the brake pads//brake shoes onto the discs or the drum to engage the rear brakes.

  • Some cars also come with separate discs and brake pads on the rear axle, specifically for the handbrake.

  • Modern automatic cars come with an electronic handbrake that works on the same principle.

  • When you press/pull the parking brake button, it engages the electric motors that push the pads onto the discs.

How to use a handbrake in a car?

As mentioned earlier, operating the handbrake in cars is straightforward. Depending on your car model, you either pull the lever or press/pull a button. However, the process of engaging the handbrake may differ depending on the type of gearbox. Below is the step-by-step procedure to use a handbrake in a car.

How to use a handbrake in an automatic car?

After you park the car

  • Step 1: Bring the car to a complete stop.

  • Step 2: Press the brake pedal and shift the gear lever into ‘Park’ mode.

  • Step 3: Push the button at the end of the lever and begin to pull the lever.

  • Step 4: Pull the lever until it feels tense and release the button.

  • Step 5: Ensure that you have engaged the handbrake by checking the parking brake light on the dashboard.

  • Step 6: Release the brake pedal.

When you are ready to drive

  • Step 1: Press the brake pedal.

  • Step 2: Shift the gear selector lever into ‘Drive’ mode.

  • Step 3: Slightly lift the parking brake lever and press the button at the end of the lever.

  • Step 4: Push the lever all the way down and release the button.

  • Step 5: Check the dashboard if the parking brake light has disappeared to ensure that you have disengaged the handbrake.

  • Step 6: Release the brake pedal and press the accelerator pedal to drive off.

Note: In case of an electronic parking brake, press/pull the button to engage the handbrake. Similarly, press/push the button down to disengage the parking brake.

Also, read: Best Automatic Cars under Rs. 10 lakhs in India

How to use a handbrake in a manual car?

After you park the car

  • If you have parked the car on flat ground, you can shift to neutral and pull the handbrake lever. 

  • If you park the car on an uphill road, shift to first gear and engage the handbrake by pulling the lever.

  • If you park the car on a downhill, shift to reverse gear and pull the handbrake lever.

When you are ready to drive

  • Press the brake pedal and release the handbrake. Shift to first gear while engaging the clutch and drive off.

  • If you park the car on an uphill road, you can use the handbrake to stop the vehicle from rolling backwards. Press the clutch pedal and shift to first gear. Press the throttle until you reach an optimum RPM. Then slowly release the clutch until you feel the bite. Release the handbrake, and the vehicle will move forward.

Also, read: What is RPM in cars?

What is the use of a handbrake in a car?

The primary use of a handbrake in a car is to stop the vehicle from rolling forward/backwards when parked/stopped. Apart from that, a parking brake can act as a hill-hold assist for uphill starts. Lastly, you can also use it as an emergency brake if the main brakes fail.

When to use a handbrake?

Now you know the use of a handbrake in a vehicle, but when do you use it? You can use the parking brake in different situations. This section throws light on different scenarios where you can use the handbrake.

  • When you park the car: You can use the handbrake when you park the car. The parking brake stops the car from rolling forward/backwards even if you have parked the car on an uphill/downhill. However, for safety reasons, you may also slot the gearbox into first gear so that if the handbrake fails, your car will not move.

  • When waiting at a traffic signal: Instead of continuously pressing the brake pedal, you can engage the handbrake while waiting at a red traffic signal. It also acts as a safety measure if your car is hit from behind. The handbrake will not allow the vehicle to suddenly move forward into oncoming traffic if the car is rear-ended. In contrast, your foot may come off the brake pedal if the vehicle is hit from behind.

  • When the brakes fail: The handbrake is also called an emergency brake. That’s because if the main brakes fail, you can use the parking brake to slow down/stop the vehicle. However, the handbrake will only apply the rear brakes, and the rear wheels may lock up, and the car may spin out of control. Hence, use the handbrake only if the main brakes fail.

  • For uphill starts: As mentioned earlier, you can use the parking brake as a hill-hold assist for uphill starts. You can do it by controlling the clutch and throttle before you disengage the handbrake. But if you own a modern car with a hill-hold assist function, you need not manually engage the handbrake. The system will automatically do it for you and release the parking brake after a few seconds.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Below are some of the most commonly asked questions and their answers related to the handbrake system of a car.

What happens if I drive my car with the handbrake engaged?

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If you drive the car with the parking brake engaged, it may wear out the rear brakes to the point they may suffer a total failure. If you forget to release the handbrake and drive your car, you should immediately get your rear brakes checked as it may cause severe damage to the brake pads/shoes and rotors/drums.

Can I park my car without a handbrake?

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Technically you can park your car without engaging the parking brake. But it is not safe to do so as the vehicle may roll forward/backwards depending on the surface you have parked the car. Hence, it’s better to use the handbrake whenever you park the car.

What is the difference between a parking brake and a handbrake?

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There is no difference; the parking brake and handbrake are the same. Some car manufacturers like to call it a parking brake, while others refer to it as a handbrake. In the end, both systems are identical and do the same job.

How do I release the handbrake in my car?

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To release the handbrake, you need to press the button on the lever and push it all the way down and release the button. If your car has an electronic parking brake, you need to push the button down or press the handbrake button. To confirm whether the handbrake is released, you can check the dashboard. If you don’t see the handbrake light, it means you have successfully disengaged the parking brake.

Can I use the handbrake if my car’s main brakes fail?

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Yes, you can use the parking brake as an emergency brake if your car’s main brakes suffer a total failure. But you need to be cautious before attempting such a manoeuvre. Since the handbrake engages the rear brakes, you may lock up the rear wheels, and the car may spin out of control. Hence, be gentle with the handbrake and use it only as a last resort in case of a brake failure.

Can I use the handbrake for an uphill start?

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Yes, you can use the handbrake as a hill-hold assist for uphill starts. Start the car, engage the clutch and shift to first gear. Then gently press the throttle pedal and increase the RPM (Revolutions Per Minute). Next, you can slowly release the clutch till you feel the bite and release the parking brake. The car will start crawling forward.

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