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What is the parking brake and where is it located?

The parking brake, sometimes called the handbrake, emergency brake, or e-brake, keeps your vehicle held in place on hills and can be used to stop your vehicle in a dire emergency. Emergency brakes are a secondary braking system installed in automobiles, and are not powered by hydraulics like the service brakes that slow down and stop your vehicle. Emergency brakes are mechanical and, when activated, bypass the normal braking system which is important in the event that the vehicle experiences a total brake failure while still moving. Using the brake to stop a moving vehicle outside of this type of situation is not something you want to do as it can cause a myriad of issues. The most common use of this brake therefore is as a parking brake when the car or truck is parked on a steep hill, in order to keep it motionless.

The parking brake is activated by a pull handle, a lever, or a foot pedal accessible to the driver. Whatever method is used, it will have a ratcheting mechanism to hold the brake at the level it was pushed or pulled to. The parking brake can then be released with the press of a button, or if it is pushed to the end of its range. Some luxury cars use an electric parking brake where a press of a button or the vehicle’s computer system when shifted in to park tells an electric motor to activate or release the parking brake. 

The parking brake lever (or other mechanism) pulls on a cable that is attached to an equalizer. The equalizer pulls two cables that run to each of the rear brakes. The equalizer makes sure each brake receives equal stopping power. A cable is used so that the emergency brake can be activated even if your brake hydraulics are not working. That’s the sort of emergency that emergency brakes are designed for. 

In vehicles with rear brake drums, the cables pull levers that push the brake shoes into the brake drums. Vehicles with rear disc brakes use one of two different systems. Sometimes auxiliary drum brakes are part of the rear disc brakes and act as the emergency brakes. Otherwise, the emergency brake cable pulls a lever on the brake caliper that manually operates the rear brakes.

How do I know if my parking brake parts need to be replaced?

There are basically two things that can go wrong with your parking brake: either it won’t activate when you pull the lever or it stays on when you try to release it. Either one can stem from a seized or rusted parking brake cable. The emergency brake cable may be one of the few pieces on your car or truck that’s at risk of damage from underuse. Emergency brake cables tend to rust and jam up if they are not used regularly. Many drivers of automatic vehicles don’t think to activate their emergency brake, but then when they need it, say, on a very steep hill, it may be inoperable. That’s not to say that overuse is good either. If you try to show off your sweet handbrake turns to your friends, you’re liable to snap the cable, rendering it useless. 

In some circumstances you may find that your lever itself is the problem. The lever or the button may break or become jammed, leaving you unable to work the parking brake. Also, just like normal brake shoes, parking brake shoes can also rust or wear out over time. 

Can I replace parking brake parts myself?

The difficulty of replacing any given part of the parking brake system will vary, but most of them will take a good deal of effort to replace. Replacing a parking brake cable might require you to remove the parking brake lever, the brake drum, or parts of the interior. Once you find the cable, you can remove it at one end and follow it to the other end and remove it there. Then you can thread the new cable. 

Replacing the parking brake shoes is much like replacing drum brake shoes, except that you will have to remove the brake rotor first. The parking brake lever, handle, or pedal might be the easiest part of the system to replace. You’ll just have to unbolt the old one and disconnect it from the cable, connect the new on and bolt it on. Remember, if your parking brakes aren’t working, that it is even more important than usual to secure your vehicle well before working on it. 

Need replacement parking brake parts?

If any of the parts in your parking brake system have failed, you have come to the right place. Here at 1A Auto, we carry a large selection of aftermarket parking brake parts for many makes and models, and at great prices.

At 1A Auto, we make shopping for replacement parking brake parts such as cables, shoes, levers and more for your car, truck, SUV, or van easy—we're here to help you select the right parts for your vehicle! Call our customer service toll free at 888-844-3393 if you have any questions about our parking brake parts, warranty, compatibility or to purchase, or you can buy online.

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