What Happens When You Drive With the Parking Brake On?

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What Happens When You Drive With the Parking Brake On?

Have you ever forgotten to release the parking brake before driving? It can be pretty embarrassing, but vanity isn’t the only issue here; absentmindedness like this could damage your car or truck.

The parking brake helps your vehicle stay where you leave it. Even if you drive a car with an automatic gearbox, it’s wise to set the brakes. Aside from holding the car in place, the parking brake can also help prevent transmission damage, especially while parking on steep hills, something that can put tremendous strain on internal components.

Electric Parking Brake

If your ride has a manual transmission, it’s especially important to activate the parking brake before exiting. Putting it in gear may not be enough to prevent a roll away. If the shifter doesn’t fully engage, it could inadvertently pop out of gear, allowing the vehicle to move on its own, which has obvious and undesirable implications.

Modern parking brakes can be operated by a lever, foot pedal or even electronic switch. But what happens if you drive with the parking brake on? Well, the short answer is that it depends.

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If the hand brake is only applied one or two clicks, the risk of damage is minimal. However, if the parking brake on as far as it will go, this could cause trouble.

For starters, in a front-drive vehicle, the rear wheels may not even turn, in which case nothing would happen aside from the tires dragging along the pavement like an unwilling cat on a leash. Fortunately, if this happens, it should be a pretty obvious that something is amiss; obnoxious howling and vibratory judders ought to rouse the suspicions of even the most inattentive motorist. However, if your vehicle is of the rear-wheel-drive persuasion, the engine might be able to overpower the brakes and cause real damage.

Parking Brake Lever

Should you forget to release a fully applied parking brake before taking off, the friction of the pads or shoes dragging against the rotors or drums will generate tremendous amounts of heat. If allowed to go unchecked for an extended period of time, this could prematurely wear all of these components, but it might lead to wheel-bearing damage or the catastrophic failure of other parts as well, and this doesn’t even take into account the additional strain it puts on the engine.

The big concern with this situation is how long and how fast you drive with the brake on. A trip around the block with the brake only applied a few clicks probably isn’t going to cause any measurable damage, as modern deceleration systems are designed to absorb a tremendous amount of heat. But if you drive at 75 miles an hour on the freeway for 150 miles with the brake fully applied, it’s a safe bet your vehicle’s rear binders will be toast, and probably a few ancillary components as well. Have you ever replaced a caliper, shock absorber or axle seal before?

Shift Knob

Fortunately, none of this should really be an issue with new cars and trucks, as practically every vehicle has an indicator light to warn the driver about the parking brake should it be left on. Taking things one step further, the latest crop of electric parking brakes that are operated with a button or switch often disengage on their own when a vehicle is put in drive or starts moving, something that prevents any damage from happening in the first place.

Here is a little anecdote from AutoGuide.com‘s news editor, Steve Elmer, about how he learned what can go wrong when you drive with the parking brake on:

“I learned first hand the consequences of driving with the parking brake on before I even obtained a driver’s license. I was about 12 or 13, and I loved riding my parent’s ATV. With my brother on a dirt bike, we set out as we normally would on a ride around my cottage, but something wasn’t quite right. The machine felt restricted, like something was holding it back, but my young brain couldn’t put the pieces together. I continued to ride the ATV for about 5 to 10 minutes, deciding to ignore the constant pull that was slowing me down. 

As we drove back into the cottage and began descending down our long driveway, my brother starting yelling “fire, fire!” At first, I scanned the cottage for something burning. It wasn’t until I looked back to see him pointing at the rear left ATV tire that I finally got it. I shut the machine off and jumped off of it, in time to see a few flames licking up the back. 

Leaving the brake to drag for such a long period of time had heated up the disks and surrounding area so much that the brake line melted, allowing brake fluid to spew out onto a red hot rotor. Once the engine shut off, fluid stopped circulating, so the fire was short lived and damage was minimal. 

Needless to say, I am very conscious of the position of the parking brake before I start rolling.” 

In short, it’s wise to use your vehicle’s parking brake as often as possible, but pay attention when going for a spin to make sure it’s fully released.

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  • Jim Farnsworth

    Half hearted application of the parking brake should be discouraged. I was taught to apply the parking brake as firmly as you can not only so it holds the vehicle like it’s supposed to but also so that if you forget to release it you get a reminder when the vehicle doesn’t want to move, that is if you are not it lala land. It’s also a form of preventative maintenance, keeping the cables from freezing up from corrosion. Corroded cables may engage the parking brake but not release completely or at all leaving you stranded or with vehicle damage as mentioned in the article.

  • johnls39 .

    On my 06 Passat, the car will not move unless you disengage the electronic parking brake. Most of the time when put in park, I always engage the parking brake. I like the electronic parking brake a lot better than the lever or foot parking brake. The only downside with the electronic parking brake is the mechanism can wear out or related parts, which happened to me few years ago when I had a hard to for the car to disengage.

  • David Thornberry

    You could have also mentioned what happens if you have a sticking rear caliper the loud ticking sound coming from the rear wheel when you get out of the car is because you just drove 35 miles with it stuck. A secondary check is the hot wheel which you can feel from a foot away and the smell of the brake pad.

  • What happens when you drive with the parking brake on? River Song teases you about it in front of your companions.

  • smartacus

    Good to know the Passat won’t move unless the parking brake is disengaged.

    …i know the Lexus LS430 can be driven with the E-brake engaged.
    Oh yes, I saw someone driving their LS430 with the parking brake engaged.

    The red light in the dash was flashing like mad. Even i noticed it.
    I didn’t say anything because it was comical.

  • johnls39 .

    Lala land, LOL!