Anyone who drives a car will know that, sooner or later, you’ll get stuck at the side of the road. You might have locked your keys in it, or maybe you just didn’t have time to stop and release the handbrake before driving off again. Either way, in most cars there is only one way out: unjamming the handbrake!
Unfortunately for many drivers, this is not as simple as it sounds. A failing handbrake can lead to other issues with your car that might not immediately be obvious, such as an electrical problem or clutch slipping.
What is a handbrake?
The handbrake is the mechanism that you pull on to stop your vehicle. In a car, the handbrake is usually connected by cables to the brakes on the wheels so that, when you pull it on, it grabs the wheels and slows down the vehicle. This is an essential part of driving and one that we all need to be careful with.
Many people will find that, after a while, the handbrake becomes a little bit ‘wonky’. For example, it might not release completely, or it might release very quickly. If this has happened to you, then you’ll know how frustrating it can be. However, if it is letting you down, you need to know how to deal with it.
Four signs your car’s handbrake is failing
When it comes to handbrakes, it’s important to pay attention to how it is ‘feeling’. If you notice any of these signs, your handbrake might be on its last legs: It doesn’t release completely when you pull on the lever. You’re constantly ‘handbraking’ in the car park. When you’re driving, you’re having to pull on the lever every few seconds. The handbrake has started to make a ‘grinding’ or ‘clicking’ noise.
How to test your handbrake
If you’re ever in doubt about the state of your handbrake, try pulling it on and off while you’re in the car. This way, you can see if it is releasing completely or just ‘grinding’. Next, take your handbrake lever out of the car and grab some wire. You’ll need to strip the ends of the wire so you can attach it to the car. Now, get yourself in the car and pull on the handbrake lever. If it is failing, you might just feel the lever start to ‘grind’ in your hand as it gets pulled backward.
Check for electrical issues first
If your handbrake isn’t releasing completely, you might want to check for electrical problems first. Electrics can often be the culprit of a ‘wonky’ handbrake, as well as causing other strange issues with your car. If you do have a faulty electrical connection in the car, you might find that your lights are flicking on and off, or that your radio or stereo suddenly stops working. You’ll also see a change in your car’s performance: You might find that it takes longer to get going, or that it feels ‘dead’ when you stomp on the accelerator.
Are you driving too aggressively or too often?
While a faulty handbrake might be the cause of your issues, there are many other causes of handbrake failure. One of the first things you should do is make sure that your handbrake is performing correctly. If there is a problem with your handbrake, it could be the reason we are experiencing any issues with the car.
If your handbrake is working fine, but you’re still experiencing issues, it is worth asking yourself what might be causing them. Are you driving too aggressively, or are you constantly ‘handbraking’ in the car park? There are a number of things that could be causing these issues.
Are you constantly ‘handbraking’ in the car park?
The first thing to check is whether you’re constantly ‘handbraking’ in the car park. This is when you brake really aggressively and then ‘handbrake’ the car. This can cause issues with the car, such as a ‘wonky’ handbrake and a ‘dead’ car. The best way to find out if you’re constantly handbraking is by timing yourself.
Get out of the car and put a stopwatch on your dashboard – then time yourself as you walk in and out of the car park. Keep this stopwatch up for a few days and see how many times you ‘handbrake’ yourself. This could be the reason for any issues with your car.
The bad thing about handbrakes: why some brakes don’t last
Handbrakes, like all brakes, have a limited lifespan. As they age, handbrakes lose their effectiveness and wear out more quickly. For example, the lever on your handbrake becomes less sensitive and breaks more easily. This limits the amount of handbraking you are able to do before the handbrake fails completely.
Worn-out handbrakes also generate more heat than new handbrakes. If your handbrakes are worn out, your car will generate additional heat. This can damage your car over time and make your brakes less effective.
The good thing about handbrakes is how to tell if it’s working
Now that you know the signs of a failing handbrake, you can determine if your handbrake is working properly. The easiest way to test your handbrake is to attempt to lock the car while the handbrake is engaged. If you’re able to lock the wheels, the handbrake is working properly. However, if you’re not able to lock the wheels, it’s time to check the handbrake.
You can also test your handbrake while holding the parking brake alongside the handbrake. If you’re able to lock both the handbrake and the parking brake, the handbrake is probably working properly. While the handbrake is engaged, try locking the wheels. If the handbrake is working properly, you should be able to lock the wheels when using both the handbrake and the parking brake.
Handbrakes are an important feature of cars, but they do have a limited lifespan. When your handbrake is feeling weak or “stuck,” it’s time to check it. Sometimes a worn-out brake pedal will cause your handbrake to feel weak. To test your handbrake, press it while locked and hold the brake pedal at the same time. If you’re not able to lock the wheels, it’s time to replace the brake pads or rebuild the brake.