I have a Vauxhall diesel automatic with electronic handbrake.

Which of the following is the best procedure at a red light?

  1. Leave in drive, foot on brake
  2. Leave in drive, engage handbrake
  3. Place in neutral, engage handbrake
  4. Engage handbrake, place in neutral
  5. Place in neutral, foot on brake

(For best, please consider both driver safety and mechanical wear)

  • I do #5 (neutral and brake pedal) at long lights, especially with the A/C running. If the stop is for a long train, I do 6: Put it in Park and shut off the engine. If you do 5, be sure to put it in gear when the light changes because people are not impressed when you go Vroom! and just sit there. I never use the handbrake (or foot pedal emergency brake) except when parking on a hill.
    – user15009
    Apr 6, 2016 at 1:28

3 Answers 3


tl; dr - Number 1.

Your Vauxhall is designed with an automatic transmission. The transmission has what's called a torque converter which couples the engine to the transmission. The torque converter has a stall speed. This means it will not throw power/torque at the transmission until the engine gets to a certain speed. Once it reaches the stall speed, power and torque will then start being applied. Stall speed will always be above idle speed. You can therefor leave it in drive while sitting at a red light without worry of damaging any internal parts or causing any extra wear in the transmission, engine, or drive train (as long as you let it idle).

You have to have some sort of braking mechanism for your vehicle. Whether that's the handbrake or the regular brakes, that's what's in question. In this case, you should leave your hand brake alone and use the foot brake. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, this is what the foot brake was designed to do. It was designed to convert your forward momentum into heat through friction to stop the vehicle when needed. Secondly, it's there to hold the vehicle still temporarily while you are waiting to go again, whether it's a stoplight, stop sign, or little kids crossing at a cross walk. Your hand brake was designed to keep the vehicle still for extended periods of time and to assist the parking mechanism within the transmission so there isn't as much pressure on it when engaged (especially on hills and such). It is not designed to be taken on/off at every stop light.

In any case other than number one, you are creating undue wear on mechanical parts for no reason. For the transmission, you'll be wearing out linkage mechanisms faster, as well as internal parts in the valve body (the part which directs the fluid flow within the transmission - the brains of the transmission). For the hand brake, you'll be creating wear on the braking mechanism, the parts which actuates the brake, and the brakes themselves.

Anyway you look at it, your best option is to allow the vehicle to work as designed. Just leave it in gear and apply the foot brake and your vehicle will be fine without causing undue wear and tear on it.

  • 2
    Funnily enough, my Touareg's user manual recommends option 2 if you're tired of using option 1
    – Zaid
    Mar 24, 2015 at 11:41
  • 1
    Is the wear on the handbrake that much? I tend to use option 2 if I know the lights will be a while, and option 1 if I think they'll change fairly soon. I do like how the handbrake automatically disengages on acceleration.
    – xorsyst
    Mar 24, 2015 at 11:49
  • 2
    @xorsyst ... You can do it any way you like. What I'm suggesting is it is more wear than you'd experience by not using it in this type of situation. It will wear out faster by using it all the time. How much faster would be unseen at this point. You've had to use your foot brake to slow you down. Holding it while waiting is not going to cause it any more wear. Mar 24, 2015 at 11:53
  • 1
    @xorsyst ... No, in most every car the handbrake is not meant to be used at a stoplight for either a manual or an automatic. Normally the hand brake is supposed to be used when the car is parked to hold the car in place, as I explained in my answer. When I said, "... for extended periods of time ..." I meant when the car is parked. A stoplight is a temporary stoppage (though it may feel like forever at some :-). That's what the foot brake was designed to be used for. Mar 24, 2015 at 23:05
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    @Paulster2 that's not how most people are taught to drive in the UK - you are meant to put the handbrake on and the car in Neutral. Hence why I ask if doing the same is recommended for automatics.
    – xorsyst
    Mar 25, 2015 at 9:07

EDIT Removed a certain point about the need for parked vehicles to use warning lights/brake lights as this point was admittedly not relevant to the answer, neither was it insightful.

In remark to answers by @paulster and nick c. I guess there's no accepted convention here wrt using the handbrake at Signals. The brake lights serve their most important feature in indicating that a car is decelerating. This serves as a very essential reactionary aid. This is to do with how our brain figures out the apparent change in the relative distances. It uses perspective and apparent magnification. Both of these are slower than a trained response to the brake lights. Having an immediate visual aid significantly improves reaction and let's the trailing cars know of the drivers "intention" as soon as he touches the brake pedals.
At a signal however, the benefit from a safety point of view becomes a little subjective, and I'm not sure which side to take.
At long stops at a signal, I personally tend to engage the Handbrakes to prevent any kind of lapse on my part, where in I might get lazy and not hold down the brakes (on horizontal surfaces). I think it's well understood why that could potentially be dangerous , eg- car bumps you from behind.
Between leaving it in neutral or drive, I see no major advantage or disadvantage between the two.
From a safety point of view I can throw two points which maybe trivial-
Leaving it in drive allows one to quickly accelerate should such a requirement arise.
If the driver takes this time at the signal to move about and fetch something within the car, it maybe safer to engage neutral and the handbrakes.
I personally know of a particular case (with a manual transmission) wherein the driver was holding down the clutch with the car in gear at a pedestrian crossing. The drivers foot ended up slipping of the clutch and ended up causing an accident. Anecdotal, and maybe irrelevant in case of an automatic.
I can't recommend any option conclusively, and personally may subjectively choose between the 2 -
1. Handbrake + Neutral (long stops) 2. Drive + Foot on brake (stop and go situations)

  • "Having said that, being stationary on the road must always be indicated, either with brake lights, or with Warning lights." - That seems an overly bold assertion. What if parked on the side of the road, for example?
    – xorsyst
    Mar 26, 2015 at 12:21
  • @xorsyst well then you're not on the road, right? I meant on the road / lane where vehicles are expected to move.
    – chilljeet
    Mar 27, 2015 at 7:07
  • @xorsyst there could be countless exceptions , of course,. But you get the idea. That statement/assertion I made was more out of common sense, and wasn't, admittidely, particularly insightful
    – chilljeet
    Mar 27, 2015 at 7:18
  • not if you're parked on the road, for example like this street. This is a fairly common sight in the UK, not an exception: thecomet.net/polopoly_fs/1.558899.1281094335!/image/…
    – xorsyst
    Mar 27, 2015 at 16:51
  • @xorsyst Edited answer :)
    – chilljeet
    Mar 28, 2015 at 9:34

I'm going to have to disagree with Paul here - the correct answer is #2. You should always apply the handbrake when stationary for more than a few moments, and release the footbrake. If you keep your foot on the brake pedal, you keep your brake lights on, and so you dazzle the driver behind you - it is a simple matter of common courtesy.

  • Brake lights are an indicator and are meant to dazzle. It gives the driver behind you an indication you are stopping or stopped. When they go away, they are an indicator of moving. It is more of a common courtesy to signal your intentions. Brake lights aren't designed to (and don't) blind the person behind you. Safety trumps courtesy any day of the week. Mar 25, 2015 at 11:17
  • 3
    @Paulster2 but if you drive in a country where most cars are manual, and no-one sits at the lights with the foot brake on, having yours on is the exception rather than the rule. So they don't indicate stopped, just stopping.
    – xorsyst
    Mar 25, 2015 at 15:10
  • @xorsyst that's an interesting perspective. I regularly sit at lights without pressing my brake, but at the same time when I'm driving an automatic I never mess around with the hand brake. I've heard on more than one occasion a recommendation not to use the hand brake on an automatic unless you regularly do because you don't know how must rust is in the linkage. Mar 26, 2015 at 3:15
  • Not sure where this idea came from in the UK that one must use the handbrake other than to park the car (or for emergency braking). If it was such a superior idea, I think we would have evidence for that by now. So, just keep your foot on the brake pedal where it belongs, unless you are actually parking the car and turning off the engine, such as when a long train is crossing in front of you. Most automatics (which is what the question refers to) do not have a "hand" brake: it is a foot pedal. Messing around down there is likely to cause problems.
    – user15009
    Apr 6, 2016 at 1:24
  • @nocomprende all UK automatics (that I've seen or heard of) have a handbrake, not a foot pedal. In fact, since asking this question, I've become aware of newer Mercedes having an automatically engaging hand-brake.
    – xorsyst
    Apr 6, 2016 at 9:51

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