Yesterday, I was driving my car for about 30 minutes on the highway at speeds of up to 60 mph. I felt my brakes weren't really working and looked down to notice my emergency brake had been on the whole time (my indication lights don't work, so I didn't see any red light on my dash). The brakes smelled like they were burning, so my Dad and I allowed them to cool for an hour before driving the car home. He insists it's fine to drive and he drove it all around last night without any issue.

It's a 2001 Sienna Toyota and I was hoping someone could confirm what he said so I feel more comfortable driving it this afternoon.

  • Related but for shorter distance: mechanics.stackexchange.com/questions/8960/…
    – Chenmunka
    Oct 9, 2015 at 13:59
  • I've done this as well! I was like man, the car feels really slow today and then I realized I was dragging the handbrake (doh!). I stopped for a couple of minutes and drove off. No issues aside from a little extra brake wear. Oct 9, 2015 at 14:37
  • I have done this more than once. It's annoying and makes you feel dumb for doing it, but it's very unlikely to have done any actual damage. Worst case scenario is that you need a brake job sooner than you otherwise would.
    – barbecue
    Oct 10, 2015 at 2:13

6 Answers 6


If it has been driving fine since then, all you have probably done is worn the brake pads down. Not fatal - but check when you pull the handbrake on that it is solidly holding the car stationary.

If you notice vibration, then I'd worry about pads/disks being warped or damaged.

You may find though that you need the handbrake cable to be tightened, as it may not pull the brakes on as hard now.

  • 1
    Agreed - I don't think any permanent damage was done. Wear is always a factor in these situations. Oct 9, 2015 at 12:43
  • "You may find though that you need the handbrake cable to be tightened," Be aware that most rear brakes are self-adjusting and even excessive wear as in this case shouldn't require adjustments. The handbrake cable shouldn't have stretched any more during this ride than if it had be activated for the same length of time while the vehicle was parked, so I'm not sure why you suggest it needs adjusting.
    – Adam Davis
    Oct 9, 2015 at 15:31
  • 3
    Many are, some aren't - vehicle history I've had is probably 60-40 for self adjusting brakes. My point was that it was worth looking at.
    – Rory Alsop
    Oct 9, 2015 at 15:37

1) Parking brakes only engage the rear brakes, so your front brakes (which provide the majority of stopping power) are 100% fine.

2) On a car with rear drum brakes, which I believe your car has: The parking brake is simply a cable you pull which puts mechanical pressure on your rear brakes that your brake pedal hydraulic system normally would. However, the parking brake isnt meant to stop a rolling car, so the pressure is minimal compared to the normal brake pedal hydraulic system.

3) If you think about it, you apply the hydraulic (regular) brakes heavily and/or consistantly ... and often. So a little bit of driving with minimal pressure wont do any significant damage.

4) The only damage that could happen is that the shoes wear down exactly as they would in normal braking.

5) In summary: Don't worry about it, unless the parking brake doesn't hold the car still on a steep hill. If so, get it fixed, but that isn't a major issue.

  • That's the only damage? Honest question here, because I don't know... Will drums warp with extreme heat/usage like rotors can on disk brakes?
    – JPhi1618
    Oct 9, 2015 at 17:48
  • I was trying to simplify everything. I would assume they could warp, but then you'd probably be able to feel a slight pulsing when braking. Although not ideal, I wouldnt consider warping a critical issue that the asker should have an immediate concern for. Oct 9, 2015 at 18:37

Your car will be fine; any issues would have shown up by now.

"My indication lights dont work so I didnt see any red light on my dash"

For me, this is more scary/important. It's not hard to fix the bulbs - about an hour max for a mechanic - and essential for safety.

  • 1
    Yeah, this is the important one. If your brake lamp doesn't work, it means that you won't know when one of your brake circuits has failed. You've got two, so you really need to know when one has failed before the other one does. If you don't, then one day you might press that pedal at sixty and nothing happens: imagine how scary that is. This stuff actually happens to regular folk.
    – Dan
    Oct 10, 2015 at 0:49

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Vyt is right. This happened to my Subaru xv; had to change hubs at 65,000 miles because my mother drove my car with the parking break on for 30 miles. Heat can change properties of grease. There's evidence online. I'm also a chemistry teacher. I will, however, agree that it does depend on the setup of the car and its parking brake system.


I drove my Honda car with the brakes on and a little before getting to the parking lot where I work my brakes wouldn't stop the car, they didn't work at all. I was scared to death, literally. I will repeat it: the brakes were working fine the first 10 or so miles but after that they stopped to work AT ALL.

I slowed down I little bit and I managed to make a U turn and get back, but even then my brakes where NOT WORKING, properly (I am nervous and using my brain at full capacity to not to crash with someone), my brakes were not working yet. I parked my car, and then I remembered the manual brake. I left my car there parked to cool it a bit. and then it worked like normal. Well not so much, now sometimes the brake pedal goes a little deeper than usual to stop the car. Most of the times the brakes work just fine ( as before). It smelled like burning plastic, but not that much.

  • I don't see how this answers the question. You are talking about the normal braking system while the question is about the handbrake.
    – Chenmunka
    Jul 3, 2017 at 7:39

You have to check wheel bearings. They and wheel grease were overheated and you drove with this for a while, so at least you may need to check and change wheel grease.

  • 1
    This just isn't true. The bearings will not have taken any damage at all.
    – Rory Alsop
    Oct 9, 2015 at 16:53
  • Overheated grease had changed properties. Its more liquid and not lube a bearing also depends on bearing type hot grease can simply pour out. I saw it several times, then changed stucked breakes supports, bearing was without grease.
    – Vytautas.R
    Oct 9, 2015 at 19:41
  • Having the handbrake on doesn't affect the bearings though. It's like very gently leaning on the brake pedal. There will be no bearing overheating from this.
    – Rory Alsop
    Oct 9, 2015 at 20:46
  • 1
    @Vytautas.R Overheated wheel bearings can definitely cause grease loss, no argument there. But a stuck parking brake just isn't going to cause that much heat, and the heat is being generated far away from the bearing. If it were disc brakes it might be more believable, but even then I'm not sure.
    – barbecue
    Oct 10, 2015 at 2:22
  • 1
    If you run it long enough, a stuck parking brake can literally melt brake pads, set fire to stuff in the vicinity of the brakes, etc. So it's plausible the bearing grease could have been damaged. But I don't know that it's likely. It does depend on your parking brake, of course. Some brakes are like gently leaning on the pedal. Others are strong enough to keep the wheels locked and drag the back end behind. According to wikipedia, that van is FF layout, so it was just friction overcoming the brake's clamping force, which isn't nearly as much as engine torque could be.
    – MichaelS
    Oct 10, 2015 at 8:30

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