I have an old Toyota in which the handbrake wire is broken. I have been using the car for few months now and I don't really want to spend more money on it. I now put the car in park and that is it and I had an argument with a friend on this matter. My questions are:

  • do I really have to replace this wire knowing that I use the car to commute and short trips?

  • could this affect the brakes of the car and cause it to fail faster than it is supposed to?

  • is there a better practice?

  • 6
    Do you live in a town with hills, inclines and slopes where you park frequently or infrequently? Aug 3, 2016 at 19:34
  • 9
    An operational handbrake may be required by law. Caveat: "Park" setting may or may not qualify as a required secondary braking system.
    – Agent_L
    Aug 4, 2016 at 8:21
  • 2
    If you are concerned about parking the car safely (as opposed to stopping it in the first place, which I discussed above), San Francisco has tips for correct parking; specifically, "Curb Your Tires on Hills". Aug 4, 2016 at 9:06
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    I never understood why Americans don't use the handbrake. In England I would never dream of leaving my car without the handbrake on, even if I were preventing it from rolling by leaving it in gear (which I also don't like to do). Of course, this doesn't apply to you because you can't use your handbrake ;) Aug 4, 2016 at 11:46
  • 3
    @Pete: Yes I understand that (and I have an automatic car). Perhaps this dodgy "emergency brake" nomenclature is the reason it's so ill-used in the States. But in the UK you'd commonly use your handbrake to park even an automatic. It's treated as just basic common sense. Aug 4, 2016 at 15:16

8 Answers 8

  1. No, its up to you
  2. No
  3. No

Assuming it is an automatic transmission using park is safe, there is a park pawl in the transmission that mechanically locks the output shaft, actually better than a parking brake.

The slight roll forward (or backward depending on incline direction) is normal for an automatic park pawl, the movement of the car rotates the output shaft slightly to engage the pawl.

Only downside is if you are on a steep grade it might require some effort to take it out of park due to the load on the pawl, but does not hurt anything to do so.

generic image of park pawl

enter image description here

  • 2
    I always used to worry about the slight forward movement while on parking gear. Now I'm informed that it is nothing to worry about.
    – BraveNinja
    Aug 3, 2016 at 20:10
  • 3
    I don't remember using hand brake ever on an automatic transmission when the gear it set to Park Aug 4, 2016 at 6:53
  • 19
    The answer to number 1 depends on the jurisdiction, which the OP didn't specify. In the UK for example, it is a criminal offense to drive a car which is not roadworthy. Drivers certify their cars as being roadworthy once per year with a MOT test, and having a working handbrake is one of the criteria that must be passed. Having a certificate doesn't absolve all responsibility - you still must ensure the car is roadworthy throughout the year.
    – JBentley
    Aug 4, 2016 at 11:43
  • 2
    Here in New Zealand, its a Warrant of Fitness test every 6 months. Fail the WOF and you're not allowed to drive that car on the road till its fixed. Your insurance is probably not going to be serviced in an accident if you do choose to drive it.
    – Criggie
    Aug 5, 2016 at 9:15
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    @Criggie Wow, every 6 months sounds ... ambitious, taking nto account that you have to coordinate and schedule the test, drive to the test, pay for the test, etc. twice a year. Even we order-fanatic Germans do this only every two years. (And I am regularly having a hard time coordinating even the quick seasonal swapping of tires ...) Aug 6, 2016 at 14:02

According to Wikipedia, this is not advisable:

Most vehicle manufacturers and auto mechanics do not recommend using the transmission's parking pawl as the sole means of securing a parked vehicle, instead recommending it should only be engaged after first applying the vehicle's parking brake. Constant use of only the parking pawl, especially when parking on a steep incline, means that driveline components, and transmission internals, are kept constantly under stress, and can cause wear and eventual failure of the parking pawl or transmission linkage. The pawl might also fail or break if the vehicle is pushed with sufficient force, if the parking brake is not firmly engaged. Replacement can be an expensive operation since it not only requires removing the transmission from the vehicle, it's usually the first component to be installed in the gearbox case during a complete overhaul rebuild.

So while it may be safe, you risk more expensive damage to your vehicle by relying on the parking pawl alone.

  • 1
    I don't think the increased wear should worry one much on what is already an "old Toyota". But I, personally, would be slightly worried about parking the car on a steep incline.
    – dan1111
    Aug 4, 2016 at 10:28
  • Personally, I'd suggest being more worried about an older car as this kind of damage could well render the car uneconomical to repair and may already have sustained some damage. Aug 4, 2016 at 10:35
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    @JackAidley: by the sounds of it, the questioner considers that the potential need to replace the handbrake cable has already rendered this vehicle uneconomical to repair! Really it's a matter of what critical component will fail first, which depends on the condition of the rest of the car. No point extending the life of the transmission from (for example) 2 years to 5 years, if the exhaust is only 1 year from rusting through. But if the transmission is what's in the line of fire then anything that makes it last longer can help. Aug 4, 2016 at 11:02
  • 2
    That is the lawyers speaking for the manufacturers. Its safe and always has been.
    – Moab
    Aug 4, 2016 at 23:03
  • 1
    I'd consider the only relevant part of that Wikipedia quote to be "when parking on a steep incline". If you have an automatic transmission, using the parking brake is wholly optional. Source: years of experience driving and parking on generally level ground without using the parking brake.
    – aroth
    Aug 5, 2016 at 1:02

If you live in the UK, this will fail your annual MoT test. (For the benefit of non-Brits, the Ministry of Transport requires a standard annual roadworthiness test for all vehicles.) Other countries may have similar legislation - YMMV depending on where you are.

  • 2
    Not all U.S. states have similar tests, but some do, and this will probably lead to a failure (for the two I checked, Pennsylvania, and NY, the parking brake is required to work).
    – dan1111
    Aug 4, 2016 at 10:39
  • 2
    Nitpicking, but the test's name is correctly rendered "MOT". Aug 4, 2016 at 11:44
  • In Italy too: every two years (or after the first four, for a new car) a car must pass a test, which it would fail with a non-functional handbrake (BTW, most cars in Italy use manual transmission). Aug 4, 2016 at 22:16
  • @Lightness: I dispute. It stands for Ministry of Transport, so it would make sense as "MoT test". I don't know about the ministry's official acronym, though the "test" is certainly necessary.
    – ArtOfCode
    Aug 5, 2016 at 22:41
  • Pendant alert, it'll be all upper case, and whilst MOT test is the actual test, you then have an MOT. gov.uk/getting-an-mot/when-to-get-an-mot also, if you ask a brit about a cars MOT they'll know... Much like asking a Kiwi about a cars warrant (WoF, or warrant of fitness).
    – RemarkLima
    Aug 6, 2016 at 11:13

Whilst leaving a car in Park (auto) or in gear (manual) will prevent the car from rolling away, in the event that the primary braking system fails, you will have no means of stopping the car. This is of course the other purpose of the handbrake.

  • I appreciate that @dan1111 but in the scenario where the fluid has leaked to below its minimum level or the pedal box or linkage to master cylinder has failed, pulling the handbrake would normally act upon to rear brakes. With the handbrake already failed, there would be no way to get any braking force at all. Aug 4, 2016 at 10:46

A factor no one mentioned might be safety with children. We have a 2005 Rexton which our 2 year old managed to put into reverse with the car off! The car rolled backwards and thank gd was stopped by a boulder before falling off a 2 meter drop.

Although I'm not sure an automatic should be able to be put into gear without at least the key in the ignition, an engaged parking brake would have prevented this situation.

(We now park the car only on flat ground, engage the parking brake, and lock the car.)

  • 2
    Most cars shouldn't allow the transmission to shift from park unless the brake pedal is depressed. Aug 4, 2016 at 14:12
  • I agree I have no idea if this is a problem with this model or this specific car Aug 4, 2016 at 14:16
  • @DeanMacGregor: Only for automatic transmission cars. Standards have no such limitation. (I did the same to my uncle's truck when I was six: rolling down the street, my dad had to run after it and hit the brakes (the foot parking brake was broken). I had no idea what that lever was for and because the vehicle was off it never occurred to my six-year old brain that this is something I probably shouldn't do.)
    – user12176
    Aug 5, 2016 at 4:19

Funny, the handbrake was designed as the assistance brake to deal with confusing lack of 3rd leg when starting on a slope.

Using it for parking is not recommended, I've read a lot of warnings, during winter it can easily be broken that way. Everyone recommends parking on a gear.

Go find some steeper slope and test when there's null traffic, if you can stop&start there without problems. Some people have no issues, some will find it hardly possible to start even on a moderate slope without a handbrake.

  • 2
    Do you have any sources that way it should not be used for parking? You recommend in gear, but I (and everyone I know that drives a stick) has always done in gear AND parking brake.
    – rpmerf
    Aug 4, 2016 at 19:48
  • I disagree. It's called a "parking brake" for a reason. In many vehicles it's actually a ratcheting pedal up on the wheel well. To release it you have to pull a lever underneath th steering wheel (many Chevys have this, for example).
    – user12176
    Aug 5, 2016 at 4:23
  • This is not true, and the point of starting on a hill is irrelevant to the OP, who has an automatic.
    – dan1111
    Aug 5, 2016 at 7:22

I'm going to pretend for this answer that putting it in part does not imply an automatic transmission [because automatic transmission is well covered].

With a manual transmission this is safe for reasonably level ground. Engine compression alone will hold indefinitely for a considerable amount of force. A hill of more than about two degrees is too much however. If you worry about it, block a wheel.

  • 2
    Standard transmission cars don't have a Park "gear", but I'm sure you mean to just leave it in gear. Instead of blocking a wheel, turn the wheels into the curb so that if it rolls, it won't turn into traffic.
    – user12176
    Aug 5, 2016 at 4:26
  • What @FighterJet wrote also has the benefit that if it starts rolling (regardless of reason), even if the car does roll forward or backward a little, at least one wheel will very soon hit the curb hopefully causing the car to stop rolling.
    – user
    Aug 5, 2016 at 12:18
  • @FighterJet: I wrote block a wheel on purpose because turn wheels into curb isn't always available.
    – Joshua
    Aug 5, 2016 at 15:07

In the event of a brake master cylinder failure, the parking brake (or EMERGENCY brake) will still cause the brakes to grip, while the brake pedal might go right to the floor. This means that if you don't have a working e-brake, you risk potentially losing braking ability if something goes wrong. Most modern cars have two brake cylinders so that if one fails, the other will allow you to stop (one for each side of the car usually). However, older cars typically have only one brake cylinder, and if this goes or if you have an issue with your brake lines, the e-brake is there to save your ass!

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