To start off with, I know this is not ever an ideal scenario, and is probably illegal in most jurisdictions, HOWEVER, it may occur that the brakes go out while driving and someone needs to get to a brake shop to get things fixed. That being said...

What limitations/points of failure should a driver be aware of when driving with a cable actuated parking brake due to hydraulic brake system failure? Additionally, while I have rear disk brakes with inner parking brakes, if there is a difference for rear drum brakes, I'd love to know.

  • 1
    A few point to add. Try to utilize engine braking as much as possible. Always use your hazards, as the parking brake will not activate your brake lights.
    – rpmerf
    Oct 19, 2016 at 19:50
  • 1
    @rpmerf or touch the brake pedal to illuminate the brake lights (depending on the failure mode). Hazards can mean many things.
    – Chris H
    Oct 21, 2016 at 8:47
  • This is what tow trucks are for.
    – Leliel
    Jul 9, 2018 at 1:36

1 Answer 1


Several things to consider:

  1. Cable wear. The emergency break is generally activated by a steel cable. As the cable gets older, rusts, and wears, it can eventually totally break instead of braking. :) This shouldn't be an issue on a 3 years old car, but if your vehicle has reached 10-15 years old, you should definitely not depend on the cable to stop you. Driving instructors often recommend using the brake every time you use the car just to make sure the cable isn't totally rusted through.

  2. Lack of power. While the emergency brake can stop you, it won't do as good of a job at stopping you. The motor can still push forward significantly with the parking brake on, and depending how much force you can physically apply to your parking brake, your stopping distance could be doubled or tripled.

  3. Back braking only. Whereas your normal brakes apply generally on all four tires, your parking brake only applies the force to the back wheels. This gives you less control over the car, and in the case of an emergency, could make the difference between life and death.

  4. No ABS. I have to add this as a Canadian citizen. :) When you're driving on wet pavement or snow, you have reduced traction, and your anti-lock braking system kicks in. If you don't have ABS, you can achieve the same effect by pumping your brakes. With your hand brake, for pragmatic reasons, you cannot pump, and you have no ABS. Hence, you lose control over the car and put life at risk.

I understand where you're coming from; it's a great question. However, driving the vehicle with only the handbrake is a dangerous proposition and should be avoided at all costs. If you must do it, do it only as long as you absolutely have to, and get the car to the garage as soon as possible.

  • +1 for understanding that this question isn't about driving with the e-brake all the time, only in emergency situations. :) I expected a flood of "Never do this!" with accompanying downvotes (hence the first paragraph).
    – Sidney
    Oct 19, 2016 at 18:46
  • Definitely, don't do it. But if you do have to do it, those are basically the things you'll have to think about. Drive very slowly, make sure your cable isn't on the verge of breaking (not braking :) ), and be ready to yank that handle.
    – anonymous2
    Oct 19, 2016 at 18:57
  • Having done some experimental stops using the handbrake only: you cannot overstress point 2. If you yank the handbrake all the way to the ceiling, you have maybe 10% of your normal stopping power. Triple the stopping distance is an understatement.
    – Hobbes
    Oct 20, 2016 at 11:05
  • @Hobbes it heavily depends on the brakes. With rear drum brakes and the handbrake actuating the same pads the stopping power was quite significant.
    – Chris H
    Oct 21, 2016 at 8:49

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