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How to Prevent Your Parking Brake From Freezing

Someone applying their car parking brake

You are running late for a big meeting. You get into your car and turn the ignition only to realize your parking brake is frozen in place.

Untimely parking brake issues are more common than you might think. And it’s precisely because car owners don’t pay enough attention to the seemingly small component.

In this blog, we cover…

  • What might cause your parking brake to stick
  • The measures you can take to prevent a frozen emergency brake
  • And the importance of regular handbrake use

NOTE: Parking brake, emergency brake, and handbrake are equivalent terms.

What causes your parking brake to stick?

When it comes to a frozen emergency brake, there are several possible culprits:

  • Cold weather – On the rare occasions temperatures dip below freezing in Wilmington, NC, it’s possible for your parking break to ice over.
  • Rust or corrosion – Infrequent use can cause your handbrake to develop a layer or rust or corrosion. This is especially the case in humid coastal areas like Wilmington, NC. Although we love the warm salty breeze out here, the moisture is not the best for your car’s metal components.
  • Improper use – Whether you have engaged your emergency brake for too long, forced the brake too hard, or neglected to use the brake at all, the way you use your handbrake can be a critical factor.

Be Proactive: Preventing a frozen parking brake

It is far easier to take the necessary precautions to prevent your parking brake from freezing than to unfreeze the handbrake once stuck. 

To ensure your handbrake operates without a hitch, follow these suggestions:

  1. Park your vehicle in a garage – It’s safest to store your car in the garage overnight. That way, your vehicle will remain protected from the elements and excess moisture. Even a covered carport is better than parking without any shelter at all.
  2. Prioritize routine maintenance – Get into the habit of cleaning under the hood of your car on a regular basis. Remove any dirt, debris, and moisture. Lubricate your parking brake components. Don’t feel comfortable handling it yourself? Keeping up on your annual service schedule should do the trick.
  3. Use your parking brake regularly – Apply your parking brake every time you park – or at least once a day. This frequent usage will reduce the rust and corrosion.
  4. Know HOW to use your emergency brake – Make sure you don’t apply your handbrake for long periods of time, such as when you take a trip. And apply only the precise amount of pressure needed to engage the brake. Very little force should be necessary.
  5. Prepare adequately during winter – Check weather forecasts ahead of time and, if possible, avoid using the emergency brake altogether when temperatures drop below 32 degrees.
  6. Use a protective coating – Apply a silicone or graphite-based lubricant, rust inhibitors, and water repellents to protect your emergency brake from the elements.

No matter what, you should have a reliable mechanic on hand so you have someone to call if your parking brake freezes.

Do I really need to use my parking brake EVERY time I park?

Yes! If not every time, you should at least apply the emergency brake once a day (to avoid rust and corrosion) or whenever you park away from home (for safety reasons).


Your primary brakes are controlled by what is called a “parking pawl.” This device essentially locks up your transmission so your car can’t move.

That is, unless it malfunctions or wears down.

This is where your emergency brake comes in. Your parking brake acts as a back-up in case your primary hydraulic brake system fails. So, if you place your car in park – whether you’re on a hill or flat surface – your handbrake should be engaged!

Performance Auto Specialists | Wilmington, NC

At Performance Auto Specialists, we are firm believers that preventative maintenance is always better than reactive maintenance. Being proactive with your vehicle care will ultimately save you money and keep your car around for longer. 

Want reliable auto service? We’re the place to go! Specializing in European vehicle repair, we have worked on some of the most complex vehicles in town! Call us at (910) 343-1650 or make an appointment online.


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