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What to Do if Your Parking Brake is Stuck

Young driver pulling the parking brake in car

Your parking brake – often called a handbrake or emergency brake – functions separately from your vehicle’s primary brakes. This independent braking system gives you a safe option to resort to if your main brakes ever fail.

How to Properly Use a Handbrake

Contrary to popular belief, your parking brake is NOT only meant for extreme situations.

You should use your emergency brake EVERY time you park – whether you are parked on a flat surface or a steep hill. When using your emergency brake while parking, you should first bring your car to a complete stop with your primary brakes. Then, set your handbrake and place your car in “park.”

But what about in the case of an emergency?

When you can’t stop your car, slowly pull up on the emergency brake handle or press the pedal down.

NOTE: You should only leave your parking brake on as long as overnight – at the very most.

What to Do if Your Parking Brake Freezes

But what can you do if you get back into your car and the handbrake is stuck?

The answer depends on the likely cause of your frozen emergency brake.

Cold Weather

When temperatures dip considerably below freezing (and the climate is particularly wet), ice can cause your parking brake to freeze. To fix the issue, first try turning your car on. The heat from your engine may help the ice melt, allowing you to disengage the handbrake.

You may try gently revving your vehicle’s engine. This will help the engine heat up faster, thus, quickening the melting process.

Once your car has warmed up, try disengaging the parking brake a few times. If there is any remaining ice, this can help break it up.

If the brake is still locked, consult your owner’s manual to determine which wheel the emergency brake is connected to. If possible, use a hair dryer to thaw the ice.

Rust or Corrosion

Like any other metal component of your car, your parking brake may become rusty or overly corroded over time, causing the cable used to engage the brake to erode and/or lock up.

If this is the case, you will likely need to call a tow truck.

Depending on your comfortability, you can attempt to dislodge the brakes manually, engaging and releasing the brake several times.

It may also be worth a try to shift your vehicle repeatedly between drive and reverse. This slight back-and-forth movement can remove some of the rust that has built up.

Left On Too Long

If your emergency brake has been engaged for too long (longer than overnight), it is likely to become stuck or frozen in place.

First, attempt the same methods recommended in the “Cold Weather” section above.

If those methods fail, a call to your local tow truck company is likely in order.

Engaged Too Hard

Another potential cause? Perhaps you don’t quite know your own strength.

If you’ve tugged your parking brake hard enough, it may be jammed. Pulling too hard on an emergency brake can cause the brake shoes to catch against the walls of your wheel drum. This may, in turn, stretch out the cable running from the brake handle to the wheels.

Unfortunately, there is no easy fix for this. If you’ve tried releasing the handbrake but it still won’t budge, your best bet will be to seek professional help.

How to Prevent a Frozen Emergency Brake

The best way to avoid an unfortunate sticky situation is to stay on top of proper emergency brake maintenance.

There are a few measures you can take…

  • Check the weather. If you know ahead of time that temperatures will dip below freezing, avoid engaging your parking brake.
  • Use your handbrake on a regular basis. To prevent undue rust and corrosion, apply your emergency brake every time you stop – at least once a day. Parking brakes that are never used tend to succumb to rust far more quickly.
  • Know the time and place. Avoid engaging your parking brake for long periods of time – say, when you head out of town or aren’t planning on driving for a while.
  • Don’t be the hulk. Only use the precise amount of force you actually need to apply your handbrake each time you park.

Performance Auto Specialists | Brake Repair Wilmington, NC

Performance Auto Specialists is proud to offer eastern North Carolina efficient, affordable European car repairs, with years of experience fine-tuning our craft. We service European vehicles 3 years and older that are no longer covered under a factory, bumper-to-bumper warranty.

Is your parking brake frozen? Have a tow truck bring your vehicle to Performance Auto Specialist. Our skilled team can get you back on the road in no time – just give us a call at (910) 343-1650. If you’re facing issues with your parking brake freezing, it might indicate a need for brake repair services.


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