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Beginner's Guide: What Is the Hand Brake and What Does It Do?

Hand Brakes

A hand brake is precisely what the name describes – a brake you apply by hand. It's also known as a parking brake, and is usually located on the centre console but can sometimes be found between the driver’s seat and the door.

The handbrake applies the rear disc pads or brake shoes via a cable and is used when the car is parked to stop it rolling forwards or backwards.

To apply it, you hold the hand grip, press the button (usually at the end of the grip) and raise the lever.

As you raise it you’ll feel resistance as the brakes are applied. When you feel the brakes are exerting sufficient force to hold the car you release the button and a pawl engages on a ratchet plate, holding the lever (and the brakes) in place.

To release the brakes you raise the lever slightly to disengage the pawl tooth from the ratchet, press the button and lower the lever.

Hand brake

Some drivers don’t press the button when raising the hand brake. It still operates as normal, but over time the ratchet teeth can wear and cause the handbrake - and the rear brakes - to fail, so it’s good practice to use the hand brake button when you’re raising the lever.

Sometimes, the hand brake takes the form of a small pedal down in the footwell, to the left of clutch on a car with a manual gearbox or the brake pedal on an automatic car.

You press the pedal with your foot to apply the brake and release it via a handle on the dashboard.

Handbrake pulling up too high before the brakes engage? The cable may have stretched or the rear brakes may be worn.

The cable can be adjusted via a nut behind the handbrake assembly and the rear brakes can be changed by following advice from Haynes.