When engaged, a parking brake (emergency brake, e-brake or handbrake) applies brakes to both rear wheels, keeping the car from rolling. In cars with mechanical parking brakes, parking brake cables connect the parking brake lever or pedal to the rear brakes. Because the cables run underneath the car, they tend to rust and seize up. Other problems with cables include stretching, fraying, and breaking apart.

What are the signs of a sticking or seized parking brake cable?

If the cable is seized, the parking brake may stop working and cause the vehicle to roll on an incline with the parking brake engaged. In other cases, a sticky parking brake cable may cause the parking brakes to not release fully. This can cause “brake drag” when it feels like the vehicle is not rolling freely. You also might notice squeaking noises from one or both rear brakes when driving at slow speeds. The rear wheel where the parking brake is not released fully may also appear excessively hot after driving. The parking brake handle or pedal may feel too tight or too loose when operated.

How can you check parking brake cables?

Typically, mechanics check the parking brake operation during regular services that include a brake inspection. In some shops, a simple oil change might not include testing of the parking brake; in this case, you can ask a mechanic to check it separately. Often the damage to a parking brake cable is visible.

When the PVC jacket is damaged, water gets inside the cable and causes it to rust and seize up. If the cable is sticking, but not otherwise damaged, freeing and lubricating it might be enough. The parking brake operation must be thoroughly tested after repairs. A properly working parking brake must engage with a few clicks of the lever or pedal and release fully when the pedal or lever is released. The number of clicks is usually listed in the inspection procedure in the factory service manual for technicians.

In an average car, replacing both rear parking brake cables costs from $320 to $480. In vehicles with rust damage, more parts may need to be replaced. After the cables are replaced, the parking brake must be adjusted and tested.

This is an issue that most drivers will never have to deal with unless they don’t properly take care of their car and don’t keep up with maintenance. If you have further questions about your parking brake and cables, give us a call today at Kingdom Auto Repair!