top of page


Updated: Apr 13

hand using emergency brake

“Emergency” makes it sound like this feature in your vehicle is only to be used when there’s no other options. But is that really the case? We’ll get into the ins and outs of emergency brake rules and how to use it to your best advantage.

What Is An Emergency Brake, Anyway?

First off, the term “emergency” is misleading. While, yes, this vital feature can and should be used if the primary braking system on your vehicle fails, that’s far from its only use. The emergency brake comprises a set of brake shoes that work independently of the primary braking system, but are supposed to be used in tandem. When engaged, the emergency brake cable acts on the vehicle’s rear wheels, stopping them from moving and effectively keeping your vehicle in place. It’s a pretty basic mechanism. On the other hand, a car’s primary brakes are much more complex, including hydraulics and fine-tuned pieces and parts that are meant to gradually slow the vehicle to a stop.

Emergency braking systems can look different, depending on the make, model, and year of your vehicle, and can be in various forms, including:

  • Stick lever: on the instrument panel

  • Center lever: between the two front seats

  • Foot pedal: on the floor, to the left

  • Push button: on the console

The fact that these two braking systems are somewhat distinct speaks to the emergency brake’s original use as strictly that–a way to stop a moving vehicle if the hydraulic brakes fail. But the emergency brakes are capable of much more, and using them can actually benefit the health and lifespan of your vehicle.

When To Use the Emergency Brake?

Let’s reassign terms–the better name for an emergency brake is “parking brake,” and that makes it pretty clear when we should be using it. When we park a vehicle? Right. But how often? According to experts, every single time. In fact, they claim that using a parking brake on the regular can increase a vehicle’s safety and improve engine life. Um, we’re listening.

So this is the drill: whether you’re parking on a hill, in a flat lot, whether your vehicle has an automatic or manual transmission, and regardless of weather conditions, everyone should use their parking brake every time they park.

Why Use The Emergency Brake?

If emergency is in the name, why is it necessary to use this seemingly “backup” brake every time you’re parking? It’s all about the car’s transmission system.

We all know how to park, right? You put your vehicle in park, release the brake pedal, and that’s that. Well, not exactly. When braking this way, it’s actually the transmission that’s holding the car in place, via a tiny part called a parking pawl. This little metal pin fits into a notched ring attached to the transmission's output shaft. And that’s pretty much all that holds back your multi-ton vehicle. Over time, that pin can start to wear down and weaken. If you notice that your vehicle rolls a bit after letting up on the brake while in park, it’s likely that the pawl has already been affected by wear and tear. Using the emergency or parking brake instead puts the stress on this secondary braking system, saving your vehicle’s transmission.

You might not think it’s much of an effect, but the cumulative impact of using the parking brake really can extend an engine’s lifespan. Beyond that obvious plus, it also makes your vehicle more stable, and should it be hit while parked, there’s less likelihood of it rolling.

On top of all the benefits to your vehicle, this is also a case of use it or lose it. Regularly engaging the emergency brake keeps it in good working order. Otherwise, if it sits unused it can weaken, snap, or corrode from rust and then may not even work properly when you really need it in an emergency. Regular use keeps it primed and ready for more use–simple! So save your wallet from costly repairs and pull, push, or depress that emergency brake every time you park.

How To Use the Emergency Brake

The original use–as an emergency alternative–still stands. If for some reason your primary braking system isn’t working and you can’t stop your car, slowly engage the emergency brake to completely stop the vehicle. But we’re mainly focused on how to use it in everyday, non-emergent situations.

To use your vehicle’s emergency brake when parking, depress the main brake pedal, engage the emergency brake, and then put your vehicle in park and turn off the engine. Wait, what? We don’t first put the car in park and then use the emergency brake? We know, it got us too when we first learned this. But once you know about the pawl and the unnecessary strain on the transmission, it all makes much more sense.

When you’re ready to hit the road, just reverse engineer those instructions: start the engine, press the primary brake pedal, release the emergency brake, and drive or back away. Just be extra, super sure to disengage the parking brake before taking off again, since leaving the emergency brake engaged while driving will have the opposite effect and actually harm brakes and rotors. And if you haven’t been using your emergency brake or you’ve been using it incorrectly, it’s worth taking your vehicle to your trusted mechanic and asking for an inspection with your next oil change. You won’t know there’s a problem till you really need that emergency brake, so it’s always best to be safe, never sorry.

We Brake for Quality Insurance

Now that you know all about the dynamic duo that is the comprehensive braking system of your vehicle, you might also want to know how to protect that hunk-a hunk-a revving metal against a long list of potential mishaps. Accidents, falling trees, locking your keys in the car, theft–they always seem to happen at the most inopportune times. But with solid insurance coverage on your side, you’ll always have a friend to call on for help. At Zinc Insurance, we pride ourselves on offering our customers high quality coverage, but we like to keep things fair.

Get in touch with our expert team to learn more about home and auto, collectible, business insurance, and more–we’re ready to chat. More digital than analog? It’s just as easy to get a quick quote online.


Be the first to know when we post a new blog! Sign up below and get an email in your inbox every time a new blog goes live. We typically post twice a month - no spam, we promise.

Cozy reading corner to explore the Zinc blog.

This blog post does not provide insurance advice and is intended for information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional insurance advice from a licensed representative. Never ignore professional insurance advice because of something you have read in this blog post. Contact your licensed representative if you have any questions about your insurance policy.

bottom of page