How To Troubleshoot A Parking Brake That Won’t Engage Or Disengage?

August 6, 2020

How To Troubleshoot A Parking Brake

It’s no fun when you suddenly realize that your car won’t move because your parking brake isn’t disengaging. If you do end up in such a situation, you may be wondering why it happened, how to troubleshoot and get your parking brake unstuck and how to prevent any such future issues? The experts at ABS Unlimited (located in Fairfax, Va) would like to offer you the following tips!

From a mechanical and functional perspective, parking brakes are relatively simple. They’re basically a cable that’s attached to your brake shoes. When the cable is pulled, it pushes the brake shoes into contact with the inside of the drum and helps keep the wheel from turning.

Most common reasons why you parking brake won’t engage/disengage:

Poor positioning of brake shoes: If your brake shoes are improperly positioned, they may not provide proper contact and thus prevent your parking brake from functioning properly. The adjustment of brake shoes generally requires removing of wheels and drums (if your vehicle has them) or rotors and calipers (if you have disc brakes).

Broken/Detached/Frayed Cable: A broken, detached or frayed parking brake cable could be causing the malfunction. When checking, you want to ensure that your cable isn’t detached from either one or both sides. It is also important that the cable is attached to both rear brakes for it to work effectively.

an image showing poor positioning of brake shoes

 Loose Cable: If you have a brake with a nut attached, ensure that the nut hasn’t come loose. Loosing of nut can lead to slack in the cable that can cause it not to engage.

Rust/Corrosion: The bell crank (aka the lever that sits in front of the parking brake assembly) may have rusted overtime which can cause the brake to malfunction. 

 Frozen Brake: Generally, a direct result of cold and wet weather that can cause the brake to freeze. 

an image of rusty bell crank

How To Prevent Your Parking Brake From Getting Stuck?

Use your parking brake periodically: Water and dirt can cause cables to erode over time. Regular usage can prevent corrosion and in turn minimize parking brake failures. 

Turn on your vehicle and let it warm up: If cold/wet weather has frozen your parking brake then the easiest thing to do is to turn on your car and let it warm up. It can be a simple but slightly time-consuming fix. 

an image showing brake light

Don’t pull too hard: Pulling on the e-brake can also cause it to get stuck so we recommend not using your parking brake level for strength testing or stress relief. If the parking brake does get stuck for this reason, you could try to set and release the brake a few times to see if that releases the brake, try and pull the cable under the vehicle or rock the wheel (if its safe to do so). If you are not comfortable getting under the car or unsure on how to do it safely, we recommend giving your mechanic a call.