Should I put on my parking brake when I'm parked on a hill?
March 15, 2006 10:34 AM   Subscribe

Are you supposed to put your parking brake on when you park on a steep hill even if your car is an automatic transmission?

I drive an automatic and was taught that whenever you park, whether it's on a level street or a hill, you should put your parking break on. The BF claims that it doesn't matter in automatic transmission cars. He lives on top of a steep hill and usually parks his car (automatic) either downhill or uphill, but he never puts his parking break on. He does turn the wheel to the curb, but should he put his parking break on also?

Can anyone find any sources that say anything about using the parking break on an automatic?
posted by nakedsushi to Travel & Transportation (40 answers total)
 
You should put your parking brake on especially if you're on a hill.
posted by billysumday at 10:36 AM on March 15, 2006


Yes, you should put on the parking brake, because the parking pawl (the piece inside the transmission that holds the car in park) can break or become dislodged and the car will roll away. It happens rarely, but it does happen.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:41 AM on March 15, 2006


Automatics usually have parking pawls that engage when the car is in "park". Manuals don't have a "park" setting so a parking brake is really important. I think using a parking brake is a good idea on a hill but I don't know that it's specifically required. Parking brakes on automatics also tend to be pretty wimpy, I can actually overcome mine in *idle" with my car.
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:41 AM on March 15, 2006


If you don't use a parking brake on a hill, the car will lurch back slightly when you take your foot off the brake. The lurch is hard on the transmission and easily avoided by using the parking break.
posted by malp at 10:42 AM on March 15, 2006


Sorry I couldn't find a better site:

If you're parked on a significant hill or grade, the weight of the vehicle ends up "leaning" on this pawl engagement, often making it difficult to pull the shift lever out of the park position when you're ready to drive away.

Having the leverage of the vehicle's weight "leaning" on the pawl isn't particularly hard on the transmission, but your efforts to pull or force the shift lever out of park can potentially bend or damage these components.

That's why most folks, particularly those who live in hilly terrain or on a grade, should get into the habit of engaging the parking brake every time the vehicle is parked.

Setting the parking brake -- regardless of terrain -- before shifting into park reduces the load on the parking pawl as well.
posted by billysumday at 10:45 AM on March 15, 2006


Whoah, what happened there? Here's the link.
posted by billysumday at 10:46 AM on March 15, 2006


Yes, you should. If you don't, when you put the car in Park, and take your foot off the brake pedal, all the force of the car trying to roll down the hill goes onto that parking pawl. At the least, it can make it really hard to take the car out of Park. At the worst, the pawl can break, and the car goes downhill until it meets something.

Put on the parking brake before you take your foot off the brake pedal.

As Mr. Sumday said.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:48 AM on March 15, 2006


As far as being required, it was definitely a required procedure for my Ontario driver's exam. Can't vouch for other places...
posted by Robot Johnny at 10:48 AM on March 15, 2006


I can't find a good link supporting it, but I know for sure that my driver's ed manual insisted that even an automatic transmission car should use the parking brake when parked on a steep hill, in addition to turning the wheel.

Also, anyone with an automatic car should use their emergency brake / parking brake every now and then to keep it from rusting out. If your boyfriend never uses his, it could rust out and snap if he ever needs it.

Most likely your local RMV / dept of motor vehicles website will have a link to a driver's manual that details the procedure for parking on a hill.
posted by sarahmelah at 10:51 AM on March 15, 2006


Regarding the strength of the parking brake when it is engaged: For best results depress the brake pedal as far as it will go, and hold it, before engaging the parking brake.
posted by ads at 11:00 AM on March 15, 2006


What's his argument against using the brake? Just too much trouble? If he has a specific reason for not using it, we might be able to shoot that down, too.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:03 AM on March 15, 2006


His reason is that he forgets that it's on and drives around with it on. I guess if he used it more often, he'll remember to take it off when he drives.
posted by nakedsushi at 11:07 AM on March 15, 2006


Also, anyone with an automatic car should use their emergency brake / parking brake every now and then to keep it from rusting out.

Seconded. Otherwise you will find this truism out when you need to use your parking break.
posted by yerfatma at 11:07 AM on March 15, 2006


What's his argument against using the brake?

I did once have the parking brake cable stick in place (due to rust/corrosion the mechanic said) when I left it on for a few days.

Isn't it mandatory to turn your wheels to the curb on steep streets in SF?
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:11 AM on March 15, 2006


His reason is that he forgets that it's on and drives around with it on. I guess if he used it more often, he'll remember to take it off when he drives.
Sounds like the "claims that it doesn't matter in automatic transmission cars" are cover for his forgetfulness. As everyone else said, it's a good thing to use.

BTW, if he leaves it on when he drives, do you get a nasty smell from the friction of the brake generates? If not, it (already) needs replacing.

Oh, and doesn't the car have a nice bright red light in the dash that tells you the parking brake is on? It's harder to forget when the car is telling you what's going on.
posted by lowlife at 11:14 AM on March 15, 2006


As far as being required, it was definitely a required procedure for my Ontario driver's exam. Can't vouch for other places...

I remember asking my driver's ed teacher about this. To paraphrase his response:

Look, the chances of the parking pawl in an automatic transmission breaking, wearing out, etc, are pretty damn low. But, there's still a chance.

Given that pulling the parking break level takes about 4 milliseconds of your day and burns about 0.00001% of a calorie, you may as well turn it on and take the risk of the pawl failing down to zero.

It's such minimal effort for safety, it's silly NOT to turn it on. (This model applies in a lot of areas of life, actually.)
posted by generichuman at 11:14 AM on March 15, 2006


Your transmission is not a kickstand.
posted by amro at 11:15 AM on March 15, 2006


The usual argument against using a parking brake (which is, sadly, often correct) is that if the parking brake has never been used in the car, the brake line is usually rusted/worn out, and it'll just snap. Or, worse, the pads will stick in position.

Being smart enough to use it all the time means you'll know when the cable is loose before it matters (ie: You're on a steep hill, or your regular/front brakes give out while driving). It'll also keep it tensioned, as the drums will retension the wire when it is pulled.

I'm not a car guy, I just remember that from looking it up a while ago. I think this was all on how stuff works.com

The proper procedure, which almost nobody I know ever uses (but me!), is this: Foot on brake. Shift to neutral. Pull parking brake. Foot off brake. Shift to park. Now the entire weight of the car is resting on the brakes instead of the parking pin (good). You can tell if you're doing it right by letting the car off the parking brake after "properly" parking on a reasonably level surface. You'll feel the car lurch onto the parking pin! Don't do that on a hill, though, you might sheer the pin.

(I always know when someone else has used my car because they never, ever set the parking brake.)
posted by shepd at 11:16 AM on March 15, 2006


I guess it's not mandatory, but if I don't engage the parking brake on a steep hill my car rolls forward a couple inches when I take my foot off of the regular brake, and that is freaky as hell, and I just don't need it.
posted by Hildago at 11:18 AM on March 15, 2006


The automatic transmission pawl will slip at some point, anyone who has accidently shifted into park before they stopped moving has probably heard the ratcheting noise. Your parking brake should be adjusted so that it will prevent you from moving, stepping on the regular brake pedal while applying it will help. If it holds enough there is no way to drive off with it on. If you have drum brakes in the rear (a lot of cars still do, some with discs in the rear have drum parking brakes) the brake will hold much better going forward than reverse, something to watch out for parking up hill with a manual trans also.
posted by 445supermag at 11:21 AM on March 15, 2006


shepd - Shifting to neutral before applying the brake is an extra step. If you have your foot on the brakes and are holding the car that way, there is no reason not to go straight to 'Park' and then engage the parking brake (or just engage the parking brake before shifting). Same net effect either way, though - as long as you set the parking brake before releasing the regular brake pedal, the tranny will never get a load put on it.
posted by daveleck at 11:45 AM on March 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


I grew up in a house with a very steep driveway so before I ever got behind the wheel of a car I was "in the habit" of using the parking brake, because my parents always did.

I've truly never understood why some people don't use the parking brakes in their cars. Do they think car manufacturers continue to put parking brakes in new cars for fun, or out of some misguided notion that they look cool? It's called a parking brake for a reason: you should use it when you park the car. Get in the habit of using it and you'll never regret it.

Think of it like using your seatbelt: Probably more than 99 car trips out of every 100 you take you won't end up needing to have your seatbelt on. You should put it on anyway, though, because that minuscule chance is still too big a risk.
posted by cerebus19 at 11:47 AM on March 15, 2006


That's the problem. My wife refers to it as an 'emergency brake' as has yet to find herself in a situation dire enough to warrant its use.
posted by daveleck at 11:54 AM on March 15, 2006


I take the added step of turning my wheels towards the curb. That way if everything else fails, at least the car will only roll a couple feet before stopping.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 12:05 PM on March 15, 2006


Yeah, a lot of cars have it labeled "emergency brake," hence it sounding completely nonessential.
posted by mikeh at 12:17 PM on March 15, 2006


I'll add to the gazillion opinions here:

-If you have a manual transmission, always use parking brake whether or not you're on a hill. Some people 'leave it in gear' - no, use the parking brake with a manual transmission always! Otherwise your car can be moved quite easily, even by simply pushing.

-with an automatic, dont need parking brake unless you're on SO steep a hill (think sanfrancisco) that it will actually be hard to shift out of Park into Drive unless the handbrake is on (see discussions about the pawl mechanism above).
posted by jak68 at 12:21 PM on March 15, 2006


In addition to using the parking brake, you should also turn your wheel so that the tires are angled so that they would roll up against the curb in the event the car should roll downhill.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:23 PM on March 15, 2006


Grampa taught me this...when you come to a stop, keep the foot on the brake and engage the parking brake.

Then shift to neutral and let your foot off the brake. Your car will roll to rest on the parking brake holding power and not the transmission 'pawl'. Then put it in park.

It will then be super easy to shift into drive plus save some wear and tear.
posted by toastchee at 12:37 PM on March 15, 2006


The bottom line is that in a manual, the car will roll without the parking break, and in an automatic it probably won't not counting bizarre edge cases.

I never use my emergency break for parking my auto, and it drives me nuts when my friend drives my car and does.

(emergency/sliding around in the snow)
posted by delmoi at 1:26 PM on March 15, 2006


Oh a good reason not to engage the emergency break when parking, is that you can forget to disengage it, and leave it on while driving, which causes a ton of wear and tear on the car.

I'd say that's more likely then problems with the pawl or whatever.
posted by delmoi at 1:29 PM on March 15, 2006


Ah, I see the boyfriend, like me, forgets to pointlessly enable it while parking, and then leaves it on while driving around, damaging the car.

forgetting to disengage the parking break is much more likely then that some sort of crazy one in a million chance pawl failure.

The bottom line is that the car is better off with the break off.
posted by delmoi at 1:31 PM on March 15, 2006


proper hill parking technique:

'cramp' the tires to the curb (this also varies according to front or rear wheel drive and whether your parked uphill or down), foot on brake, engage parking brake, put tranny in park or neutral, remove foot from brake.

I learned to drive in Cincinnati, OH, which is a mini version of San Francisco. saw some scary incidents while living in Clifton and Over The Rhine (ultra hilly neighborhoods full of college kids) with cars there because of all the young, out of town drivers who never got taught this stuff.

this ritual is doubly important to observe if you drive a Subaru. if you do, adhere to this procedure regardless of the grade you're parked on. Otherwise their maddening ignition lock deal WILL pwn you someday. the ex broke off a key in the ignition of my old Suby from lack of attention to this process, but that was just one more indication that he was and still remains a total muppet without whom I am a much happier person.
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:51 PM on March 15, 2006


445supermag wrote: If you have drum brakes in the rear (a lot of cars still do, some with discs in the rear have drum parking brakes) the brake will hold much better going forward than reverse, something to watch out for parking up hill with a manual trans also.

Word. I parked my '57 Chevy facing uphill on Beacon Hill, in gear with the parking brake engaged and the wheels turned into the curb (on the downhill side). Somebody parked in front of me using the Boston Bump method, and I came back to find the Chevy's front up on the sidewalk, with the bumper against the building.

My Subaru will not move with the parking brake on. I believe it operates the hydraulics on the front brakes. So, I can't agree that it's better not to use the brake, or to make any blanket statement to that effect. If you can't tell when your parking brake is on when you start to drive, it's likely that either your brakes need service, or you need to pay more attention.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:01 PM on March 15, 2006


Late to the party, but: Additionally, using the parking brake every time you get out of the car flattens your brake cables and wear them out INFINITELY faster than if you don't. The parking brake was designed for parking on inclines or declines, but if you're on level ground and you have an automatic, the parking brake is detrimental.
posted by indiebass at 2:13 PM on March 15, 2006


I once went for a flight in a cable-launched glider. When it was time to release the tow cable, the pilot grabbed this big handle and went: pull, push, pull, push. It was pefectly clear that the cable had released on the first pull and I asked the pilot what the purpose of the second one was; she told me it was standard operating procedure, done for safety.

Thing is, if the cable doesn't release on the first pull, you don't want to be sitting there figuring out what to do as you get reeled into a nosedive. Even though the second pull is unnecessary 99.99% of the time, the fact that it's habitual could well save your life.

Your BF wouldn't need to remember whether the handbrake was on or not, if he just used the following SOP's for all parking and all pullouts:

For parking: brake, neutral, handbrake, park; brake, steering, engine.

For pulling out: engine, brake, handbrake, drive; signal, mirrors, headcheck, brake; steering, go.

Slackness is always fine, until it isn't.

On preview: if your BF has concerns about brake cable wear, he could (a) vary the SOP slightly by not pulling the handbrake on terribly hard if he's on the flat (b) think about brake system corrosion from disuse instead.
posted by flabdablet at 3:05 PM on March 15, 2006


Oh, yeah. About the parking brake being designed for parking solely on hills: I think not. The parking brake is designed for parking. If you're parked on the flat with the brake off, and some dipshit touch-parks their SUV on you, you don't want to have to repair both ends and the transmission.
posted by flabdablet at 3:10 PM on March 15, 2006


Trying to use the excuse of "what if I leave it engaged" is just a cover-up for laziness and forgetfulness. If you use the parking brake every time like you should then there is no chance of forgetting and ALSO no chance of wearing out the pawl and/or sliding down a hill the few times you have to park on one because the parking brake was never used.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:34 PM on March 15, 2006


You've got to be kidding me. Driving your car wears out your tires, too. This is getting asinine. The brake is there for a reason - use the damn thing.

Additionally, if you are so oblivious that you can't remember to disengage it and/or can't tell that you're driving around with your parking brake engaged, maybe you should reconsider operating such a dangerous piece of equipment.
posted by daveleck at 4:36 PM on March 15, 2006


I've seen a car roll down a hill when its parking pawl sheared and take out a lot of stuff -- luckily no people -- when it did. It could have killed people. And sometimes people don't quite shift the auto trans into park and think they have too. So I add to the chorus. Of course you put your parking brake on, and if you don't recognize the feeling of driving with it still on for even a second, it needs to be adjusted or you do (or the BF does).
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:20 PM on March 15, 2006


I can assure you, the parking brake won't wear out particularly quickly from normal parking usage! :-) I've been driving like that for 10 years without ever snapping or even stretching the cable.

Have you ever seen someone drive a manual PROPERLY in a hilly area? I have! The parking brake is engaged/disengaged every few minutes! I bet you one of their drives is about equal to a years worth of wear and tear on that parking brake. And they're not replacing them every month!

And, if it is a regular habit, you will NEVER, EVER forget to disengage the brake. Forgetting that, to me, would be like "forgetting" the car is in park, not drive, and mashing the accelerator, blowing the engine.

Hey! I forgot one more benefit: If you have the parking brake on, and you happen to have one of these mysterious cars that like to suddenly accelerate from a parking position into other cars, you'll be quite chuffed when you don't cause an accident.
posted by shepd at 9:07 AM on March 16, 2006


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