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Drove With the Parking Brake On Accidentally: Now What?

A car's parking brake. Driving with your parking brake on could potentially ruin your car's rear brakes and require you to replace the components. Here's what happens if you forget to disengage your parking brake before going for a drive.

Your car seems sluggish and doesn’t want to go and might even shudder. That’s the moment you realize you accidentally drove away with the parking brake on. It’s easy to forget to release the parking brake, especially if it’s not something you set every time you get out of your car. Here’s what happened if you accidentally drove with the parking brake on.

How a Parking Brake Works

Parking brakes, also called emergency brakes, were originally intended as a backup to the main braking system. This means they don’t use the same hydraulics that activate when you use your brake pedal. Instead, the parking brake uses a cable system that locks your rear wheels to stop the car from moving.
Some cars have a parking brake that’s activated by a center console lever that pulls up. Many newer cars have an electronic parking brake. Rather than pulling up on a lever to pull the cable, an electronic parking brake activates the cable without the lever. Same result, two slightly different engaging mechanisms.

What Happens If You Accidentally Drove With the Parking Brake On?

If you’ve ever ridden a bike, then you’ve seen how the brakes grab the tire. You can still pedal with the brakes engaged, but they rub against the tire and the whole bicycle resists going anywhere. The same thing happens in your car.

You can drive away with the parking brake on, but you’ll feel that the car doesn’t want to go. Pressing on the gas with the parking brake engaged is like trying to pedal a bike while you’re holding the brake handles.

The further you accidentally drive with the parking brake on, the more damage you can possibly do to your vehicle. If you only covered a short distance with the parking brake engaged, you probably only caused minor additional wear to the components and have nothing to worry about.

Are Your Brakes Ruined?

If you somehow manage to drive a long distance with the parking brake engaged, then you can cause major damage to your brakes. Most of the damage comes from heat generated by the constant friction of the pads or shoes rubbing against the rotors or drums. This can cause wear and damage to any or all of these brake parts.

Most cars have a light on the dashboard to warn you when you’ve left the parking brake engaged, so don’t ignore those lights. If you do manage to travel a good distance with your parking brake engaged and are concerned about damage, then have your brakes inspected at your local NAPA Auto Care to be sure they’re still operating properly.

Check out all the brake system parts available on NAPAonline or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA Auto Care locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on what happens if you drive with your parking brake on, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr.


Nicole Wakelin View All

Nicole Wakelin covers the automotive industry as a freelance journalist for a variety of outlets. Her work includes news pieces, podcasts, radio, written reviews, and video reviews. She can be found in The Boston Globe, CarGurus, BestRide, US News and World Report, and AAA along with lifestyle blogs like Be Car Chic, The Other PTA, and She Buys Cars. She is active on social media with a large following on both Twitter and Instagram and currently serves as Vice President of the New England Motor Press Association.

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