Floor Parking Brakes vs. Hand Brakes

I got into an arguement with a friend earlier about parking brakes in cars. He complained that too many cars have a hand brake, which presumably wastes space. I countered that it is more accessible and can be used to prevent rollback when using a manual transmission on a hill. What is the reason for the switch to handbrakes on so many cars.

Also, is there a reason why so many cars now use floor mounted shifters, specifically cars which are offered only with an automatic transmission? It seems to me that a column shifter is much more logical spacewise, as it makes a large center console unnecesary.
Why then, do so many vehicles use the floor shifter? Even in vehicles with an offered manual transmission, two versions can be made (Ford Ranger, Honda CRV, Ford Explorer, etc.)

A floor mounted parking brake can also be used to park a manual transmission vehicle. A parking brake is on the floor to be used by the left foot, a handbrake is on the center console, and an emergency brake can refer to either, although usually it refers to a handbrake.

I do not see how a handbrake wastes space, what else would be put there? No center console whatsoever, like base model K-cars?

A handbrake, emergency brake, or parking brake only locks the rear drums. During hard braking, most of the work is being done by your front disc brakes. If you brake TOO hard or too long, your front discs can become superheated and do not function. In this instance, you should downshift your car and use your handbrake to slow your vehicle. This is not possible with a floor, or ‘parking’ brake. This use is also the reason that the handbrake is also called the ‘emergency’ brake. Be careful, however, if you are using your handbrake, do not make sudden steering corrections or slow too quickly, both can lead to a sudden swapping of ends due to inertia.

Floor mounted shifters are more reliable, and are preferred by the majority of drivers. In a rear wheel drive vehicle, often the floor mounted shifter is physically attached to the transmission, making a column shifter unecessarily complex.

Car manufacturers attempt to save money in every way possible. Manufacturing a vehicle that offers a column OR floor shift would cost more than the return, and therefore make it an illogical production decision.

Console shifters are also considered by some to be unreliable or flaky. Many people also like to rest their hand on the shift knob or handbrake while driving.

I, personally, would not drive a vehicle that has a console shifter, and would not drive a vehicle that has a ‘parking’ brake. Both of these come mainly on large trucks and minivans. The majority of small, compact, midsize, luxury, and sports cars have handbrakes and console shifters.

Does this answer your questions?


The other situation where a hand brake is crucial is when you are performing a hill start. You engage the engine and slowly let out the hand brake to move forward. In England, if the car rolls backwards at all during the manoever you have failed your test.

Wow! That strikes me as a bit harsh. It’s one thing to careen madly backwards down the hill, engine racing as you desperately search for the “catch” point on the clutch, and quite another to roll back a couple of inches. Points off, I could understand, but automatic failure? :eek:

'Course, there’s hills and then there’s hills. The smell of overheated clutch plates permeates San Francisco.

I drive a Mazda B-series pickup (a Ford Ranger clone) with a manual tranny, and it has a foot brake. Unless the hill is really steep, I can start without a second thought, without any appreciable roll-back. You just have to know the vehicle.

I do wish it had a handbrake, partly for the hill-start reason - I have to admit that it would make it easier. They call it a “parking brake”, and it really is useful for absolutely nothing else. I tried to see if I could use it as an emergency brake once, and it proved geometrically impossible. If my left arm is reaching down to pull the release lever (disengaging the ratchet), I can’t lift my left foot enough to get it on the pedal - door, steering wheel, and my arm leave my knee nowhere to go.

The other issue I have with Ford’s use of that footbrake is that it seriously limits foot space down there. The resting place for your left foot next to the clutch pedal is partially obstructed by, you guessed it, that damn parking brake pedal.

In these B-series/Rangers, manual shifters are floor-mounted, but the automatics have a column-mounted stalk. I suspect that they put the manual on the floor so that it can hook directly to the transmission itself, like Homer said. The auto is on the column, quite frankly, to get it out of the way. The only time I wish my truck had an automatic is when I’ve got a 3rd person squeezed in the middle “seat”, and they find that there’s really no place for their legs.

Regarding pariking brake placement. I suspect so many cars now have console-mounted brakes because it saves several feet of cabling, plus, there is frequently not enough room to add a pedal by the firewall. It would be, um, Bad if you went to depress the clutch, and instead pressed the parking brake. Many vehicles with plenty of foot room like pickup trucks and full size sedans retain the floor-mounted parking brake. Furthermore, floor-mounted parking brakes are a neccessity if your front seat is a bench-style seat. For those too young to remember, the high beam dimmer switch used to be on the floor, too. Too much to do down below…

Regarding steering column mounted shifters: These used to be very common indeed. They were called three on the tree. These transmission linkages were prone to wear and failure, and were difficult to operate. Many people with column-mounted shifters would cut a hole in the floorboards and mount a floor-shifter in its place. Because automatics typically do not see the amount of action that manuals do, they fare much better on the column. Column shifters are still used when there is a fron bench seat. Another point is that floor-mounted automatics are considered “sportier”.

As others have posted, I like a hand brake instead of a floor brake. Since my Cherokee is automatic (my first automatic) I don’t need to use the hand brake on hills; but all of my other cars have had standard transmissions and having a hand brake was necessary on hills.

Re: The location of the shift lever. Since all of my cars have had standard transmissions, it’s more comfortable in my case to have the shift lever in a familiar place. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a bench seat. If a car has “bucket” seats, there’s no reason not to put a lever there.

Hand brakes are also useful for the crappy teenagers to do powerslide in icy parking lots. My car has a floor brake, but it seems to work ok when I use it (very rarely).

I recall Mom’s c. 1970 Volvo wagon – with the emergency hand-brake on the left of the driver’s seat, between the driver’s butt and the door.

And before that Dad’s mid-60s Whatthehellwasthat, with a hand-brake that went thru the dashboard into the firewall (and the windshield-washer fluid coming from a FOOT operated pump!!)

I do prefer my cable brake to be a hand-brake setup.

The older “real” Mazda B-Series trucks[sup]*[/sup] had brakes like this, I think - my dad has a '90 B2200, and the parking brake is a handle at the lower right part of the dash cluster. You pull it towards you to engage the brake, and twist it to release. It rather nicely provided a hand-operated p-brake while not getting in the way of a middle seat.

[sup]*[/sup]Since model year 1994, Mazda B-Series trucks have been made by Ford on the same assembly lines as the Ranger, and the two are pretty much identical beneath the different badges. Prior to that, they were genuine Mazda products. Comparisons between post- and pre- switch trucks are pointless, as they’re completely different vehicles.

You mean like this? http://www.thecj2apage.com/interior.jpg This is my '46 Willys Jeep. You can see the lever on the dash between the instrument cluster and the ignition key, framed in the lower-right segment of the steering wheel.

Yep, pretty sim’lar. :slight_smile:

I kinda like it, myself. Sure beats sticking another pedal down there when space gets tight.

Man, Johnny, that’s one snazzy jeep. I just backed up from your link and found the rest of the pics…

See, now…all of the above is why I drive an automatic!

Can someone explain to the poor shift-challenged person what’s being talked about in this thread? To me, the “brake” is the pedal with the long horizontal axis, and “parking” involves the letter “P” on the gear indicator. What’s a “floor brake”, a “hand brake”, and a “parking brake”(I assume that last is the Parking gear)?

Never drove a stick…to paraphrase a Laverne & Shirley episode, I’d have succotash all the time.

::mouth drops open speechless::

Please, just leave me alone for a bit, I’ll be alright. I hope. I’m doing my best not to cry.


Most (all?)automatics have 3 pedals. The gas, the brake, and the parking brake. the Parking brake is the pedal that doesn’t release when you release pressure to the pedal. It’s usually released by pulling a knob near the brake.

Then again, I’m no expert…

Mikahw, PLEASE read my post on this subject, the first reply in this thread. Not all automatics have a parking brake, in fact, most of them, with the proliferation of bucket seats, have a handbrake. It’s mostly large sedans, luxury cars, minivans, and trucks that have parking brakes.

BTW, re: handbrakes on hills, whenever I teach someone to drive a manual, the first thing I teach them, before even showing them how to shift, is to feel, with their foot, the contact point of the clutch. If you know, for certain, exactly where the clutch will engage, and how strongly, you will not ever need your hand brake to start off a hill, no matter how steep. It’s all about memorizing where your clutch engages, and smoothly reaching that point. In fact, a person who regularly drives a manual should probably even be taught how to shift without even using the clutch. It’s a very simple process. I taught myself in just one day, hell, in just one 30 mile trip.


      • I think the reason modern cars have any sort of emergency brake at all is strictly because it’s required. Hand-mounted brakes in most cars are near-useless; they just barely stop the car; you end up rolling almost as far as if you just put it in neutral and coasted. The advantage of a handbrake is that it doesn’t take up space and lead to confusion (the Audi 5000 syndrome). The (more significant, IMO) disadvantage is that if your regular brakes fail, you can apply much more pressure to a foot pedal than you can a hand brake.
  • That said, I haven’t ever driven any car that could “lock up” its wheels by you engaging the parking brake while rolling. -Well, maybe on ice/snow or mud, but anything else it just don’t happen. - MC

Although the device started off as an emergency brake it has evolved into a parking brake and should be used as such, whether you have an automatic or manual transmission, and especially if you park either on a hill.

When vehicles were first designed there was a true need for an emergency brake and was used as such on a regular basis, but, since we now only tend to use them as parking brakes, I will try to help you see why it is very important to use your parking brake. You will see that you are risking a busted transmission if you don’t use the parking brake in an automatic equipped vehicle and risking engine damage in a manual equipped vehicle.

First the manual; There are two types of people driving manual transmissions, those that apply there parking brake when parking and those that just leave the transmission in gear and let the engine keep the vehicle from moving. The first group is right while the second group is wrong. Why? Well, relying on the engine is unsafe and risks engine damage. The only thing that is really keeping the car from moving is the compression of the engine and the parked vehicle has more than enough weight to make the engine turn over and thus the vehicle moves. On level ground this is moot but on a hill you see where the physics come into play and most people do apply their parking brake when parking a manual on a hill. If they do not and the vehicle moves, they may get lucky and the vehicle will only move a foot and lightly tap the vehicle parked behind them. If they aren’t so lucky as to have a stable object behind them, well, down the hill we go. Or worse, if the vehicle is parked facing uphill and the driver has placed the transmission in a forward gear, the engine is forced to turn backwards, the timing belt will probably jump out of time and the next time you start your engine the pistons will come up and bend your valves.

Now what about an automatic? Most people do not apply the paring brake in an automaic equipped vehicle and on level ground I wouldn’t suggest different but if you park an automatic on a hill, do it! Have you ever heard that horrible clunking noise when you’ve parked on a hill and take the transmission out of park? There is a little piece of metal in you transmission that is designed to dog off against the transmission housing when the transmission is in Park, this is the only thing keeping your vehicle from moving! If you were to see this piece of metal you would never bet your vehicle’s life on the strength of it and every time you hear that clunking noise you are risking breaking that metal piece off or worse, cracking your transmission housing. When you park your automatic vehicle on a hill, apply your parking break BEFORE you put the transmission into Park, then the weight of the vehicle is being held by the brakes and not that flimsy piece of metal. And when you next get into your vehicle, start the engine, apply the foot brakes, put the transmission into the desired gear and THEN release the parking brake. If your parking brake cable is adjusted properly you should not hear that clunking noise and you will not be risking damage to your transmission.

I’m confused. This must be a strictly US thing. Maybe a fellow Aussie can disagree with me on this, but I’ve NEVER SEEN a foot-operated parking brake. I’ve driven heaps of vehicles, from a 1972 V8 Ford automatic to a 2000 model Toyota with a five-on-the-floor manual box, to a light truck, and they’ve ALL had hand operated parking brakes. Aussies don’t even call it a parking brake. It’s the “hand brake”. Most are located between the seats (which I prefer), a few are the old pull-and-twist dash-mounted ones (my old Ford had one of those. I don’t like this set-up because it’s harder to apply gradually). BTW, my old Ford also had the floor-mounted high beam control.

Also, I’d have to disagree with the poster who said the hand operated brake isn’t very strong. NO parking brake can stop a car as well as the regular brake, as it only uses the rear drums. But, a properly adjusted handbrake pulled on hard will almost definitely lock your rear wheels up on bitumen. The ideal is that leaving your car in gear on a hill is more than enough to hold it there. The handbrake should be able to do the job on its own too (just ask my girlfriend who leaves the bugger in neutral on steep hills :o ). The use of both methods is simply a safety backup.

A hand brake you don’t use with your hand? A new one on me. :slight_smile: Don’t think I’d like it much, I’m a big bloke, and I have enough trouble squeezing my feet in with the three pedals I’ve already got.

Saying it’s possible to drive without the clutch, is like saying it’s possible to steer with one hand.

Of course, the average driver can learn to do this by judging the engine speed, and you might get it right 999 times out of a thousand. But get it wrong once, and you’ve caused some expensive damage. I know how to perform clutchless gear changes, but I NEVER do it. Well, maybe if I don’t own the car… :smiley:

If pressing the clutch pedal is too much trouble, you should be in an automatic.