Hand brake vs. pedal 'parking brake'

Most of the cars I’ve owned or driven have had a hand brake operated by a ‘Johnson bar’-type lever. At least one hat a T-handle under the dash. My Prius, and the T-bird dad had, has a foot pedal. I’ve been in cars where the brake is actuated by pressing down on the pedal and it is release by stepping on it again, and in cars where the brake is released by pulling a separate handle.

Johnson bars seem quicker, easier, more accurate, and safer to employ. Why are there still pedals?

Mercedes uses a foot operate/handle release parking brake because that’s what they’ve always done. Pain in the ass for a hill start in a manual.

Foot operation takes advantage of the strength of the leg, and clears out the center area for bench type seating.

Hand operated works better for manual transmissions. A fourth pedal would compete for floor space and hand operation is useful for starting out on steep hills. A hand released foot applied parking brake can work, but a “push again to release” type is only suitable for automatic transmission vehicles.

Yes, hand brakes are very useful for starting up a hill in a car equipped with a standard transmission.

Also the hand brake is a perfectly serviceable emergency brake should your hydraulic brakes fail. the foot brakes, not so much. while both will do the job of slowing the car the foot brake offers a serious lack of control while the hand brake is just as easy to control as the cars normal brakes. To much hand brake? ease off a bit because you are holding the button down you can do this. to much foot pedal? either reach under the dash and pull the release lever while you are trying to steer the car or push even harder to make it release…

yeah the push to set/push to release pedals I call death brakes. cause the one thing they are not is an emergency brake.

Our minivan has the foot set/release and it’s a problem with my weak leg being on the left. I have to cross over with the right as I have neither the strength or control to use the left.

On my '76 Chevy truck I’ve got five foot controls. It’s a manual with the pedal parking brake and a floor dimmer. Granted it’s a big truck with lots of space, but this setup works well enough (I kind of like it).

Have you ever actually tried to stop your vehicle from any great speed with your parking brake? Unless you’re fortunate enough to have your brakes fail while traveling at less than 25mph, the procedure is apply the brake as hard as you can and hope it stops you eventually. Fortunately, with modern dual-circuit braking systems, total brake failure is very unlikely and in the vast majority of partial brake failures you are much better off using the regular brake pedal.

Good luck with that.

Using the lower gears will slow you down; forcing the shift lever into reverse is a last ditch effort or so I’m told; I’ve never done it or seen it done. Assuming one can do that, it will cost you a transmission and maybe an engine but it might save your life. I’m thinking here of automatic transmissions; I really doubt that a stick shift could be forced into reverse; I think the damage that would result would defeat the purpose for doing it.

The Citroen DS had a pedal type parking brake and there was a good reason for that. The car had a single hydraulic circuit that operated the brakes, suspension and steering assist. If one of the trillion tubes and hoses developed a leak while on the road, then you would lose brakes suspension and steering in short order.

The parking brake is entirely mechanical and acts on the front wheels using a separate set of smaller pads. If you lose pressure in the main brakes you can use the parking brake to stop the car. Also you can lock the release latch in the open position so the parking brake pedal won’t stay depressed if released, like a normal brake pedal.

I once had the misfortune of losing pressure in my DS. When that happens first the big red stop light in the dashboard turns on, detail here (there’s also a button to test the light, this shows how important its proper function is). When the light turns on you have aproximately 10-20 seconds to bring the car to a stop using the normal brakes. After that, you lose steering assist so the steering wheel becomes very heavy, the suspension drops to the bump stops and the brake pedal doesn’t work at all. If you somehow miss that time window then your only way to bring the car to a stop is with the parking brake.

That day I actually managed to drive the car for 70 kilometers through a winding country back road until I came back home.

Builder of said devices checking in

Roughly depends on the vehicle design. The car companies design the cockpit of the car and everything flows from there. The park brakes (push pedal or push pedal with release cable) are heavier than the console mounted counter parts and may add up to 15 pounds of essentially dead weight.

With the big sedans, that amount of weight is not going to make that much of a difference, but with the smaller econoboxes, the fuel economy is directly related to both engine/transmission and weight of vehicle. Add to that a smaller cockpit that may already have three pedals with the accel, brake and clutch, adding a fourth pedal can get tight.


Good luck with that. Try it sometime as an experiment. You might notice some slowing down at speed but probably not much. If you have several empty street blocks at your disposal, you might be able to minimize the damage before you hit something. I have never had a vehicle with an emergency brake that actually stops the vehicle in any reasonable time-frame and I have tested it over and over.

Locking up the parking brake is a great way to do a 180 degree turn in a very short amount of space. When the rear brakes lock up, the rear of the car will immediately swap ends with the front. As soon as the car is pointed the opposite direction, slam on the brakes to stop the car, release the parking brake then hit the gas. Learned to do this at the Bob Bondurant driving school. We were told to use the parking/emergency brake for slow speed stops only.

I just re-read The Big Sleep and there is reference made to a hand throttle. Did cars in, I guess, the 1930’s have hand throttles?

What percentage of Mercedes Benz car sales are manuals, do you think? Maybe 1/100th of 1 percent? Do they even offer a manual transmission on most of their models?

I’d wager most of them are available in manual. It’s extremely common outside the USA.

Ah, a 1930’s style hand throttle. Sorry, I got nothing.

I know that the name ‘emergency brake’ is a misnomer, it doesn’t brake at all. There’s been many times I’ve left the house with the parking brake still pushed down. The van acts a bit sluggish but I’ve driven many blocks that way until I figure it out. The way real brakes are designed, when it comes to a war between the gas and the brake, the brake is always supposed to win.

i’m aware that the US is unusual in its focus on automatic transmissions, but i was also under the impression that, even in Europe, most Mercedes models are sold mainly as automatics.

For example the current S-class range is offered only with various automatic transmissions. In the latest E-class range, only the bottom-end models (E200, E220, E250) are available with a manual transmission, even in Europe. The SL class of convertibles is all auto.

Smaller sedans and sports convertibles like the C class and SLK class are listed as having manual transmissions as standard, but the auto transmission is generally a no-cost option, and i’d be willing to bet that, even in Europe, the vast majority of Mercs sold are automatics.

I have driven a 1950’s Volvo with a hand throttle. Brilliant :slight_smile:

You’re not wrong. I used Auto Trader to look up all the used Mercs within 20 miles of where I live in southern England. Of 607 Mercs (of all classes) available 81 are listed as manual. But most of the automatics will be 5 speed Tiptronic-style gearboxes and not the 3 speed torque converter slushboxes available in most American cars.

On the subject of handbrakes Racer72 got it right. Take a front wheel drive car with a manual transmission and handbrake out in the snow for a play. Handbrake turns are a hoot!