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E-brake problems

I own a 1987 Dodge Ram 50, manual transmission. I live in the mountains of Colorado where it gets very cold, often below zero. I always park the truck in 1st and set the emergency brake. My ex told me once that I shouldn’t set the brake when it is going to be below freezing outside. Over the past few months, I have been noticing that occasionally, while I am driving (particularly just getting started after stopping at a light) the brake light will light up on the dash for about 30 seconds, even though I don’t have the brake engaged. The brake often also has a problem engaging–I will park, even on a flat surface, and kill the ignition and set the e-brake, but when I take my foot off the brake pedal, the truck will start rolling and not stop. I have to start the truck, disengage the brake, stop, kill the ignition, and set the brake again for it to hold. Is this a serious problem that I should get checked out by a mechanic? I put a lot of miles on the truck, and am kind of worried about driving it a lot if this is serious. Was my ex right about not setting the brake in cold weather?

Your brake light coming on when you accelerate is likely caused by low fluid in the master cylinder, under the hood. There’s a fluid level sensor in there, and the level is probably low enough that sloshing around makes the light come on.

The e-brake not engaging all the time is probably related to worn or misadjusted rear brakes, since the e-brake is a mechanical device that only operates the rear brakes.

Sounds like it’s time for a complete brake inspection. On a car that age, be sure they check all the hoses as well.

As far as not using the e-brake when it’s freezing, that’s because moisture–like snow–can collect in the brake drums and cables while you drive, then if you set the brake and it freezes, the brakes can literally freeze on. We don’t get much freezing weather here, so check with your local garage for input.

If the truck is rolling forward it is a big problem. Rolling backward is a slightly smaller problem. If it is rolling when in first gear with the parking brake on, put it in reverse when you park.

You probably need the rear shoes replaced unless the parking brake is at the driveshaft, at the rear of the transmission (it isn’t). Then you need that brake lining replaced.

If the warning light comes on, there may be a brake fluid leak.

If you park in a garage every night, you can use the parking brake all the time. If you park outside and there has been rain, don’t use the parking brake if there will be cold weather or it will freeze engaged.

You could have, but it isn’t the most likely thing, rusted brake cables which will cost a bit of money to fix.

Thanks so much! This really helps. I will definitely avoid setting the brake when it gets cold out.

I’m annoyed that it has to do with the brakes though! I got new shoes on the rear brakes and got them machined and adjusted only three years ago. They used to continue to squeal a lot, so I went in about a year later and got them adjusted again. I seem to have a lot of brake issues, and I don’t know if it’s just because the truck is so old or what. I was ripped off by a mechanic about two years ago when I had a brake fluid leak and he charged over $500 to fix it. It doesn’t leak anymore, but my brake problems haven’t gone away, obviously.

Thanks for the advice though! I guess I need to schedule an appointment to get my brakes checked.