Emergency/Parking Brakes in Winter

Don’t parking/emergency brakes freeze in the winter? We don’t use ours at all and our vehicles are parked on a substantial incline. Apparently lots of folks on this forum think that they should be used. If the parking brake freezes, what do you do to unfreeze so you can drive?

You could chock the wheels instead of applying the parking brake.

Truckers sometimes use a blow torch to thaw their brakes.

That’s good advice. Also, the key is to use them frequently and have them serviced and checked regularly. If you use them year round, you’ll have fewer problems in winter. It is an “emergency” brake that should function properly in an emergency, so you’re right to be concerned. The only time I don’t use them is very long term parking anytime or winter rain to freeze or slush conditions. I’d check them occasionally while driving slowly for function and release if you fear using them as parking brake during the winter. I’d leave the blow torch to the truckers and opt for heated garage, heat gun or nearby undercarriage car wash if at all possible. If you can isolate the frozen area that’s external, even a hair dryer can work.

If you use them all the time, it is far less likely that you will have any problems with them. Use them every time you drive and don’t worry.

Exactly…one other point I forgot to mention. I’ve encouraged wife and new drivers in family to set the emergency prior to putting it into park on an automatic and not to let car slightly roll prior to disengaging park by using brakes incl. parking. It may not be as important as important as on older cars which had a habit of “jamming” slightly when parked on inclines. Never felt forcing anything was doing any good for park mechanism. The auto one ton dump trucks we use were bears to disengage when loaded on inclines if you weren’t careful this way.

I use the parking brakes on my vehicles year round, and I’ve only had a frozen parking brake once in 40 years. That was on an old vehicle. The seals at the ends of the parking brake cable were gone, and the cable was full of moisture. Modern cars have much better water-proofing and this is unlikely to happen.

If you park on a “substantial incline” I’d much rather gamble on a frozen parking brake than a broken parking pawl and a roll-away vehicle.

I’ve never had a parking brake freeze on my cars in over 30 years of driving. It only has to get below 32F to test it. And it gets below 32F overnight a lot, even in MD. I think that safety would trump inconvenience. Set the parking brake, especially on your hills. If it turns out to be a problem or you are still concerned, start the car, put it in neutral and let the weight break the ice before engaging the transmission.

I always use the parking brake year 'round. I’ve been doing this for at least 30 years. I’ve never had the cable/brakes freeze, so I can’t say what I do to unfreeze them. It’s a non-issue. And, yes, I live where it gets below freezing in the winter. I have seen below zero temps in a few years, and once visiting friends in Rochester, NY I had to go out in minus 20 degree weather. The starter turned kind of slow, but the e-brake didn’t freeze or stick.

The freezing up of a parking brake tends to occur when you park overnight in a moist, heated garage, then go to work and park outside at a very low temperature. It’s happened to several friends. It also happens if you park in a very humid and warm, garage at work and park outside in the cold at home.

It’s the same process that will cause water (condensation) in your gas tank.