Parking Brake



About 3 weeks ago my mom and I were doing some errands, mom had a Dr. appointment so I sat in the car and waited. We parked on a moderate incline. My parents have probably used the parking brake on their 04 PT Cruiser probably about once in it’s 41,000 mile life. So I’m sitting there and thought technically you’re always supposed to use the parking brake especially on an incline, so I engage the brake. We back out of the parking space (I forget the parking brake is on) and right after we back out the car dings indicating the brake is on, I fully disengage it and the brake light is extinguished. We only went about 15-20 feet. 3 weeks later when mom backs out of the garage (backing up a slight incline) the parking brake light flashes and dings then goes out. She also says it did the same while she was braking coming to a stop light the same day. Mom blames me for damage to the brake from 3 weeks ago in the parking lot. I know people who several times have driven a block or two with their parking brake on and not damaging it! Brake fluid level should be ok as it was checked at reg oil change 1 week ago. Am I to blame?


As near as we can tell from your report, there has been absolutely no damage to your parking brake system. None. What is Mom complaining about? Unless there is more to this incident than you have told us, get her to write to this forum and tell us why she thinks the brake is bad.


I drove 10 miles with the parking brake engaged in my truck with no damage (parking brake didn’t release because cable was frozen). The truck still had the original rear brakes when it was traded in with 87k miles. The brake light my 98 Windstar lit up when the level was low, I only had to add a few ounces to the reservoir to bring up to the max level line. I would recheck the brake fluid level. The fact that the brake light lit up on an incline and during braking indicates to me the brake fluid level is borderline. If the brakes are original, the brake fluid level would have dropped due to wear on the pads. Other than the brake light, I assume there are no other problems with the brakes.

Ed B.


If there is something wrong now, it was wrong before you used it. The brake has to be checked because it could be partially engaged. If Mom doesn’t want to have it checked, you can go to the front of the rear wheel and look for the parking brake cable, move it around and it should release. Both sides. Don’t do it with the hydraulic hose. Do it with the parking brake released.


So, your mother believes that the parking brake is malfunctioning because you used it once? The real reason for any possible problem at this point is that she never, or rarely, used the parking brake. Unless the parking brake is used regularly, the cable will rust and will have a tendency to stick.

So, it is possible that the parking brake did not release completely when you released it. But, that would not be your fault. If any problem now exists with the brake it has resulted from years of non-use. Your mother is just wrong.

Have the brake checked by a qualified mechanic, as it is possible that it is still sticking “partially on”. If this is the case, the mechanic can lubricate and free-up the cable–unless your mother has caused so much rust damage that this is not possible. I will say it again–if any problem exists, it is due to your mother’s non-use of the parking brake for many years.


It would not hurt to check the brake fluid level. It might actually be the problem, but I doubt it.

The most likely issue is the parking brake has not been used and their for has rusted up. Then when you did use it it has not fully released.

Who is at fault? Both.

Your mother should be using her parking brake. That is why it is there. She likely calls it an emergency brake. They make very poor brakes in an emergency at best, but they are better than nothing, which is what you get when you have not used them for a few years. She should be using it. As you likely know, and she likely does not, they also provide an added degree of safety when parked as it is possible for the “Park” position on the transmission to fail to engage or it may jam when used without the parking brake. The park position should be the secondary or backup. The parking brake should be engaged first.

You are wrong on two counts. First it is her car not yours. She gets to choose how it is cared for. Your job is that of a consultant. You can tactfully inform her. How forcefully and how you do that depends on your relationship. If she is 80 and you are 50 it is one thing, if she is 37 and you are 16 it is totally different.

I would suggest that you should offer to have the brakes checked and if the mechanic says they were damaged, then it is your responsibility to pay all cost of repair. You lost this one at “I forget the parking brake is on.”


I’m safe! Brake fluid is almost completely gone! Still not good because it was checked last week. Leak? Brake problems?


Also, that’s what I told her I thought it was after researching online and before checking it. But still, something is wrong.


Sorry I keep adding here. Because the fluid was extremely low I refilled it (yes with correct fluid) almost to the top. We’ll see what happens between now and when the car is taken in to the dealer.


You don’t want to overfill it, keep the level between the Min and Max lines. If there’s too much, use a dollar store turkey baster to remove the excess. The brake fluid level will drop slightly as the brake pads wear, except for one time with my 98 Windstar I’ve never had to add brake fluid to a master cylinder between brake jobs. It might not be a bad idea to have the brake system checked by a trusted mechanic, at least keep checking the fluid level. If it keeps dropping there is a leak.

Good luck,

Ed B.


That is good news, Jimblees. Sorta. It means there is nothing wrong with your parking brake. But you may have a leak somewhere; brake fluid reservoirs simply do not empty themselves. You may even have to do something drastic like replace a brake caliper or something.

FWIW, any problem that is found applies to the main braking system only and not to the parking brake system. The p-brake operates by cable; it does not involve the hydraulic (brake fluid) system. You are in the clear. Print this out for Mom.


Dear Dr. Fraser Crane, chill out and write back when you can form a thought that makes sense and has substinance. Sincerly, Niles. P.S. I love you.


Dear Niles

What is “substinance”?


It’s like substance but it sounded cooler. Thesaurus is a nice book. oh bother


VDC, I think it’s a mix of abstinance and substance…