Proper use of the parking brake in a manual


I drive a manual transmission and routinely apply the parking brake and put the car in 1st or 2nd gear when parked, even on a (seemingly) flat road. A friend recently told me I was needlessly stressing my brakes and parking brake cables – unless you’re on a hill, just put it in gear, he said.

This struck me as a bit foolhardy – I’ve often been surprised by how a car can start rolling in neutral on what seems like a flat road (just give it a second!) and am generally unwilling to trust to the gears only to hold the car in place. This is for three reasons - 1. never sure how much of an incline is “enough” to overcome the gear; 2. I live in Boston – folks LOVE bumper-bumping and I live in fear of someone sending my car off into an intersection; 3. I worry (maybe wrongly) that if the car DOES start rolling while in gear, I will be damaging the transmission.

Can anyone offer any insight? Am I being over-cautious, or, even worse, harming the parking brake by using it needlessly?

As extra credit, I also routinely put the parking brake on when I’m driving an automatic (rental or a friend’s car). I do this mainly just to stay in the habit, as I’m told parking brake is irrelevant in automatics. Again, needless wear?

You are doing the correct thing and using the parking brake every time. Your friend is wrong.
You are more likely to have a parking brake failure by not using it, than by using it daily.
Parking brakes are not irrelevant in automatics. They are needed there as much as anywhere. Some automatics can be very hard to shift out of park if the car is on an incline and the parking brake is not set before or while shifting to park.

“Needlessly stressing” the brake? That’s what the parking brake is for.

Having said that, on level ground I normally do not use the parking brake. I’ll leave a manual transmission in reverse or first gear, an automatic in “Park” and in both cases turn the wheels to the curb.

You do whatever makes you comfortable. It’s your car.

You can count this as one more vote for you being correct, and your friend being wrong.
As tardis stated or implied, parking brakes that are not used regularly are the ones that are prone to problems such as cables and mechanisms that become rusted in place due to non-use.

Whether you drive a manual trans car or an automatic trans car, the parking brake should be used every time that the car is parked–for a couple of additional reasons:

As the engine wears and ages, reduced compression may make it possible for a manual trans car to “creep” or even to roll slightly if the driver relies only on the transmission to hold it in place while parked.
The “park pawl” on an automatic trans car can be damaged in certain situations if the driver relies only on it to hold the car in place while parked.


As the previous posters indicated, you are doing the correct things.
On the other hand, your friend is DEAD WRONG. The parking brake should always be applied in both manual AND automatic transmission cars. You might suggest to your friend, he/she read their owners manual for their car.

The one small thing I would change in your routine is to only use 1st gear OR reverse. Do not use 2nd or any other higher gears.

I will just add in that if the car is indeed on a level surface, and left in 1st or reverse, the car probably isn’t going anywhere.

That being said, are you “wearing out” your parking brake? No, of course not.

They call it a “parking brake” becuase its purpose is to prevent the car from rolling when it’s parked.

Keep doing what you’ve been doing and ignore the person who gave you this advice.


I just had another thought regarding your friend.
Just in case he tells you to stop wearing your eyeglasses so that you don’t wear them out, that advice is just as invalid as his advice regarding parking brakes. Both devices are intended to be used.


Many thanks to all for the thoughtful and direct answers, and not just because think most folks said use of the brake was the way to go. Good stuff.

Any perspectives (out of pure curiosity now) on how real the whole “if you don’t use the parking brake it may not work when you need it” concern is? Is this a theoretical concern or do many automatics have defective parking brakes after a few years (guessing MANY automatic drivers just put the car in park).

Thanks again for the helpful thoughts.

I think that there are mainly three parking brake issues that arise from not using a parking brake often enough.

  1. The cables and/or linkages may rust together such that you can’t move them to use the brake when you finally want to. If they’re moved every day or two, this can’t happen.
  2. The auto-adjust feature of the rear brakes or parking brake may not work if the parking brake is never applied. (I don’t think that this one is true for most cars.)
  3. If you never use your parking brake, you won’t know if it works or not. It might be a bad surprise to learn that it doesn’t work in an emergency.

You are doing the correct thing. In a manual, should the tranny pop out of gear (and one occasionally does), the parking brake will keep it safe.

In an automatic, failure to use the parking brake on inclines can lead to premature wear of the “parking pawl” and make getting the car out of park after and back into gear almost impossible. In an automatic the parking brake should be applied BEFORE putting the car into park to remove load from the parking pawl.

Look up “parking pawl problems” on the internet and you’ll find a slew of information to pass on to your friend.

I’ve been in this habit for awhile now, and I drive an automatic. My new car has a foot pedal for the parking brake and it took a little bit of getting used to since my last car had the hand lever. If I am doing damage to the brakes(According to your friend), then brakes are cheaper than a transmission. My driveway is mostly flat, so I shouldn’t have to worry about it rolling, but you never know when that parking prawl will break or weaken. And we’re talking about a little piece of metal holding a 4001 pound vehicle in place.