Use of Handbrake in winter time

So I was asking my friendly neighborhood independent mechanic why in colder weather I try to take off in first gear and seem to have difficulty getting the car rolling, then I hear a loud “pop” sound followed by brake “whine” sound for a few seconds.

He recommended NOT using my manual brake in the winter when the car is parked overnight because apparently the cables/linkage gets frozen. So now overnight I just park my car in gear, handbrake off (level surface of course). Except my old Honda doesn’t have a clutch safety switch thingy so I have to be CAREFUL starting the car. Now I always push down the clutch when starting even if I know it’s in neutral. Just wanted to get everyone’s take on this and if you do the same thing in colder weather.


I do not use parking brakes in freezing weather either. Too much risk of them freezing.

I use my parking brake in freezing cold weather, but NOT when I’ve just driven through snow or slush. Cold by itself won’t freeze the brake. Cold and water will, or might, depending on the condition of the cables and the parking brake mechanism.

The parking brake is a safety feature. Not using it is only for EXTREME situations.

Honestly, I almost never use them in cars with auto transmissions. I do use them when parked on significant hills or when I need to jack up the car or put it on ramps. I use them in cars with manual transmissions on a case-by-case basis. I would be extremely reluctant to leave them engaged overnight in freezing temperatures (I do not remember the last time I did).

It would help too if we knew the year, make, and model of the vehicle. Lots of vehicles still use drum type rear brakes (and many now use small drums cast into the disc) for parking brake setups. Drums don’t disperse water as they spin the way discs do. If you get some water in the drum it can stay there and freeze the parking brake shoes to the inside of the drum. You have enough power in the car to break that ice, which is what you’re doing, but if you’re having that problem I’d suggest not using the parking brakes. If you have to park on an incline, I’d suggest turning the front wheels such that the free-rolling car pushes the wheels into the curb, then putting the car in park/gear and shuting it down, and not using the brake.

Someone I met who had worked in Canada, said Canadians can quickly be spotted by two things they do different from Americans; they pour their beer slowly to avoid a foam head, and they NEVER USE THEIR PARKING BRAKE. Most have leanred the hard way I imagine, in having to cope with a fozen brake.

Maybe it’s because I’ve always lived in colder climates, but I don’t know anyone who routinely uses theirs.

The only time I DON’T use the parking brake is if I don’t plan on using the vehicle for more than several days. Otherwise, I always use it, even in winter, and have never had a problem. But you have to keep the cables properly lubed.

It’s an 87 Accord, just for the record. As an addendum, I only leave the brake off overnight, but always use it when I go run errands during the day, etc.

It will definitely seize (not freeze up) due to lack of use especially where usage of road salt is prevalent. I have never had the issue where I used brake daily on older vehicles in New England.

It is best to use them all the time. It keeps them in working condition. I also takes the strain off the transmission. While I am sure you do a good job of remembering to use it on “significant” hills, missing it one time could be costly. Best to use it all the time. It does not cost more. :slight_smile:

I’ve always been strongly of the philosophy that “if you do it the same way every single time, you’ll never forget to do it when you need to!” At any rate, that’s what I say to mom when I’m at her place and she grumbles about me leaving the brake on “securely.”

Considering that the worst-case scenario of FAILING to use the brake far exceeds that of USING it, my default would be to use it 99+% of the time.

With a manual transmission car, you definitely want to use it. A freeze-up is a nuisance, but is not very likely. Popping out of gear and rolling away is much more likely and a much greater safety concern.

I had this happen one time on my (automatic) '88 Buick, where I had parked at the top of a long driveway that was at the top of a snowy unplowed road. I managed to drive all the way down to the main highway just fine, but as soon as I got on plowed road, the car ground to a stop. I’d been able to drag the jammed wheel along the snowy road without any kind of indication that I was doing so! In that case, I was able to drag it over to the shoulder, take the tire off and knock the brake loose by just banging on the drum. I had just done an emergency brake job in a parking lot a few days earlier, and I suspect there was a lot of moisture in the drum that would not have been there had I done it under more favorable conditions.

If you have rear drum brakes then you should use your parking as frequently as possible since the application of the parking brake keeps the rear brakes adjusted. In severe cold you can leave the brake off overnight if you are REALLY concerned with frozen brakes and then just apply the parking brake and then release when you get to your destination. This will help the adjusters in the drums do their jobs.

Personally I ALWAYS use my parking brake and I live in the snow belt of New York state and I have NEVER had a parking brake freeze on me. My vehicles have 228,000 and 148,000 miles respectively and are 13 and 9 years old. I think you are more likely to have a freeze up if you DON’T use your parking brake every day. That’s my .02 for whatever it’s worth.