Using the parking brake - necessary?

Here’s one of those “whose right” questions. It’s between me and my son, so there are no marriages to worry about ruining.

From what I understand, the parking brake should be used even when parking on flat as it has something to do with the main brake setting. Kiddo says “not necessary”, and won’t set the parking brake on the two family family vehicles he can use (1997 Explorer and 2003 Taurus).

What say you?

Tell him that he can walk. As I understand the situation, he is not the owner of said vehicles and the parking brake is for sure a part of the main braking system. I don’t want to be rude, but that attitude is just plain disrespectful.

Well, can you say exactly why the parking brake needs to be set and how it’s related to the main braking system? He’s amenable to facts.

You want to know “who’s right”? Well, no one is really wrong. Use of the parking brake is recommended but hardly necessary.

Your regular use keeps the system limber, so that’s not an issue. If the kid refuses to ever use it on the flats, it’s not a biggie. Find something else to noodge him about.

I’ve gone to using a different vehicle, so he’s the main driver currently on the Taurus and Explorer. Once in a while I’ll take one or the other - how often is needed to “keep the system limber”? (And what’s exactly, mechanically, meant by that?)

It depends on the vehicle. And if the vehicle has rear disc brakes.

On some rear disc brake systems in order to keep the rear brakes properly adjusted the parking brake needs to be operated on occation. Operating the parking brake causes the rear caliper pistons to rotate out slightly to compensate for the wear on the rear brake pads. If this isn’t done, the rear brake pads wear to a point where they no longer come in contact with the rear rotors when the brakes are applied. This then causes the rear rotors to rust and also asks the front brakes to do all the braking causing excessive wear to the front brakes.

Below is an image of the rear rotors off a Honda where the parking brake was never used to keep the rear brakes properly adjusted, which resulted in rusting and pitting of the rotors.


If you DON"T use the parking brake, it will, over time, seize up and become useless. You must use it to keep it working properly…

I wonder why anyone would choose not to use a parking brake.

What part of ‘parking brake’ is difficult to understand?

Is not using a parking brake laziness on the part of the driver?

Or do some people believe that using the parking brake is bad for your car’s brakes - or some other part of your car?

Could someone give a good reason and/or an example to support not using a parking brake?

Most people who drive vehicles with automatic transmissions rarely use the parking brake. Such is the example with the Honda rotors.


“Most people who drive vehicles with automatic transmissions rarely use the parking brake. Such is the example with the Honda rotors.”

Nothing personal intended, but how would you know that?

Anybody who does brake service on this type of rear disc brake system knows the most common cause of rear brake failure is rusted rotors and calipers. You rarely see the problem on vehicles with manual transmissions because most people who drive manual transmissions are more likely to use the parking brake. Thereby keeping the rear brakes properly adjusted. But when you find the rear rotors/calipers rusted up and the vehicle has an automatic transmission, the first thing you ask the owner, “How often you use the parking brake?”


I must agree with Tester. I always use the parking brake and notice the look of dismay or disdain with customers and their automatic transmission cars when they realize I parked the car with the parking brake on. One car I worked on even had a cheap plastic cupholder caddy over the center console that completely covered the parking brake. I could tell by looking at it that the caddy was never removed to let the driver use the parking brake. Out of sight, out of mind.

Why don’t people use it? I do.

But the reason not to seems to be - people think it’s a waste to something that they don’t see the necessity to do.

I had a friend when I was in high school that was very careful with his parents’ car. He would never put the car in park. He always parked it in neutral and set the parking brake. He claimed that if someone bumped the car while it was in park, it would damage the parking pawl if the transmission selector was in the “Park” position. This was in the late 1950s and the car was a beautiful 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air with the V-8 engine. We could never get this friend to hot-rod the car.
The HydraMatic transmission which was used on the Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Nash, Hudson, Kaiser, Frazer, and even some Lincolns didn’t have a “Park” position through 1954. These transmissions were supposed to be put in “Reverse” and the brake set when the car was parked.

Well, I went and ruined it. Took the Taurus to our independent mechanic for another issue - asked them about setting the parking brake with my son standing there. He told us it’s not necessary in a car with automatic transmission.

He told us it’s not necessary in a car with automatic transmission.

He’s right…“Park” will hold the car (even on a hill) without the use of a parking brake.

HOWEVER…as others have pointed out…the use of a parking brake has other advantages…Like keeping the parts limber (i.e. not so rusted they won’t move) for when you actually NEED the brake. Also on some cars (mainly Japanese) you adjust the rear brakes every time you press on the parking brake.

A parents preferences can be compelling if they wish them to be. Luckily for my kids “because I said so” was sufficient for them. In my house I am always right.

OK - here’s the solution. I don’t have a “make him do exactly what I want” parental wand with quite enough magical powers to work on a 19 year old when he’s out and about town, but I do have all the car keys, and I can set the parking brake myself.

It’s time kiddo learned that of he wants to use someone elses assets he has to comply with their criteria. If you lack faith in his compliance, point out to him that since he hasn’t convinced you that he’s willing to comply, he’ll have to pay for and use an event recorder for each vehicle he wishes to drive.

“Why don’t people use it?”

It’s an extra thing to do. Not essential, so it goes undone, like checking the oil or tire pressure.