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Car Care: Handbrake and 'Park' best in tandem
By Jack Biddle • 04/10/2014
Park an auto as you would a manual - ease it down gently
Carrying out a simple hill test on the handbrake is a good way of ensuring whether it's in good working order.
I still cringe just thinking about an incident I witnessed when a near-new automatic vehicle was brought to a sudden and abrupt halt by the driver simply selecting the P or Park position.
It seemed as if the vehicle was still rocking on its suspension points when the driver jumped out, left the engine running and handbrake off, and handed the car over to me, giving the impression that using this technique was an accepted, everyday practice.
I'm being far too kind in my description of what took place; the gear selector was more shoved into P than it was selected.
I have always considered myself lucky when it comes to motor vehicle upkeep because my Dad was a great teacher. He drove tourist buses for many years, spent hours in the garage playing around with his own cars, and always treated any motor vehicle with the respect he felt they deserved.
One of his pet hates was to witness somebody grabbing the handbrake and "yanking" it on without first pushing the release button in. The noise as well as the unnecessary wear and tear on the ratcheting mechanism was, in his view, enough to keep you grounded and carless for a few days if caught out. It was all good in-house training and those useful tips and disciplines stood me in good stead once I started my motor mechanic's apprenticeship.
In those days, it wasn't unusual to see cars in the workshop with handbrake levers pulled away from the actual mounting points on the floor of a vehicle. If the truth be known, this was as much about bad design as it was about unnecessary operator force. But it never happened to our family car so the old boy must have been on the right track when he said less force and more of the gentle touch was the best practice long term.
But learning when to use the handbrake is just as important as "how", to help avoid potential mechanical problems or potential injury to property and people.
When the Park or P position is selected on an automatic vehicle, a parking pawl or lever is engaged with the teeth of the output shaft of the transmission, locking the driveline and therefore stopping the vehicle from moving. So imagine the strain on the parking pawl if the whole weight of the vehicle was left hanging on it when parked on a steep hill or if it was engaged suddenly when the vehicle was still on the move.
An automatic's Park position is more of a back-up to the handbrake, much like leaving a manual in gear when parked on a steep slope, and when used together they provide the best way to ensure a vehicle is not going to creep or roll away.
Carrying out a simple hill test on the handbrake is a good way of ensuring whether it's in good working order. Simply park on a steep driveway or hill, leave the gear selector in neutral, apply the handbrake, take your foot off the brake pedal completely and the vehicle should be rock solid and not move an inch. If it starts to creep away, then adjustments need to be checked, starting with the rear brakes first and finishing at the handbrake itself.
It's worth noting, also, that vehicles fitted with disc rear brakes are often more vulnerable to brake creep, especially when the handbrake is applied after a long run and/or the brakes are very hot.
As the discs cool, the amount of grip from the brake pads lessens whereas with a brake drum assembly, greater braking force is applied as temperatures drop and the drum shrinks back to its normal size.
So it's important handbrake adjustments are good and either Park is selected for an automatic or the vehicle left in gear with a manual as a back-up when parked on even the slightest of slopes.
While it's not common, it's not unheard of either to hear about a vehicle that has rolled down a driveway after being parked in neutral and ended up in a neighbour's property because of brake creep. And it's a scary thought to think about that happening if young toddlers were left alone playing on the driveway. Some vehicles come with electronic or foot-operated handbrakes but the same basic principles and self-tests still apply.
So, as father used to say, please be kind to the car when next parking by bringing the car to a complete and smooth stop, leave your foot on the brake pedal, move the gear selector to the Park position and then apply the handbrake fully before switching the engine off.