Is the handbrake almost obsolete?

Posted on October 26th, 2018 by Rob Marshall

Is the handbrake almost obsolete?

According to CarGurus, the traditional handbrake is ‘reaching the end of the road’, where ‘just’ 37% of new cars are fitted with the traditional manual handle. I am surprised that the percentage is that high…

Going electric – the EPB

The Electronic Park Brake (EPB) replaced the traditional handle, with a simple switch, or button. Dependent on the mechanical layout employed, the rear wheel brake pads are operated by either a pair of electric motors on each brake caliper, or a single motor that applies the handbrake via cables.

While it has been argued that the electronic system offers production cost savings, it can offer additional functions, too, such as disengaging without driver intervention (although not always seamlessly) as you drive off. They ensure also that the park brake is engaged sufficiently, so that the car cannot roll away.

While such systems tend not to require adjustment, the increasing complexity does not make them any more reliable than the traditional lever and repairing EPB faults can be expensive.

What is your preference?

Some drivers favour not only the mechanical interaction that a handbrake lever offers but also the more traditional system allows the driver time to raise the clutch perfectly with releasing the handbrake, an exercise in which EPBs are not completely successful, resulting in the clutch fighting momentarily against the still-applied park brake.

A further issue (which I witnessed last week, while the driver was refuelling, just prior to it rolling backwards into the car behind) is that a lever offers a mechanical reassurance that the brake has been applied. The hasty motorist might leave the car without double-checking that the EPB has activated fully.

While budget-priced Dacias are fitted with a handbrake, the more sophisticated Suzuki range has a lever fitted throughout its model range, which is refreshing considering the other electronic driver technology that the Japanese manufacturer stacks into its models.

Whichever version you prefer, guard against mechanical failure by selecting either first/reverse gears (manual transmissions), or selecting ‘Park’ in automatic/automated manual gearboxes. This will lock the transmission, reducing the risk of the car moving unintentionally, when the engine is switched off.