What is an electronic parking brake?

Last updated December 21, 2021

As time progresses, we’ve seen cars becoming increasingly more intuitive and seamless to operate. The automatic gearbox has been around for quite some time, but the idea of automatic functions is now spreading to other parts of the vehicle. In plenty of newer car models, you don’t even require a key to ignite the engine anymore and a button is pushed to start the car.

Another mechanism that has recently been transformed into the simple push of a button is the handbrake. Electronic parking brakes are a feature of many recent car models (especially in higher trim levels), replacing the classic lever design.

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How does an electronic parking brake work?

Traditionally you would need to pull on the handbrake lever to enable the handbrake, which would pull on the car’s rear brakes via steel cables.

The electronic parking brake requires a mere button, situated where the lever once was. With a push of this button, the electronics will brake your car for you. The button sends an electronic signal to a servo, which is remotely connected to the brake.

It also handily applies itself to other instances in which the handbrake is required, such as hill starts, where the car will automatically hold itself for you while you pull away. In some models, the system can even identify when you come to a stop and apply the brakes automatically.

An electronic parking brake will often have a light to indicate when it has been activated, or you may hear a quiet whirring at the back of the car as the motors work. The handbrake warning light will illuminate on the dashboard, letting you know that the car is secured.

In the majority of cars, when you want to drive away you simply push on the footbrake whilst pushing the electronic parking brake to release it. Alternatively, you can push the accelerator to release the brakes automatically.

Are electronic parking brakes better than manual systems?

There’s no objective way to say whether electronic parking brakes are an improvement over the traditional design, it really just comes down to preference. However, there are plenty of benefits that come with electronic parking brakes.

For some people, manual handbrakes could propose a physical challenge. Electronic handbrakes remove any physical effort required for application, making them more inclusive for those who have physical difficulties.

They also provide a lot more interior space within your vehicle as manual handbrakes can take up a lot of space between the driver and passenger seats. This area can be freed up with an electronic parking brake and will leave more room for cup or mobile phone holders.

Why you might be more suited to a manual handbrake

If you’re someone that enjoys repairing your own car, whether for financial reasons or just as a hobby, you probably won’t want to be altering any electronic systems. The sophisticated nature of the technology means that if something in the system needs an adjustment, you’ll need to take it to a garage.

To be able to open up the brake callipers to remove and replace brake shoes, for example, an expensive diagnostic laptop will be needed. Therefore, even if you’re a great home mechanic you’ll likely need professional assistance.

What is an auto-hold parking brake?

This is an added feature on some electronic parking brakes. Using the car’s anti-lock brake technology, this will sense when the vehicle has come to a stop and continues to apply the brakes, even after your foot is off the brake pedal.

Auto-hold systems will retain the same braking pressure, but if the system detects the car is rolling backwards it will apply additional force to secure it, making it especially useful when on a hill.