Electronic handbrakes are extremely common among new cars today. These take the place of the traditional handbrake lever but do the same job — applying the handbrake.
Whereas a conventional handbrake will require you to activate that lever by pulling or releasing it, electronic ones are more user-friendly. All you have to do is press a button.
How do they work though, and are they better than an old-school manual handbrake? This guide explains.
How does an electronic handbrake work?
The traditional handbrake lever tensions a cable when it’s pulled up. That cable squeezes the car’s rear brake pads or shoes onto the brake discs – or drums – holding the car firmly in place. Some cars have a separate disc and pads on the rear axle specifically for the handbrake.
Whatever system a car uses, the principle remains the same: pulling the lever locks the rear wheels so that the car won’t move when you don’t want it to.
Electronic handbrakes – sometimes called electronic parking brakes – work on the same basis but use electric motors to achieve the locking effect.
Press or pull the button and motors on the rear brakes press the pads onto the discs. You can often hear a reassuring whirring noise as the motors do their work.
There is no industry standard for how much throttle input’ a car needs to release the handbrake, though. Some will release with barely a tickle of the accelerator, others need quite a lot of revs.
As a result, driving a manual car with an electronic handbrake can take some getting used to. The feeling of the car tensing at bite can be quite pronounced, and the release can feel pretty severe.
Don’t be too worried if you find yourself stalling as you get used to it. It soon becomes second nature.
Are electronic handbrakes better than manual handbrakes?
Electronic handbrakes have their benefits, but you might find you prefer the old-school manual handbrake too. Here are some of the pros and cons of each:
Pros of an electronic handbrake
- Doesn’t require you to physically activate the handbrake, you just need to push a button
- Takes up less space in the centre console of your car. This often makes it look better, too.
- Many will automatically disengage when you’re pulling away. Just to make driving a little bit easier.
- May will also automatically apply themselves when you turn the car off. Ideal if you’re prone to forgetting to apply the handbrake yourself.
Cons of an electronic handbrake
- They’re trickier and more expensive to repair in most cases.
- It can take some getting used to, particularly on manual cars.
- If you’re planning to have some closed-course fun, you can’t pull handbrake turns with them.
Pros of a manual handbrake
- It’s likely what you’re used to, which sometimes is a fair enough reason to prefer something.
- The act of pulling a handbrake can be more mentally reassuring than pressing a button.
- Manual handbrakes are typically easier and cheaper to repair if they go wrong.
Cons of a manual handbrake
- They can take up a lot of room in your car’s centre console compared with an electronic handbrake.
- Manual handbrakes can’t automatically disengage when you’re ready to pull away.
Electronic handbrake problems
Though an electronic handbrake performs the same job as a manual one, they’re a little more complicated.
As a result, DIY fixes are near-enough impossible. This makes them more expensive to have repaired if they go wrong, which often on a manual handbrake can be as simple as swapping a cable out.
Because they rely on electronic power, they can remain locked on if your car’s battery goes flat too. This rules out the push-start method of getting your car going again.
Cars with an electronic handbrake
Electronic handbrakes are extremely common in modern cars. So much so that the list of cars with a manual handbrake is probably shorter today.
Some popular new models with electronic handbrakes include:
- Audi A3
- BMW 1 Series
- Ford Focus
- Honda Civic
- Hyundai Tucson
- Range Rover Sport
- Mercedes A-Class
- Peugeot 208
- SEAT Leon
- Toyota Corolla
- Vauxhall Astra
- Volkswagen Golf
- Volvo XC40
You’ll also find almost every electric car on sale uses an electronic handbrake, too.
FAQs: electronic handbrake
How do I hill start with an electronic handbrake?
Make sure the handbrake is engaged first of all. Then, push the clutch to the floor and select first gear.
Push down on the throttle gently while bringing the clutch up slowly until you feel the biting point. Once you’re safe to go release the handbrake and gently keep bringing up the clutch and applying more throttle to smoothly pull away.
How do you tow a car with an electronic handbrake?
You’ll need to disengage the electronic handbrake before towing an electric car. If the handbrake is locked on and you’re unable to have the problem fixed where you are, you’re best calling for a flatbed trailer instead.
Can an electronic handbrake be used at speed?
In the event of an emergency, always firmly use the brake pedal. Do not attempt to use the electronic handbrake while moving.
Can you release an electronic handbrake with no power?
Some cars with an electronic handbrake may have a manual release. This will vary depending on your car, so it’s worth checking the owner’s manual for detailed info.
Are electronic handbrakes reliable?
Electronic handbrakes are pretty simple, so there’s not too much to go wrong. They’re inevitably more complex than a manual handbrake, however failures are rare.
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