How to Avoid Having Your Parking Brake Lock Up

The parking or emergency brake is an important safety feature in vehicles that keeps your car securely in place when parked. However, if not used properly, the parking brake can seize up or lock, leading to problems. A stuck parking brake can make it difficult to disengage and drive the vehicle. In severe cases, it may need to be replaced entirely. Luckily, there are steps you can take to prevent parking brake lock up and ensure it continues working smoothly.

What Causes Parking Brakes to Lock Up?

Parking brakes work by mechanically clamping onto the brake disc or drum. This stops the wheels from moving when the vehicle is parked. Several issues can cause the parking brake to get stuck in the engaged position:

  • Corrosion – Rust buildup on the brake cables, mechanisms, or discs/drums can cause sticking and seizing. Moisture causes corrosion over time.
  • Lack of use – Not engaging the parking brake regularly can lead to sticking. The cables and mechanisms need motion to avoid seizing.
  • Freezing temperatures – Ice, snow, and freezing moisture can freeze the parking brake and prevent it from disengaging.
  • Mechanical issues – Problems like misadjusted cables, worn brake pads, bent components, or broken return springs can prevent the parking brake from releasing fully.
  • Contamination – Debris, dirt, and grime can clog up parking brake components leading to sticking or binding.

Proper parking brake usage and maintenance is key to avoiding lock up issues. Let’s look at some best practices.

Tips to Prevent Parking Brake Lock Up

Here are some simple guidelines to follow that will minimize the risk of your parking brake seizing up or not releasing:

Apply Gradually

When engaging the parking brake, apply it slowly with moderate, steady pressure. Avoid abruptly yanking or pulling the brake lever or pedal. Harsh or sudden application can cause the rear wheels to lock up and skid. Gradually applying the brake allows the components to adjust properly without jamming.

Release Promptly If Wheels Lock Up

If you feel the rear wheels start to skid or lock up as you’re engaging the parking brake, release it promptly. Try reapplying more gently. Forcing the parking brake when the wheels are already locked only makes matters worse. Releasing the brake quickly can prevent damage from a skid.

Use Regularly

Get in the habit of using your parking brake every time you park the vehicle. Regular use prevents corrosion and sticking by keeping the cables, levers, mechanisms and discs/drums moving freely. Parking brake components can seize up if left dormant too long.

Check Components and Lubricate

Inspect cables, levers, pulleys, and mechanisms periodically for damage, wear, and corrosion. Replace any severely worn or damaged parts. Lubricate parking brake cables and interior components as needed to prevent sticking.

Avoid Parking in Extreme Cold

In winter, try to avoid parking in extremely cold temperatures below -10°F if possible. In frigid conditions, use your parking brake minimally to reduce freezing risk. If parking in cold weather, disengage the brake periodically to avoid ice binding.

Clear Ice Buildup

Ice and snow around your wheel wells can freeze onto brake components. Carefully chip/clear any ice from parking brake mechanisms before driving. Prevent re-freezing by parking in a garage or covered area.

Adjust Properly

If parking brake lever or pedal has excessive travel or feels loose, have it adjusted by a certified mechanic. Proper cable tension and component adjustment is needed for smooth parking brake operation.

By applying and releasing the parking brake regularly and with care, checking components, and avoiding freezing conditions, you can help prevent annoying lock ups. Pay attention for signs of sticking or improper release. Addressing minor issues early prevents major problems down the road.

What to Do If Your Parking Brake Locks Up

If your parking brake gets stuck and won’t fully release, don’t panic. Here are some tips for getting it unstuck:

Locate Source of Jam

If your parking brake gets stuck and won’t fully release, don’t panic. Determine where the parking brake is sticking – is it at the lever, cable, or wheel hub? This can help narrow down the cause – corrosion, freezing, mechanical issue, etc.

Release Cable Tension

Many vehicles have an adjustment nut near the rear brakes to manually release cable tension. Consult owners manual or mechanic to locate the tension adjuster and back it off.

Lubricate and Free Frozen Components

Penetrating lubricants like WD-40® can help unbind frozen mechanisms. Caution: Don’t get lube on brake pads/rotors. Try rocking the vehicle gently forwards and backwards to break ice or unstick a jammed component.

Check and Replace Worn Parts

Inspect cables, pulleys, levers, pads, rotors for excessive wear. Worn components may need replacement. Consult a certified mechanic if unsure about condition. Don’t delay repairs.

Bleed Brakes

Small air bubbles in the brake fluid lines can cause sticking. Bleeding the brakes can help release stuck parking brakes. Only attempt bleeding if you have the proper tools and experience. Otherwise, have a shop do it.

Clean and Lubricate Components

Use brake cleaner to remove grime + debris from parking brake components. Re-lubricate sticky mechanisms with brake lubricant once clean and dry.

Consider Replacing Entire System

If the parking brake is badly corroded or damaged internally, replacing the whole system may be required. Factor in costs of new components vs value of the vehicle.

Be extremely cautious driving if the parking brake is still stuck on after attempting to release it. A seized brake can cause poor vehicle handling, smoke, and brake failure. Avoid using the parking brake except when necessary until repairs can be made. With attention and care, you can help keep your parking brake operating safely.

Frequently Asked Questions About Parking Brakes Locking Up

1. What are the signs my parking brake may be starting to lock up?

Signs your parking brake may be developing issues include the lever or pedal having more travel and feeling looser or weaker. It may also take more force to engage the parking brake. Listen for unusual noises when engaging or releasing the brake. The rear brakes may feel grabby when the parking brake isn’t set.

Finally, if the parking brake light stays on after being released, that can indicate potential issues. Paying attention to these early warning signs can help you address problems before they become more serious.

2. Why does using the parking brake help prevent it from locking up?

Using the parking brake regularly lubricates components and prevents corrosion from lack of motion. Cycling the parking brake keeps all the internal mechanisms moving freely.

3. What temperature is too cold to use my parking brake safely?

In general, avoid using your parking brake below -10°F. In extreme cold, ice can quickly jam up parking brake components. If parking in subzero temps, use parking brake minimally.

4. Can I drive with a stuck parking brake?

Exercise extreme caution. Driving any distance with a seized parking brake can result in brake failure, vehicle skidding, mechanical damage, and loss of control. Have it repaired ASAP.

5. Is it OK to just leave my parking brake off all the time?

No, regular parking brake use is recommended to keep it functioning properly. Leaving it off allows cables and components to corrode and jam more easily.

6. Does lubricating the parking brake cables help prevent lock up?

Yes, lubricating parking brake cables and interior components periodically helps prevent moisture corrosion and sticking. Use a proper brake lubricant.

7. Can stuck parking brakes be prevented through routine maintenance?

Yes. Inspecting the parking brake system regularly and addressing minor issues promptly can prevent more serious locking and seizure.


A properly functioning parking brake is critical for keeping your vehicle secure when parked. However, through improper use, lack of maintenance, or freezing conditions, parking brakes can seize up or lock in place. Stuck parking brakes are dangerous and need immediate attention.

By applying your parking brake slowly and completely, using it regularly to avoid sticking, maintaining the components properly, and avoiding subzero temperatures, you can help prevent annoying and hazardous lock ups.

Address minor issues early and follow the recommendations outlined to ensure your parking brake continues working smoothly and safely for years to come. Regular care protects you, your passengers, and your vehicle.

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