Auto Repair Help

by Jim Miller

The emergency brake or parking brake will not hold.

The usual cause of this symptom is improper rear brake adjustment. Many vehicles utilize a self adjusting rear brake system. This system maintains adequate brake tension on the rear brakes so that when the parking brake is engaged, the rear brakes hold the vehicle in place.

The self adjusters re-tension the rear brakes each time the parking brake is engaged or the vehicle is driven in reverse and the brakes are applied. This system needs to be used frequently to maintain the proper rear brake tension. Often, the parking brake is used infrequently, especially on vehicles equipped with an automatic transmission. Due to this, the rear brakes wear and will result in excessive distance between the rear friction material and the rotor or drum. When the parking brake is applied, this excessive distance prevents the friction material from completely and tightly contacting the rotor or drum. This will prevent the parking brake from holding the vehicle.

You should apply and release the parking brake several times to activate the self adjusters. This may take as many as 10 to 15 times to bring the rear brakes into adjustment. If this is not effective, apply the brakes abruptly while traveling in reverse at low speed. If the parking brake still will not hold, the rear brakes will have to be inspected and adjusted manually. Once the brakes are in proper adjustment, you should utilize the parking brake on a frequent basis to ensure they remain properly adjusted.

Brake rotors and drums become extremely hot after vehicle operation and braking. Use caution when working on the braking system.

(Jim is a lifelong fan of Dodger Baseball and used to race sprint cars in the 1980s.)

18 responses to “Emergency Brake Or Parking Brake Will Not Hold”

  1. GAIL says:

    Hello I have a check engine lite on my 1998 KIA SPORTAGE=PO137 bank one sensor 2=downstream o2 sensor. also, another code cme on later= P0141 heater oxygen sensor downstream. We replced the downstraem 02 sensor and still have the same code, even after it was comes back on after driving around 5 miles.
    The auto shopsaid I had no voltage to my 02 sensor..yet I have 13.4 volts to BOTH SIDES of the 02 SENSOR FUSES. Someone said to check CONTINUITY between o2 sensor connector and 88pin connector on ECU computer..please help.

  2. Evan says:

    Hi. Thanks for your advice re: “parking brake won’t hold”! I did what you said and the car corrected itself. Probably saved me $50+ at the repair shop, all thanks to you.

  3. robert says:

    i have a similar problem with a customer car, i was repairing a hole in the exhaust and when i finished i took the car for a test drive. upon finishing the test drive i parked the car and it being a manual car i pulled the emergency brake. when i did the handle would not lock. my immediate suspicion was the cable but the customer claims that the brake still works it just wont lock. i cant come up with a solution

  4. Manuel Siaca says:

    Just bought 98 cavalier 5spd & parking brakes weren’t holding, did what Jim Miller suggested and it worked great. Thanks.

  5. Cole Thomas says:

    What if this still doesn’t work, could It be I just need new brake pads? That’s all I can think of everything operates as it should besides not holding the vehicle.

    • Sterilecuckoo58 says:

      Speaking from 4 days spent wrestling with this problem, the answer to Cole Thomas is – “Do it again”. A) loosen the e-brake adjustment as much as possible (that’s typically a 10mm socket nut adjacent to the e-brake lever (between the front seats)and make sure you have let off ALL tension. Don’t be like me and keep that makeup cylinder (a 1-3/4″ long piece of 1/4-inch galvanized pipe) in place to make up for cable stretch… TAKE IT OUT! Now, prop up the car (you know jack stands, not the little boy Jack next door) and remove the wheels. The drums should come off easy – watch for flat head bolts that might secure the drums to the hub requiring a #3 or #4 Phillips head bit. If there are two threaded holes in the drum face, get a pair of 6mm bolts about 1″ long and use those to break the corrosion bond between drum and hub. DON’T use it to force the drum off expanded shoes – you’ll mess up something and will curse. OPM principal here, learn from OTHER PEOPLES MISTAKES 😉 Star adjusters are typically loosened by inserting a brake adjusting tool in the slot in the bake of the brake assembly and nudging the star wheel UP. This applies on both sides because on the left the adjusters uses a left hand thread and on the right it uses, a right hand thread. Drums that have been on a while will have a berm of rusted metal along the edge and that will frustrate removal unless you can loosen these adjusters.

      With the brake all disassembled disassemble the adjuster – it has 4 parts: the replaceable spring, the star typically with a blank stud one way and threaded stud the other, an end piece with a tapped tube and nub that engages the auto adjuster plate, and an end with a tubular end. The blank stud and the simple end with mating tubular hole must spin freely; the threaded stud and tapped tube must operate freely. Use a high temp grease to lube this thing. Yeah, clean the threads with a nylon brush.

      If you’ve cooked the shoes, or they look glazed, use some fine sandpaper (220 is nice) and deglaze the wearing surface. Also clean the friction material and the inside of the drum with brake cleaner removing all schmutz and oil and grease etc.

      Make sure the cables operate freely, lubricate if you like.

      After reassembly (remember NEVER take both apart at the same time – always have one as reference) operate the star wheel and repeatedly put the drum on and off as you widen the star assembly until you hear a little drag as you rotate the drum. While you do this, practice using the brake tool to adjust the star from the back so you learn what it feels like. With both wheels justr starting to drag (and I confess I went about a 1/4 turn further) so I can still turn the drum but a hair more resistance. Now add the wheels, put it on the ground (the car that is). Reassemble the e-brake and eliminate play at the disengaged position. Crank it up and see if the car moves. If it does, release, give the 10mm nut 1 full turn at a time and in about 5 to 10 turns, you should have success. I went through this process three times and finally now it is working. I think the clincher was to FULLY release the e-brake cable. I’d swear I’d done so already 10x but I guess not.

      Warning – for those who add shims and tubes to accommodate cable stretch – you can destroy the parking brake assembly guide and have head to the boneyard for another lever OPM principal at work again)

      Stretched a spring? Hold it in a gas flame and compress it back to shape – she’ll ride again. Not sure of quenching is necessary. I didn’.

      • Roberto Felatio says:

        I have a similar problem on my 2001 Tundra. About 1/2 the time the parking brake doesn’t engage. I had all four brakes redone. The shop said The ratcheting gear is worn. I’ll find out next week

  6. Susieq says:

    RE: Handbrake (on old Freelander). The handbrake will not hold the car on the gentle slope of my driveway (2 clicks on the ratchet – feels good but doesn’t hold) but on a steep slope it does hold (3 ratchet clicks). Does this make any sense/identify the problem? I will try the above solution, but not today – foul weather!!

  7. PJA says:

    I had new rotors/pads and parking brake pads installed on my 2002 jeep grand. Needless to say the mechanics did not service it all correctly (a big box chain). The parking brake will not work any more. After spending over $300 taking it back to them three times, they finally blew me off and wouldn’t work on it. I don’t ever use the parking brake, so it isn’t important to me other than to pass my yearly inspection. During the inspection it failed; and the local mechanic (small mom and pop shop) worked on it for over two weeks. They replaced the pull lever in the cab, the cables, and had to rebuild/install the drum pads (first place had incorrectly installed them). They gave up after those two weeks.

    What can I do at this point. Every part is new, and the brake will not engage, and two mechs have worked on it.

  8. Louis Maynez says:

    thanks Jim Miller. You are now my car GOD!

  9. Andrew hall says:

    How do I adjust my 2011 sportage parking brake

  10. MsCint says:

    Thank you. Your solution worked. I had to pump my brakes 5 times for it to take. No problem

  11. Seth says:

    “apply the brakes abruptly while traveling in reverse at low speed”

    Is this applicable for disc brakes or is it for drum brakes. I don’t see how reverse would activate anything on a disc brake caliper.

  12. hank Quinines says:

    emergency brake will not hold?

  13. Siva says:

    I release my handbrake but still the handbrake sensor light flashes in dashboard

  14. Phyllis says:

    My 2015 Kia forte emergency brake will not hold when I’m on flat ground put emergency brake on And give it gas it moves forward changed rear brakes pads and caliber what else can I do

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