You Could Be Using Your Car’s Parking Brake Wrong

It’s always a shame (and often an annoyance) to see other drivers subject their cars to things they should never do. For example, flying over a speed bump is a good way to damage your car’s suspension. Consistently braking at the last possible moment will wear out a car’s brake pads and rotors fairly quickly. And how often do you use your car’s parking brake? It’s common sense to engage the emergency brake on an incline, but you should be using it every time you park. Skipping that step could be more harmful than you realize.

Why you need to use your car’s parking brake more often

parking brake, emergency brake
Parking brake in a 2021 Mazda CX-5 | Nadine DeMarco

It really grinds some people’s gears (pun intended) that many drivers never use the emergency brake. A Reddit user made a post after they saw many drivers put their vehicles in park and then exit a moment later. In one instance, the force of the car’s weight against the parking pawl actually caused “a full inch” of suspension travel.

As the OP describes, doing that causes your car to “rock back and forth on the parking pawl.” The parking pawl is what locks an automatic transmission’s output shaft and keeps the vehicle stationary. If your car rolls more than a few inches after being parked, it’s likely because the parking pawl is malfunctioning.

Shifting to the parking gear too quickly is one of the fastest ways to wear down your parking pawl. Many people also don’t realize they can extend their pawl’s lifespan by using the parking brake. The parking brake should also be used as an extra precaution if the parking pawl is going bad.

The right way to use your parking brake

While some people are aware of the parking brake’s pawl-saving benefits, not all drivers use the parking brake correctly. You should never put your car in park before engaging the emergency brake. This will still cause all of your vehicle’s weight to rest on the parking pawl, causing it unnecessary stress.

Instead, keep your foot on the brake pedal when you’ve moved into a safe parking spot. Don’t move the gear selector just yet: lift the parking brake first (or press its pedal or activation button, depending upon the car). Once it’s engaged, you’re free to put your vehicle in park and exit.

Using your mergency brake can help you avoid this awful sound

The top comment on the Reddit post reads, “Lol op post reminds me of that road rage video the guy hops out of his truck to rage at a biker but it starts rolling away, and instead of stepping on the brakes the guy tried to jam it in park, and it made the most awful noise I’ve ever heard come from a car.” (See the YouTube video above.)

It shows two men in an altercation, one of whom was still inside his pickup truck. He exits his vehicle without shifting it into park, causing the truck to roll away a few feet. The man catches up with the pickup and slams the gear selector into park while the truck is still moving.

What results is a loud cranking noise, and you can see the truck rock back and forth as it stops. That’s the sound of the pawl attempting to stop the transmission’s output shafts from turning. This action can cause severe damage to the parking pawl and the transmission.

As another Reddit user pointed out, a few automakers now have safeguards to prevent this issue from happening. For example, some Toyota models have a feature called Automatic Park that will park the car automatically if certain conditions are met. One of them is exiting the driver’s side, as the pickup truck driver did in the video.

If you want to preserve your parking pawl for as long as possible, start engaging your emergency brake every time you park. Just remember to activate the emergency brake before moving the gear selector to park.

RELATED: What Happens If You Pull Your Parking Brake When Driving Fast?