How to Use the Handbrake in an Automatic Car

One very important security system in a car is the handbrake, or ‘parking brake’. This tutorial will explain how to use the handbrake in an automatic car, but first for those that are unsure, let’s explain what the handbrake is.

What is a Car Handbrake

The handbrake 1 is a vehicle safety mechanism that’s used to secure the vehicle from moving when parked. The traditional manual handbrake is a lever located between the driver and passenger seats which is pull up to apply the rear brake. The handbrake is a relatively simple mechanism that uses a ratchet system connected to a cable. When the handbrake lever is pulled up, the wires tense and apply the vehicle’s rear brakes.

Seen more commonly now are electronic parking brakes 2. They essentially do the same job except it’s done electronically via the press of a button that then activates a motor to apply the vehicle’s rear brakes.

Car's handbrake and parking brake
Your car will either have the traditional handbrake lever (1) or an electronic parking brake that’s applied using a button (2)

How to use the Handbrake in an Automatic Car

This tutorial explains how to release the handbrake in an automatic car when preparing to move off.

  1. Firmly press the brake pedal with your right foot
  2. Place the gear selector lever into Drive
  3. To release the manual handbrake, slightly lift the lever and use your thumb to push the button in at the end of the lever
  4. Push the lever all the way down until it stops and then release the button
  5. If your car has an electronic parking brake, simply push down on the electronic parking brake switch
  6. Ensure the red brake Handbrake warning light or parking brake warning light Parking brake warning light has gone out on your car’s dashboard
  7. Remove your foot from the brake and apply pressure to the accelerator pedal to move off

Note: always conduct all-round observations prior to releasing the handbrake to ensure it’s clear and safe before moving off.

Tutorial explaining how to release the handbrake or electronic parking brake in a automatic car
Tutorial explaining how to release the handbrake or electronic parking brake in a automatic car

This tutorial explains how to engage the handbrake in an automatic car after coming to a stop.

  1. Wait until the car is fully stationary
  2. When stopped, keep your right foot firmly pressed on the brake pedal
  3. Place the gear selector lever into Park
  4. To set the manual handbrake, just as you begin to pull up the lever, use your thumb to push the button in at the end of the lever
  5. Continue to pull the lever up until it feels tense, hold in place then release the button
  6. If your car has an electronic parking brake, simply pull up on the electronic parking brake switch
  7. As a visual reference to confirm the parking brake is on, you should see the red brake Handbrake warning light or parking brake warning light Parking brake warning light illuminate on your car’s dashboard
  8. Remove your foot from the brake pedal
Tutorial explaining how to apply and engage the handbrake or electronic parking brake in a automatic car
Tutorial explaining how to apply and engage the handbrake or electronic parking brake in a automatic car

Video Tutorial

This video tutorial shows how to release the manual handbrake or electronic parking brake prior to moving off and how to apply them just after coming to a stop.

Emergency Brake

Another name for the handbrake or parking brake is the emergency brake. Over decades of improvements, a car’s braking system has become extremely reliable, but in the highly unlikely event of brake failure where the brake pedal is unresponsive, if possible, keep the steering straight and raise the handbrake until you feel the vehicle slow down.

Avoid lifting the handbrake lever too hard as it may result in the rear wheels locking. If you have an electronic parking brake, pull and hold the parking brake switch. Emergency braking stop once the switch is released and on some models of vehicle, it may be required for the accelerator to be pressed also.
 

Automatic Driving Test

There’s often confusion about when to use the handbrake during the driving test and how often it should be used. This is explained for the automatic driving test tutorial, see: Automatic driving test: using the handbrake.

 

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