We’re absolutely positive that this is one of those topics of discussion that has been handed down from generation to generation – especially here in Maine. In fact, we still field questions on the terminology as well as function of the parking brake… aka the emergency brake.
While just about everybody knows of this particular component on their vehicle and can pretty much understand that when one of the two terms is used, folks are talking about the same part. However, some confusion needs to be cleared up. First off, that particular brake component is indeed called a parking brake, as it is designed for when the vehicle is parked – not stopping. Consumers should never assume that this system can be used in situations to stop your vehicle entirely when the actual braking system gets either very weak or fails completely.
Now – here’s where the confusion comes in. At one point, wasn’t the parking brake called an emergency brake? The answer is yes! The name change came about after several lawsuits (this was decades ago) because that cable braking system never did fully stop a vehicle in an emergency situation.
The actual purpose of the parking brake is to help keep the car from moving or rolling if the clutch or transmission fails (due to vehicle weight) while it’s parked. The main reason why it can never be utilized as an emergency brake is because it only actuates a small set of pads or shoes in the rear brakes only – and the front brakes do 2/3rds of the vehicle braking to begin with.
Lastly, should you even attempt to use the parking brake in an emergency braking situation? We would say yes – face it; you have nothing to lose anyways. If your parking brake system is in good working condition, applying it may prevent an accident. If a collision is avoided, the worst damage you could do to this system is worn parking brake pads or shoes and possibly a snapped cable from the pressure and force. But vehicle owners should never use the parking brake in normal braking situations. It will not save wear & tear on the actual braking system and related components.