The handbrake, also known as the emergency or parking brake, stops the vehicle. It must therefore have a permanent action when the vehicle is stopped, requiring the driver’s action only when it is applied and released. We’ll tell you all about it in this post.
Electric handbrake: History
In time immemorial, at the birth of the automobile, the hand brake was the same as the service brake and was presented as a bicycle-type pad that directly blocked the wheels.
Soon, and following new legislation, it was differentiated from the service brake (or foot brake) to be an independent element and act as an emergency brake in case of emergency.
The latest development promoted by electronic assistance is the electric handbrake, partly controlled by a motor driven by electrical energy.
How the electric hand brake works
The wheels (at the rear or all four depending on the manufacturer) are immobilized using brake callipers activated by an electric motor. Under the legislation, there is always a mechanical auxiliary control, allowing the parking brake to be locked or unlocked in the event of failure of the electric control.
An “intelligent” electronic control, provided by a dedicated computer, allows the following operating modes:
The “parking” function
The system is activated either by a switch or automatically when the vehicle is stopped. The brake’s power can be modulated according to the gradient and analyzed by a tilt sensor.
The same sensor, combined with the ABS (anti-lock braking system) sensors on each wheel, which detect the vehicle’s backward movement, blocks them until the driver engages the clutch, thus facilitating hill starting.
If the service brake fails, the electric hand brake takes over, locking its assigned wheels.
Please note: Activation of the system is indicated by a light or a message in the instrument cluster.
Advantages of the electric hand brake
Whether criticized or praised, the electric hand brake has strengths and weaknesses. Among its advantages are:
- the elimination of mechanical parts (cables, linkage, pedals, etc.), which means less wear and tear and regular maintenance;
- the automation of the system;
- the increase of the field of action (hill start, emergency braking…), thanks to the electronic management and the processing of the sensors’ information;
- self-analysis and recording of electrical malfunctions thanks to the computer.
And among the disadvantages:
- the sophistication of the system and, therefore, the complexity of repairs: if maintenance is indeed greatly reduced, electrical malfunctions, often challenging to solve, undermine reliability, especially since repair costs can be high;
- no possibility of metering or direct intervention (e.g. locking the rear wheels with the handbrake during sporty driving).
Electric handbrake: maintenance costs
Although the electric handbrake is supposed to eliminate the need for periodic maintenance of mechanical systems (which is often the case), it can still have malfunctions that significantly impact your car’s maintenance budget.
The fault lies in the complexity of the diagnosis, carried out by a qualified and therefore expensive workforce, and the price of the parts, which can be substantial: $200 to $400 for a calliper and electric motor, or computer (more rarely) from $500 to $1,500.
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