By on September 19, 2018

We’ve long bemoaned the death of the manual transmission. But with few practical advantages other than being more enjoyable to a limited subset of the population, it’s quickly (and understandably) slipping into obscurity. It’s not alone. Based on research conducted by online automotive marketplace CarGurus, the good ol’ handbrake is also rapidly losing relevance as automakers shift their focus to electronic parking brakes.

Isolating its research to the United Kingdom, CarGurus claims just 37 percent of new cars leave the factory with a traditional, mechanical brake lever. And those that still have them are typically bargain-focused nameplates like Suzuki and Dacia. Considering neither of those brands sell any models here, the number is likely even lower in the United States. 

“It’s official, the death of the handbrake is coming as manufacturers switch to electronic parking brakes in huge numbers,” stated CarGurus editor Chris Knapman. “Within the next few years we expect the number of cars on sale with traditional handbrakes to decline further, likely only to be found on a select number of niche models. Of course, the benefits can’t be ignored, but as the latest technology trickles through manufacturer line-ups, many new drivers might never experience one of the most familiar of automotive features.”

He adds, “The temptation to attempt flamboyant handbrake turns is soon to be a thing of the past, too!”

Any teenager confronted with a snowy, abandoned parking lot has intimate knowledge of this temptation. But handbrake hooliganism works equally well on a rainy cul-de-sac or bone-dry switchback. Of course, that admission should probably have been written in the past tense, since electronic brakes are the new normal. (Electronic stability control makes it harder than ever to pull this off in a new or newish car, even with a handbrake. You really need physics on your side. – Ed.)

While the electronic alternative undoubtedly frees up room on the center console, we’re definitely losing a bit of freedom here. This isn’t like moving away from lever-based throttles mounted on the steering wheel or the introduction of the electric starter motor. The car actually loses a fun little feature when it ditches the handbrake; it just happens to be a feature that’s frowned upon by the general public. But there is no stopping progress.

[Image: Ildar Sagdejev/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)]

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60 Comments on “Like Manual Transmissions, Handbrakes Are Also Hurtling Towards Extinction...”


  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Man, I remember doing some hairpin handbrake turns in my Cordoba back in the day, and I’m not talking about abandoned snowy parking lots, lol. Great fun.

  • avatar
    mikedt

    A tear just left Jim Rockford’s eye.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Nice reference. And according to Clarkson, May and Hammond, this means that the majority of young males in the UK will never be able to engage in sexual relations as hand brake turns are their primary means of ‘seduction’.

      As previously mentioned when I ordered my MT Sonata, I stipulated that it must have a hand brake. Nobody at the dealership had seen an MT Sonata of that generation, so they did not know. Had to call someone from Head Office at 10:0pm to confirm that it does have a hand brake.

      Unfortunately they did not mention that placement of the handbrake precluded the inclusion of the otherwise ‘standard’ heated seats.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      And his were done with the step-on style parking brake – extra kudos to Jim.

  • avatar
    SixspeedSi

    Handbrakes and High School – A fun, stupid time. No regrets.

    With the optimization of maximizing interior space, I can see why electronic parking brakes are taking over. My GTI still has a traditional handbrake, but I would put money on whatever car ends up replacing it will not. Sad times.

  • avatar

    Parking brake and emergency brake have the same meaning with a traditional handbrake lever or foot lever.

    Electronic parking brakes eliminate the emergency brake function for a serious loss in some emergencies.

    • 0 avatar
      Urlik

      Nope, The ABS system modulates it at speeds above 10 mph, at least it does on VWs. At the slower speeds it will then lock the rears up. You can’t modulate it yourself like a manual handbrake but it will stop the car quickly and safely.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        I’ve had my brakes go out, and used the handbrake to slow down, pull over, and stop the car. I’ve also lost engine power, along with power brake assist, and used the handbrake to help slow down and stop the car. How good are electronics when you’ve lost power?

        The electronic “emergency” brake, like the start/stop button eliminating an ignition key, and the electronic gas pedal elimination linkage, are all being added for one reason and one reason only: economics. It’s cheaper to assemble a car with all those drive-by-wire components than install mechanical connections.

        With a manual brake, safety is lost, just as the ability to turn off the engine quickly made some of those runaway acceleration crashes less avoidable. Who realized in an emergency that they had to hold down the start/stop button for two seconds to turn off the engine?

        Eliminating the manual brake is a safety issue that should be addressed by the NHTSA, not carmakers looking for assembly savings.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      This.
      Unless there is something I don’t know about these new systems, I always thought that the emergency brake was there as a mechanical redundant back up in case of loss of the hydraulic brake system.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        I don’t know all the systems, but on my Volvo, it’s an electric motor attached to a screw on the back of the rear calipers.

        It mechanically extends the brake cylinder and applies the brakes.

        So it’s still a mechanical backup for the hydraulics, and doesn’t need the engine to be running to work.

  • avatar
    MrIcky

    And let’s not forget the poor man’s FWD equivalent of line lock.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Parking brakes should be automatic.
    I am laughed at by my family when I scold them for not putting the cars into park every time.
    The rollback or forward on slightest inclines result in pretty nasty clunks in park alone.

    what would be wrong making these automatic once the shifter is in park?

    • 0 avatar
      pfp63

      The e-brake on my Jag XF automatically engages when I put the transmission in P and automatically disengages when I shift out of P. This, however, started after the car had a software update; I suspect JLR got a little nervous after Grand Cherokees and 300’s started running over their drivers. The gear selector in my car is a rotary dial similar to the other vehicles.

      I too miss a little brake induced oversteer on a snowy road.

    • 0 avatar
      ravenuer

      Wait…..your family doesn’t put their cars into “Park” when they get out and leave the car? Perhaps I’m not understanding you?

  • avatar
    W210Driver

    They really know how to take the fun out of parking!

  • avatar
    JMII

    My C7 has the electronic parking brake, it kind of sucks not having that physically connection to lock the rears at will. The good news is now the entire system is down to just a button on the center console so you get some space savings. And one press is all it takes, no more pulling a clicking it up and down (I do miss that sound). Plus since its electronic the car can automatically release it. So if you take off in first gear a message pops up on the dash the brake was released because you forgot. Now to release it yourself you have to press on the regular brakes. I guess this is safety thing to prevent the car from rolling unexpectedly. However because it releases automatically I have actually forgot to set it when I park! That never happened with the old school hand brake.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    When the SS sedan first came out one of my issues with it was the lack of a handbrake, after gaining a manual transmission and finally getting unique styling that didn’t make it invisible I just couldn’t resist. LS3 + Manual transmission in a daily useable package was a dream come true.

    I actually emailed Chevrolet about it in 2012-2013 sometime trying to get information on a handbrake, of course then like now no one at a Chevrolet dealership even knows about one of the products (or future products) on every dealer in the US…
    useless.

    Regardless I would have preferred the handbrake.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    My auld 944 had the parking brake lever located between the driver’s seat and the driver’s door, presumably for when I took it to LeMans. The cable was a little stretched-out so I rarely used it and would just leave the car in the opposite gear. Anyone else who drove it always seemed to use the parking brake, though, leading to some loud and painful entrances on my part to a ‘fall-in, climb-out’ car. Especially in the dark.

  • avatar
    fazalmajid

    That’s one thing my F30 BMW 335i gets right.

    They’re emergency brakes. If they’re dependent on power or electronics working properly, they are completely missing the point. I wonder if CHP officer Mark Saylor, who died in 2009 with his family because of the Toyota brake pedal fiasco, would have survived if his Lexus had a proper parking brake.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      May be we can take manufacturers to court on the issue of catastrophic power failure?

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      What are you meaning by “working properly”? Or “a proper parking brake”?

      The crash involving the CHP officer was ruled a gas pedal “trapped” by an aftermarket floor mat. The most fantastic “proper” parking brake would not have slowed the Lexus down enough to make a difference.

      And what makes you think automakers a looking to make cars safer with this “technology”? Besides making the cars lighter, it’s all about making the cars cheaper and easier/faster to assemble with less moving parts, plus decreased warranty claims from less mechanical bits to fail, and or service/adjust.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        DM nailed it. It is all about cost. By eliminating the handbrake, you just removed a separate operation to bolt it in, to snake the cable, make the attachments on the end, and adjust it. Once the cost of the e-brake hardware dropped to a certain point, it is cheaper to do it electronically. I do miss handbrake turns, but if you have enough horsepower it does not really matter…

  • avatar
    slavuta

    This $#it infuriates me. Manufacturers looking in one direction – take away from driving

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      I have never viewed the emergency/parking brake as a “fun” thing.

      Of course, I’m also not nearly as reckless as evidently a lot of people here are – and I’ve often had foot brakes, not hand levers, which aren’t suited to Stupid Kid Tricks.

  • avatar
    No Nickname Required

    My A4 has an electric parking brake. The thing that bothers me most is that I’m afraid someday I will forget to pull the brake button and the car will roll away. I guess I should get into the habit of leaving the transmission in gear just as additional peace of mind.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    On a related note, my 85 LeBaron GTS is the only car I’ve seen with FOUR (4) pedals – parking brake (far left), clutch, service brake, throttle.

    Fortunately, the parking brake and clutch had sufficient separation to prevent any mixups. But it was still possible – though extremely tricky – to use that parking brake for donuts.

    Here’s a picture of Chrysler’s setup:
    https://i1.wp.com/www.curbsideclassic.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/wallpapers_chrysler_laser_1984_1.jpg

    I won’t miss the handbrake, to be honest. There was always a measure of mistrust that it would actually work for parking or emergencies. The electronic parking brake is excellent.

    Handbrakes date from the days 50+ years ago before dual-circuit hydraulic brakes were required, and when many cars were still manual shift. Brake reliability has greatly improved (except for GM’s hydrogen gas problem lately) since then.

    • 0 avatar
      Ermel

      “On a related note, my 85 LeBaron GTS is the only car I’ve seen with FOUR (4) pedals – parking brake (far left), clutch, service brake, throttle.”

      Mercedes used to have that setup too.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      The Challenger is still doing the 4-pedals.

      tinyurl.com/yakut828

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      A left side floor pedal for the ’emergency brake’ is a perfectly normal set-up, that nearly all domestic sedans/wagons with automatic transmissions had during the 60’s to 80’s.

      Even an automatic Sonata MY2011 has that pedal for the emergency brake.

      In 1960’s and early 1970’s era domestic vehicles just below the emergency brake pedal would be another smaller floor mounted ‘switch’ which activated/turned off the high beams.

  • avatar
    Ermel

    I never used the handbrake for making the car slide — the VW Bugs I drove in my wilder years slid very well without it (rear engine and bias-ply tires, hehe), and I haven’t had the urge since. And I couldn’t satisfy it anymore anyway, what with my Citroën’s handbrake braking the FRONT wheels. Which makes it a quite effective emergency brake though — I don’t get why (most of) the other carmakers insist on doing it the wrong way. Any ideas?

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Braking from the front only would make the car unstable in braking situations. That’s why hybrids use the mechanical brakes in the rear when the motors decelerate the car in the front.

      • 0 avatar
        Ermel

        We’re discussing emergency use; the handbrake won’t lock the front wheels, but it may lock the lighter loaded rear ones, which is definitely more surprising to the normal driver in a panic than slight understeer would be.

        Plus, braking the front wheels actually slows the vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        The more front-biased the brakes are, the more stable the braking system will be. Road cars are always designed to lock the fronts before the rears for that reason. You’d only bias the brakes more rearward if you’re looking to rotate the car more easily on turn-in.

        As far as I know, the mechanical brakes on hybrids operate just like on any other vehicle. The regen simply kicks in before any significant clamping force is applied by the calipers at either end.

        I think parking/emergency brakes are applied to the rear wheels rather than the fronts because it’s easier and more practical to attach a cable to a hub system that doesn’t do any turning.

        Anyway, I prefer a manual parking brake for simplicity and practicality (can be used without any battery power if necessary) and because I prefer the feel of operating things mechanically wherever possible. I grew out of playing with the handbrake years ago.

  • avatar
    ptschett

    When’s the last time you needed to use the handbrake or foot-operated parking brake specifically because of a failure of the main service brakes?
    My last time was in the late 1990’s, in my 1973 Mercury Cougar that’d been my grandma’s car and then was my parents’ spare car before it was mine, and it was almost 25 years old at the time of the incident. I’m not sure that car was even new enough for it to have had a warning light for a service brake failure (but it’s been 18 years since that specific car was last able to be driven.)

    • 0 avatar
      Ermel

      “When’s the last time you needed to use the handbrake or foot-operated parking brake specifically because of a failure of the main service brakes?”

      Well, never. But if the situation ever comes, it’ll be good to know that the handbrake will actually have a quite notable effect on velocity. Which wasn’t the case on my real-wheel-handbraked vehicles, where it felt more like a strong headwind.

    • 0 avatar

      It would have been two years ago….. but I never bothered to fix the emergency brake on my farm truck, so I just used the transmission to slow down and coast to the side of the road. Granted it was a 1979 F250.

      That being said, I had a friend in a 2010 (I think) Nissan Frontier have his brakes completely fail and cause an accident. He didn’t have the time to go for the Ebrake, but it would have been helpful if it wasn’t such a quick sequence of events. Nissan had to buy back his truck.

      Saying it doesn’t happen often isn’t a really good reason IMO.

    • 0 avatar
      spamvw

      Yep, Cougar of that age would have had a warning light, dual Master Cylinder after ’67.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      It happened to me about 4 years ago on my 350Z. I had a caliper seal let go (on track no less). This caused one brake to lose fluid. Pumping the brakes got the car down to safe speed. Which is amazing considering I was tracking the car at speed and so I was able to limp back to the pits. However with no trailer I had to drive to a friends house where we could replace the leaking unit. I used the handbrake to stop the car at each traffic light along the way. If I kept pressing the brake pedal I would have pushed most of the fluid out and then had no brakes at all. Technically I would have been down to just 2 working brakes as most modern ABS braking systems have two separate circuits for just this reason.

      So yes its rare… but having backup safety features seem like a good idea when comes to stopping a vehicle.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    That engine off Parking brake on auto-feature; Wonder what happens if the engine ‘stalls’ at speed?

    Can’t wait for the recall on X brand when the Parking brake does not communicate with the electronic ABS.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      … can you translate that into English, because for some reason I can’t figure out what you’re trying to say in the first half?

      (Or what ABS has to do with the parking brake just because it’s electrically actuated rather than controlled by a direct cable…)

      • 0 avatar
        pwrwrench

        Another post reported that some vehicles actuate the “electronic” parking brake when the engine is turned off. One way off having an “electronic” automatic parking brake would be through the ABS system which, most anyway, have a pump to generate pressure independent of the driver’s foot. Pressure could be sent to whatever wheels are to be locked and held there.
        I don’t know of any ground vehicles that do this, but many airplanes do.
        According to other posts there is an electrically actuated screw that pushes the brake caliper piston and friction pad into the rotor.
        That system could malfunction just like any other.

  • avatar
    doublechili

    So, if there’s an EMP attack I guess the first thing to do is get behind a wall or tree or something before all the cars start rolling around.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Why would they start rolling around?

      They’re not an *active* electronic system kept functioning by continuous application of power, are they?

      (I mean, I know on my car it’s not, and I’d assume not others, otherwise leaving the car parked for a week would kill your battery, right?)

      On mine, at least, it just electrically moves a screw that tightens or loosens the rear caliper, separate from the hydraulics.

      A mythical EMP attack won’t make that screw spin and release the brake.

      • 0 avatar
        doublechili

        “A mythical EMP attack won’t make that screw spin and release the brake.”

        Technically you are correct and you had me until the last sentence [I was just taking advantage of the lower threshold of accuracy applied to jokes]. However, since it is a “mythical EMP attack”, it can be any kind of damned EMP I make it, and the kind I’m talking about fries anything with the word “electric” in it and even causes results not typically possible.

  • avatar
    TR4

    I’ve heard that in some cases the electronic parking brake makes servicing more difficult. You need a fancy bi-directional scan tool to release the calipers when changing the pads.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Got em both

  • avatar
    IBx1

    I will never buy a car without a manual, and I detest electric parking brakes because I have no guarantee that it is engaged or disengaged when doing anything with the car off.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    I wonder if any cars ever had the high beams, parking brake, clutch, brake, and gas pedals all on the floor at once. One switch and four pedals.

  • avatar
    hawox

    growing without doing handbrake turns definitively decreases the amount of joy in your life

  • avatar
    WallMeerkat

    VW group Skoda Octavia still has a handbrake


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