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Repairing a Bad E-Brake

Emergency Brake Handle

Emergency brake systems on a vehicle are relatively simple affairs with a physical handle or pedal pulling a cable which runs the length of the vehicle and splits at some point to physically engage the brakes on both rear wheels. Outside of a few modern vehicles with electronic e-brakes, most vehicles use this basic system. Oddly enough, this simple system can still be a real pain to diagnose when something goes wrong.

On an e-brake system there are usually three things that go wrong. Either the cable disconnects from the pedal/lever or the wheels, the cable stretches/breaks with age, or the lever/pedal loses its return spring. The only exception is when something goes wrong with the brakes themselves, which will illicit other symptoms such as bad stopping, vehicle drift, and so forth.

Assuming the problem is with the emergency braking system, it is relatively easy to diagnose any of the three common issues through simple tests.

Start by having someone engage the brake handle/pedal while you watch the cable and/or the rear brakes. If the cable moves and the brakes change position at all, you are likely dealing with a stretched cable. Replacement of the e-brake cable will fix that. If nothing moves, you have a disconnect somewhere.

Start by making sure that the cable is connected to the pedal/lever and that it moves just below/behind that point when the pedal/lever is engaged. Then follow the cable underneath the car and tug it at every point you can physically access - there will be a lot of opportunities. If it moves easily from any point and then becomes very loose at another, you know the break is between those two points. If you find no broken spots, check the connections at the brakes. One side or the other (sometimes both) may be disconnected/broken.

Most likely one of these tests will reveal your problem. Most emergency brake issues require replacement of the cable or the repair of connections.