What happens when you drive with the emergency brake on?

Almost all drivers, no matter how experienced they are, sometimes forget to turn off the emergency brake either by pulling the lever down or by pressing a simple button before they drive.

Most of us, just don’t bother when we forget the emergency brake on, we simply just put the brake lever down or turn it off and we leave.

But there are also other types of drivers, especially inexperienced ones that panic if they do that and they will immediately begin to check if something bad has happened to the car, especially if the car moves even if the brake lever is slightly up. So that is why the following question comes through our minds.

If the brake lever is raised by 1-2 clicks, this will have minimal consequences. But there is still a chance of causing damage to the car. The duration of movement in this model plays an important role.

What consequences are if we drive with the emergency brake on?

Before talking about the possible consequences of driving with the emergency brake on, we need to understand its role.

The emergency brake is designed to help the car stay fix, especially on uneven surfaces and on slopes. This prevents unintentional car movement, and it is important to have a working emergency brake on a car that is equipped with an automatic transmission.

If the car is equipped with a manual transmission, then the driver can leave the car on a slope simply by placing the shifter in one of the gears. This will prevent the car from rolling, and it will not cause any damage to the manual transmission itself, unlike an automatic transmission.

Also, leaving the car parked with the shifter in a gear does not guarantee 100% against the car’s unintentional movement. The manual transmission is not able to fully keep the car when it’s on a slope. If the angle is large, and you leave the car parked like that, there is a chance of rolling.

After all, it is not advised to leave the car just in one of the gears if it is on a sloping road. This adds additional stress to the transmission. And the greater the angle of inclination, the greater the force will act on the mechanism.

This is true, especially on old manual transmissions, where the gear can simply fly out under load. Modern emergency brakes. however, are implemented in different ways, the classic scheme is the lever. Some handbrakes are designed as a pedal or electronic button.

What exactly happens when you forget about the emergency brake?

Let’s divide this answer and talk about the consequences that can occur for a rear-wheel-drive car, then what would happen to a front-wheel-drive one, and if those cars are equipped with a manual or automatic transmission

Driving a manual transmission car with the emergency brake on

The brake cylinders will begin to overheat, because of the strong friction of the brake pads. There is a possibility of damage to the clutch disc.

Driving an automatic transmission car with the emergency brake on

The consequences of an automatic transmission car, when driving with the handbrake on, are different. It is also influenced by various other factors.

The main problem of driving a car with an automatic transmission car with the emergency brake active is a strong overheating of the transmission itself since it structurally has its own radiator. The frictions responsible for changing gears will also start to wear out quickly.

Driving a rear-wheel-drive car with the emergency brake on

In an RWD car, nothing bad will happen. When you start to drive you should immediately notice that the rear wheels are not rotating because they are held back. It is almost impossible to start a rear-wheel-drive car with the emergency brake active. And if it works out, then the brake is worn-out and you will feel a persistent smell of burnt brake pads in the cabin.

This is the best option in terms of the consequences of driving with the emergency brake on, a manual and a rear-wheel-drive car.

Driving a front-wheel-drive car with the emergency brake on

On a front-wheel-drive car, things are slightly different. If the emergency brake is in a good condition you will have a hard time moving the car, but if it is not, the car will move. When the brake is active, the wear of the pads will begin and increases significantly. Strong friction is formed, and the components can quickly fail. Plus, the wheel bearings will suffer as well.

The above consequences are not the only ones that could happen to the car. As I said, if the brake is not that good, the car can still go without you noticing it. To do this, it is enough to imagine how an ordinary car tries to tow a truck and tries to pull it. And the truck is stuck somewhere and stubbornly doesn’t want to move.

  • The engine and transmission will be affected by an increased load;
  • The tires will quickly and unevenly wear out;
  • The brake pads, brake discs, cylinders, and calipers will overheat;
  • The hub bearings will actively wear out.

Symptoms of driving with the emergency brake on

  • Vibration on the steering wheel;
  • A significant decrease in handling;
  • Car refuses to accelerate;
  • Reduced engine thrust;
  • Extraneous noise;
  • A strong smell of burnt in the cabin.

It is difficult not to see and feel these symptoms. But in the rain and snow, there is a chance not to notice the active emergency brake.


There is a reduced chance of not seeing and feeling that the emergency brake is on when you want to drive the car. But if you manage to drive the car with the brake active, this will mean that the emergency brake is not in good condition, and you will have to check it first and foremost, also there are also other consequences that we discussed above, so it’s best to check them if you drove like that.

Photo by: Tony Webster, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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