How Do Electronic Parking Brakes Work?

How Do Electronic Parking Brakes Work?

Basics of the Braking System

To understand how manual and electronic parking brakes work, let’s consider the brakes on a bicycle. When a manual brake is engaged, it pulls on cables that run to the rear brakes. The tension on these cables causes the brake pads to squeeze and stop the wheel.

You can easily see this by squeezing the handbrake on your bike.

On cars, manual parking brakes do the same thing as the brakes on a bicycle. The braking cables on the car run to the brake pads, or shoes, which squeeze against discs or drums. The wheel is then held firm.

The manual brake lever is held in place, keeping the tension on the cables until released.

Electronic parking brakes work the same way except an electronic system replaces the mechanical system. When you want to engage the parking brake, you press a switch. The switch sends an electrical signal to motors on each brake caliper. Those motors then squeeze the pads into the disc.

The electronic parking brake stays engaged until another signal tells the motors to release the pressure. In modern cars, this happens automatically when you start the car and drive off.

Which Cars Have Electronic Parking Brakes?

Mercedes-Benz W221 Start Button - Interior of Vehicle - Wikimedia Commons - EuroDrift
Mercedes-Benz W221 Start Button – Interior of Vehicle – Wikimedia Commons – EuroDrift

One of the first manufacturers to use electronic parking brakes was BMW. The BMW 7-Series and other models have moved to the more modern technology. Other European models have also made the switch from manual. Jaguar, Renault, Volkswagen, and Audi are just a few examples.

The Bad with the Good

What Happens If You Pull An Electronic Parking Brake While Driving? – Cleetus McFarland – YouTube

Electronic parking brakes do have their drawbacks. Without a diagnostic laptop, you cannot remove and change the pads. This means DIY home mechanics are probably out of luck. Instead of a quick trip to the local auto store, the cars with electronic parking brakes will need to visit a professional for replacement.

I’m also reminded of a time when my brakes failed, and I was able to navigate safely using my manual parking brake. Electronic brakes won’t allow for partial braking. It’s all or nothing. So there is that. (Note: It is best to avoid using the parking brake for full stopping, just for reference.)

Yet, as cars rely more and more on computers and electronics, it looks like the electronic parking brake is what we can expect on future models.

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