Parking Brake Problems: How to Spot Cable Damage after Mechanic School

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A handbrake is a necessary component of any vehicle, offering a helpful backup to a car’s standard braking system. Many older cars feature a manual handbrake cable, which runs from the interior lever to the back wheels of the car, but are steadily being replaced as manual transmissions go electric. These cables are prone to failure, but luckily can be easily fixed and replaced. Here is a brief guide to parking brakes, and what mechanics can do in case of a failing cable.

What Does a Bad or Failing Brake Cable Mean?

The standard brake cable is typically steel-braided and wrapped in a protective sheath. It activates the parking brake by pulling the calipers or brake drums to engage the braking system. Although parking brake repair is uncommon and relatively straightforward, it is still a necessary part of brake maintenance, and the parking brake is a critical safety component and may need adjustments from time to time.

If the vehicle meets standard safety regulations, there should be many signs which can alert anyone in mechanic school to a failing brake cable. This includes, but is not limited to an illuminated Parking Brake Warning light, which means that the brake is presently engaged and may even be stuck or jammed and unable to release properly. The most common indicator of a degraded brake cable is a loose response when pulling the handle, because if the cable is excessively worn, it will not draw back the brake as tightly.

What Students in Mechanic School Should Know About Cable Damage

Traditionally, handbrake cables are made of metal, which deteriorate naturally with use over time. These cables, depending on the model’s layout, are also fitted underneath the car, exposing them to exterior factors such as road debris and water. Cables can sustain outside damage, begin rusting, or otherwise degrade in quality, snapping or weakening the cable, or otherwise causing it to be unresponsive.


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Cables can be damaged by a variety of factors including age, debris, and rust

While natural wear and slack can be common in a parking brake, the most serious consequence can be a snapped brake, which requires immediate repair because otherwise there is nothing to keep a stationary car locked in place. In order to avoid this, replacing a handbrake cable is recommended, and doesn’t require much more than a quick fix.

How to Repair a Broken Brake Cable

For anyone in automotive service technician training, replacing or repairing a malfunctioning brake cable is great practice because of the simplicity of its system. Parking brake cables tend to stretch with frequent use, and generally repair involves a simple adjustment, although the methods can vary. If the parking brake is jammed or can’t be disengaged, the sliding mechanisms may need lubrication, but may need to be disassembled to locate the root cause. Additionally, a simple solution is often following the cable to the brake mechanism and then detaching it in order to replace it with a new cable.

Occasionally, mechanics may run across a newer car with an electric parking brake. They work in the same capacity as any cable-based system, although they use electric motors rather than a hand-operated brake, and may require a scan tool in order to render the car in service mode to make the proper repairs.

Are you interested in going back to school and exploring auto mechanic careers in Montreal?

Find out more at your local Automotive Training Centre!

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