Amy confesses to some bad parking brake behavior.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 01, 2008

Dear Tom and Ray:

Twice now, I have left a late-evening rehearsal without releasing the parking brake on my 2007 Toyota Corolla Matrix, and driven 10 miles home (50 mph on the freeway most of the way) before discovering my ridiculous error. Please tell me what horrible things I have done to my car. I love this car, and I really don't want to confess to anyone what I have done! You're my only hope for advice -- scathing though it may be! Gratefully yours -- Amy

RAY: You've been drinking too many glasses of Mateus during rehearsal, Amy.

TOM: Don't feel bad about the parking brake. I've done this myself. Fortunately, it was always on a customer's car!

RAY: It's possible that you've done some damage, Amy. But we can't tell without inspecting the rear brakes. So, you're going to have to go to the confessional at your local dealership, close the curtain and spill everything to your service adviser.

TOM: Don't worry, he's heard much worse.

RAY: What you did was the equivalent of driving with your foot pressed partway down on the brake pedal -- but only for the rear brakes. Depending upon how firmly your parking brake was applied while you drove (clearly not that firmly, if you were able to drive on the freeway at 50 mph), you could have overheated those rear brakes.

TOM: If they did overheat, you could have cracked your brake shoe linings, or even warped the brake drums. But I doubt it.

RAY: Me, too. Any decent mechanic can tell you after taking a quick look. The range of what this might cost you runs from nothing (our guess), to about $150 if you need shoes, to $350 if you need your drums replaced, too.

TOM: But here's a surefire way to prevent this in the future: Apply the parking brake more firmly. How firmly? Try this experiment: Put the car in drive with your foot on the brake pedal.

RAY: Do this on an open driveway, where you have some room to move, not in front of your prized African tulips or your freshly painted garage door.

TOM: Right. With the car in drive and your foot on the brake, pull up the parking brake and take your foot off the brake pedal. The car shouldn't move. If it does, pull up harder on the hand brake and try again. Not only should the car stay perfectly still, but if you step on the gas and try to drive it away, you should feel a discernible drag on the car, like something is wrong.

RAY: If you can't get to that point, your parking brake might not be working properly, and you should have it looked at.

TOM: But once you find that spot, Amy, where it's hard to drive away -- that's how hard you should apply the parking brake every time you park the car.

RAY: If you do that, there are two benefits. No. 1, the parking brake will be sure to do its job and prevent the car from rolling away if it ever slips out of gear. And No. 2, it'll keep you from driving home with the parking brake engaged, because even YOU will notice that something's wrong, Amy. Good luck!

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