How much damage could I do by using the parking brake while my teenager is learning to drive a stick?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 1998

Dear Tom and Ray:

I own a 1985 Subaru GL wagon 4x4 with a five-speed manual transmission. I have
managed to keep this car running and looking good through the years, and hope to
keep it for many more. I am considering using this car to teach my teen-age son
how to drive a stick shift. My question is, how much damage would it do to the
transmission if I, while sitting in the passenger seat, pulled abruptly on the
emergency brake to prevent an accident? -- Brad

RAY: Brad, if you're teaching your teen-age son to drive a stick shift, the
transmission is the last thing you should worry about. I'd put "clutch" and
"mental health" much higher up on the list.

TOM: And under the circumstances you describe, nothing will happen to the
transmission. If you stop the car suddenly (with any brake), without pushing in
the clutch, the engine will stall. That won't do any real damage, and the
transmission couldn't care less.

RAY: What's more likely to happen is that you'll smash into the back of that
milk truck you were hoping to keep your son from plowing into. You may have
noticed that the "emergency brake" is now always referred to by the
manufacturers as the "parking brake." There's a message in that!

TOM: The parking brake is basically a flimsy device, designed to keep the car
from rolling once it's already stopped. On this car, it's operated by cables
that go from the hand lever to the rear drum brakes. And there's always a chance
that the cables will stretch or break if you yank on them in an emergency

RAY: You'll also be surprised at how hard it is to stop the car even if it does
work. The parking brake is a purely mechanical device. You're not getting any
assist from the car's hydraulic system, like you do when you use the brake

TOM: That doesn't mean you shouldn't try the parking brake in an emergency.
Heck, you might as well try everything in an emergency, right? It might work.
There's just no guarantee that it WILL work.

RAY: Oh, and as we say to all parents teaching teen-agers to drive, Brad: May
God have mercy on your soul!

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