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The electric handbrake: how it works and problems

On the most modern cars, the handbrake is electronic and automatic: find out how it works, how to use it and the main problems with it.

How to use the electronic handbrake

Many modern cars have an electronic handbrake, a high-tech solution that removes the need for the classic lever in the cabin, with advantages in terms of both aesthetics and space. Exactly like the traditional handbrake, the electric handbrake allows you to lock the car’s wheels when it has come to a standstill. This prevents it from moving forwards or backwards on slopes. Therefore, the aim of it is the same but some practical and operational features are different. Let’s see what they are.

The electronic handbrake: how it works

An electronic handbrake consists of a control unit and a button to activate and deactivate the system. When the handbrake is activated, the brake pads close to stop the car; conversely, when it is deactivated, the brake pads release.

There are actually two types of electronic handbrake, one with hybrid technology and one full electric. Hybrid technology is halfway between a fully electronic handbrake and a traditional handbrake with a lever. With the hybrid system, an electric motor performs the same function as the lever, combining the mechanics, i.e. the cables, and the electronics.

The full electric handbrake, on the other hand, has two motors that act on a mechanism connected to the brake callipers. This type of brake exerts more brake force but it is also more complex to control.

How to use the electronic handbrake

In a car with an electronic handbrake, there is no classic lever to pull in order to brake, there is simply a button that activates and deactivates the brake. One of the advantages of the electronic handbrake is how practical it is to use because it is much simpler and does not require a lever to be pulled.

On the other hand, those that are used to a traditional handbrake will probably need time to gain confidence with this new technology and will always reach for the lever they are so used to, at least initially. However, the electronic handbrake offers other advantages in terms of space, as there is no lever, and safety, because on various models, the current systems do not allow you to set off with the handbrake on, not to mention the fact that the electronic technology is not subject to freezing temperatures and cable wear.

It can also be said, however, that the costs are higher and the use of electronic technology can entail additional risks of the handbrake getting locked on, for example when the battery goes flat.

Electronic handbrake: common problems

Although electronic handbrake technology is already well established, it is important to highlight some problems that can occur. One of the main issues is undoubtedly a locked handbrake, which can happen after a breakdown or if the battery goes flat: with no power to the control unit, it could be impossible to release the brake to move the car manually. On some models, there is a manual release system that allows you to bypass this problem.

Other issues involve replacing the rear brake pads because the handbrake acts on them and requires intervention by a specialist. As it is advanced technology, any work carried out on the electronic handbrake requires dedicated diagnostics tools and specific skills that mean that doing it yourself is not an option.