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What would happen if you engaged electronic parking brake while driving?

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Posted October 26, 2018

You know what‘s fun? Hand brake turns. Sure they might be illegal in some places and they can potentially end up with a huge wreck, but as saying goes, “you got to live sometimes”, right? However, all this fun is slowly disappearing, because more and more new cars are using electronic parking brakes that are simply not the same. But are they really? What will happen if you pull the lever on the electronic parking brake mid-corner?

Electronic parking brake saves space in the car and provides additional features. Image credit: Kārlis Dambrāns via Wikimedia(CC BY 2.0)

Electronic parking brakes are not that hateful as we make them sound. The first time electronic parking brake showed up on a mass-produced car was back in 2001 when it replaced a big ol’ lever in the BMW 7 Series limo. Very soon electronic parking brake spread like plague across the automotive industry and can now be found everywhere – from Volkswagen Golf to Bentley Continental, from a Mini Cooper to Lamborghini Aventador. And some would say that they are a positive change from the old technology.

The traditional parking brake is a very simple mechanical system. You pull a lever and a couple of cables pull the rear brake pads together. It is a simple system, which works regardless of the condition of the rest of the car. And it allows for hand brake turns. Meanwhile electronic parking brake is either one motor pulling a cable or a couple of motors on each rear wheel. Either way, it offers some additional functionality that was unachievable with a conventional hand brake.

Electronic parking brake can be somewhat automatic – it can engage when you put your automatic transmission into “Park” position. Furthermore, it can be activated automatically after an accident. And it turning off automatically when you are setting off is a nice feature as well. There are even some systems that will prevent you from rolling back when you are doing one of those tricky hill starts. That is all nice and good (and boring), but what about our hand brake turns? What will happen if you pull on that tiny little switch in the middle of the corner?

Not much. Not much at all. Hand brake turns are fun because you lock up your rear wheels and they break out of traction. They start sliding uncontro… nicely and you look like a driving god. But, since electronic parking break is controlled by a computer, it will not lock the rear wheels regardless of your enthusiasm. One of two things might happen – nothing or it will work as a very strong push on the brake pedal. No locking wheels due to ABS. For your own safety, of course.

This embarrassment will be exaggerated by some beeps from the evil computer as it will be warning you not to do that ever again. Sad. Conventional hand brakes were great not just because they allowed us to have a little bit of fun, but also because they were simple, easy to maintain and fix. Electronic parking brake just seems like an unnecessarily complex system for a simple task. It is quite useful, but at what cost!

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