The manual handbrake is history and it’s costing us dear

manual handbrake
Most new cars have an electronic parking brake (Picture iStock/Kenneth-Cheung)

If you bought a car that’s either new or just a couple of years old, you might have noticed something missing between the seats. Back in the day there used to be a lever that would operate the parking brake, more commonly known as the handbrake.

No longer. The reassuring old handbrake has been replaced by the much less substantial electronic version. And it could be costing us dear. Read on to find out why.

What is an electronic parking brake?

The familiar lever with a button on the end that you yank up after coming to a halt is how most of us were introduced to the parking brake. And that’s why it was called the handbrake. Pulling on that lever caused a pair of cables to apply the rear brake pads or shoes (on drum brakes) to the car’s rear wheels.

An electronic parking brake has no cable. When you pull up the electronic button on the centre console, it triggers a motor which moves the rear brake pads onto the rear wheels. It’s usually accompanied by a whirring noise which is the motor doing its thing.

Most electronic parking brakes automatically disengage when you lift the clutch or press the accelerator on an automatic car.

How many new cars have electronic handbrakes?

Fewer than two in 10 new cars come with a manual handbrake. The third edition of the CarGurus Manual Handbrake Report reveals that the proportion of new cars with a manual handbrake fell to 17 per cent in 2021. The number was 24 per cent in 2020 and 31 per cent in 2019.

According to the report, the Vauxhall Corsa, SEAT Leon and BMW 4 Series have all dropped the manual handbrake over the past 12 months.

manual handbrake
The manual handbrake is increasingly a thing of the past (Picture iStock/LumiNola)

That means there aren’t many cars with old-style handbrakes

Indeed there aren’t. In its study of 642 models offered by 38 car makers, only Fiat’s performance brand Abarth has a manual handbrake across its whole range. Budget Romanian brand Dacia has a manual handbrake on two thirds of its cars.

The research found that big name car firms such as Volvo, Jaguar, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz no longer offer any cars with manual handbrakes. Just 1 per cent of Audi’s range had a manual handbrake while 6 per cent of Peugeot’s did.

Why are electronic parking brakes expensive to fix?

As they’re significantly more complicated, electronic brakes are much more expensive to put right. Data from warranty provider MotorEasy shows that the average cost of repairing a faulty electronic parking brake is £831. Mending a manual handbrake costs on average £149. That’s less than a fifth of the price.

According to MotorEasy’s records, the most expensive parking brake repair cost it’s ever paid out on is £2,005 to fix the system on a 10-year-old Range Rover.

Why do so many car makers use electronic brakes?

Car makers are desperate to free up space in their cockpits to make them appear more sleek and stylish. They also need to create areas for 21st century lifestyles such as wireless mobile phone charging plates. Electronic parking brakes create the room to do this.

These brakes also have additional features. For example, in many new cars, when you turn the engine off, the parking brake automatically engages. And the systems are also child proof so kids can’t push the button and let the brake off by accident.

17 comments on “The manual handbrake is history and it’s costing us dear

  1. Ronald 28/12/2021 9:17 AM

    I would not buy a car with an electronic hand brahe I keep my hand brake in good order and feel its a fail safe device should I ever be in an emergency situation

    • Steve Michelle 28/12/2021 11:24 AM

      I like mine. Sets automatically when you switch off. My car also has an auto brake which you can set to apply whenever you stop. It goes off when you set off again. Simples.
      Just hope it doesn’t go wrong if its expensive to fix.

      • Sir Kevin Parr Bt 06/11/2023 7:59 AM

        Anything that costs repair with two motors on rear wheels just to have electric parking brake is costing more to repair by about 30 times as much as a simple very effective handbrake cable . Designers are all about making more income for car industry now. Years ago they worked for drivers economy

    • Kevin Riley 24/02/2022 8:23 PM

      Also handbrakes are handy (pardon the pun) in very snowy weather, apply hand brake slightly as approaching corner in the snow and the back drops down giving more grip to all four wheels, drive round the corner normally while pressing the accelerator!! Obviously to do this you need the good tyres on the rear or you will spin due to lack of tread on rear tyres. And this only works on FWD cars

    • Finchburger 24/02/2022 8:45 PM

      You’ll may find the new electronic versions are actually more effective if you look further into it. Like you maybe, I am not looking forward to the ‘idiot proof’ vehicles of the future that dumb us down and make us pay more.

  2. Finchburger 24/02/2022 8:47 PM

    You’ll may find the new electronic versions are actually more effective if you look further into it Ronald. Like you maybe, I am not looking forward to the ‘idiot proof’ vehicles of the future that dumb us down and make us pay more.

  3. martin w 25/02/2022 7:51 AM

    I’ve a Ford Kuga with electronic handbrake that needed new rear discs & pads after only 12,000 miles. It’s a known common fault but Ford won’t admit to it.

  4. Martin 25/02/2022 12:02 PM

    Awful thing nearly cost me my Astra (or worse) when it either failed to set or I accidentally released it at the top of a hill. A solution looking for a problem that didn’t exist.

  5. Lee69 25/02/2022 12:26 PM

    Two points. 1) What happens if you need to roll the car without starting the engine and 2) if the car has broken down and it needs moving in an emergency-what then? Not much good if the cars all locked up.

    Incidentally, we just bought a mk4 Micra that had an aftermarket electronic handbrake fitted for a disabled person. After test driving, it was somewhat lacking in responsiveness and we asked for the manual h’brake to be reinstated. BIG EXPENSIVE mistake. To fit the electronic version they’d cut the centre cable short. When reinstating the manual one it was then fitted (unbeknown to us) with a ‘joiner block’ which couldn’t properly grip the end of the fraying cable. Six months after purchase the bl**dy thing came off in my hand. Fortunately, the car has a CVT and hill starts weren’t too much of a problem. The issue cost us £100 and a three week wait for a cable to arrive from Japan. Believe me, the manual handbrake is the unsung hero of any car, just try driving around without using it.

    Electronic v Manual I’d still opt for a manual, or car safety v unnecessary gizmo’s.

  6. RAYMOND COLLINS Collins 25/02/2022 5:02 PM

    i do some repairs myself (x mechanic) i have a 2007 jag x j 6 tdvi. if i need to change my rear brake pads do i need a code to release the brake pistons in the caliper

  7. Guy Richard Steward 25/02/2022 10:14 PM

    Any car of mine has to have a KEY, MANUAL HANDBRAKE, and a SPARE WHEEL! At present running his and her”s Vectra estates which don’t cause us too many problems….

    • Mike Matthews 07/03/2022 2:02 PM

      Agreed. As well as a CD player and the correct number of cylinders!

  8. Dave Linford 25/02/2022 10:23 PM

    What happens if your main brakes fail, on the manual brake you can use the brake to gently stop the car a d pull over you have complete control.What happens if you activate the electronic hand brake at any speed?

  9. Peter Healey 26/02/2022 9:39 AM

    I have Astra turbo with electric break. It,s the second Astra i have had with electric hand brake and i like very much. Only thing is i have to leave in gear when parked because every now and then when i knock out of gear to start it sometimes rolls when on a slope.

  10. Mr Tony Clyde 28/02/2022 12:52 PM

    My electric handbreak wont release so my car is sat outside my house and im unable to use it, i wish my car had an ordinary handbreak

  11. m 20/03/2024 4:48 PM

    three or five point turns on a slope are tricky with a) an automatic and b) a fiddly electric handbrake. Try it,
    What bothers me most is the hideous delay from pressing the button to the brake activating or deactiviating.

  12. Mike Palmer 23/05/2024 10:29 PM

    Electronic Parking Brakes (EPB). Serious road safety issue.
    Your life is at risk, and the lives of all in the car.
    Over the last few years new cars have been equipped more and more with EPB’s replacing the conventional handbrake in the centre console. A deadly move!!!
    My concern is that the front seat passenger now has no way of stopping the vehicle should the driver have a medical issue impacting their ability to control the car.
    As a professional driver, I taught my passengers to pull up the handbrake and knock it out of gear while controlling the steering wheel. It is the only chance you have.
    If you drive an automatic it is a bit more difficult to move the car into Neutral, and coupled with an EPB you have no chance whatsoever, and have to watch your destiny unfold through the windscreen.
    Vehicle manufacturers are putting lives at serious risk. This could happen to anyone. How many have died because they were never aware of passenger power?
    You could end up in this situation if you have a lift from a friend or take a taxi.
    Stop this madness NOW!!!

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