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What Do You Call the Thing that Engages Your Brakes When You're Parked?

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author photo by Eric Brandt September 2017

Image by Ballista

I don't know if you've noticed, but car enthusiasts love to argue on the internet about things that don't matter. Actually, that doesn't apply to just car enthusiasts. That applies to most people with an internet connection.

In any case, I've noticed one of the subjects that keyboard warriors get the most worked up about is what you call the thing you use to apply the brakes on your car — usually the rear brakes — in an emergency or when you're parking to stop the car and/or keep it stationary. Not the regular brake you operate with a foot pedal right next to the gas pedal. I'm talking about the other thing you can use to engage the brakes.

The three most widely accepted names for this thing are "parking brake," "hand brake" or "emergency brake" (often shortened to "e-brake"). Allow me to explain why all three names make perfect sense.

Parking brake makes sense because it can be used to park the car. Keeping a car stationary while unattended is key to effectively parking a car. If the parking brake is engaged and working properly, that baby isn't going anywhere. Typically, engaging the parking brake is required to park a car with a manual transmission.

Emergency brake makes sense because its originally intended use was as a backup brake in case your regular, foot pedal-controlled brakes went out. If you slam on your brakes and nothing happens, the emergency brake has your back. However, instant brake failure is pretty rare on modern cars, and the e-brake isn't often used for emergencies anymore. Nevertheless, that was one of its original purposes and remains a common name for this brake.

Then there's hand brake. This is probably the weakest of the three names, simply because it's not always hand-operated. Many are being replaced with electronic "hand" brakes, and sometimes they come in the form of a foot pedal, like in the Dodge Challenger. That's right, manual transmission Dodge Challengers have four foot pedals.

All three names seem reasonable, right? You might think so, but you'd be amazed at how passionate and vocal some folks are about this very unimportant subject. If an internet commenter in the "parking brake" camp sees a headline or comment somewhere online where it's called an "e-brake," stand back. I've seen horrible, insulting, personal attacks on people who choose to call this rather trivial automobile control device by what they believe is the incorrect nomenclature.

Why? Why does anybody care what this is called? And why can't we agree on one name? You can say any of these three names and everyone will know what you're talking about, so who cares?

A lot of people care. Maybe you care. Maybe you care a lot. Maybe you're one of the aforementioned keyboard warriors and you're cracking your knuckles right now, getting ready to lay into yours truly for daring to suggest this thing has multiple acceptable names.

What do you call this brake? How strongly do you feel about this subject? If you've ever gone to battle in a comment section defending your position, please share your experiences in the comments below and try not to get too fired up.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
What Do You Call the Thing that Engages Your Brakes When You're Parked? - Autotrader