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What Happened to the Handbrake?

Whether you work in the motor trade industry; or not, you’ll probably be aware that automatic gearboxes have been around for quite some time. It may even come as a bit of a surprise if you haven’t driven a new car for a while, as so much has changed in such a short space of time, automation has spring up everywhere you look on a motor vehicle.

No need to turn a key to open a door, and just a push of a button to get the engine started, we even have a click button replacing the traditional handbrake.

The good old days of pulling the handbrake lever manually to stop the vehicle from rolling away have gone, now, simply flip a switch and the electronics will park brake the car for you instead.

It gets even better, as this new technology is also applied to hill starts so a vehicle will automatically hold itself in place before you slowly pull away again.

37 per cent of vehicles were fitted with a manual handbrake as standard in 2018; but is it becoming an endangered species, with over 70 per cent of the latest models coming with an electronic parking brake as standard, with no manual alternative.

Some motor trade manufacturers like Land Rover, Jaguar, and Lexus to name a few; have dropped the mechanical version from their entire fleets.

Editor of Cargurus, Chris Knapman, said: “First introduced on a production car – the flagship BMW 7 Series – in 2001, electronic parking brakes have rapidly gone from being a novelty to what our research shows is now the norm. These systems might lack the tactile feel that some drivers value from a traditional manual parking brake, but they bring several benefits in terms of convenience, safety and packaging.”

This latest innovation is generally welcomed by all motorists who trust electronic systems more than manual mechanisms, which generally tend to wear over time, though this may not be the opinion of every motor mechanic or auto electrician working in the motor trade industry.

How does an electronic handbrake work?

It first appeared in the BMW 7 Series back in 2001, once a flashy piece of kit found in high end cars is now commonly found in most makes and models, not just sporty the types either, but popular family cars too.

Early systems used a small electric motorised switch to pull the cables attached to the rear brakes, the latest versions use more sophisticated computer-controlled technology to operate the brakes.

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When you’re ready to drive off again, simply press the footbrake and flick the switch to release the parking brake or press the accelerator and the brakes will release automatically.

Further enhancements even allow some vehicles to sense when a driver has come to a stop then applies the brakes automatically. Some models will hold the brakes until you have pressed the button to deactivate the system.

The AA’s head of roads policy, Jack Coursens, said there are “definitely some advantages to electronic handbrakes, such as the assistance they give for hill starts, and the fact they don’t carry the risk manual handbrakes do of not being set firmly enough when people park on steep hills”.

But he also cautioned: “One concern might be that this is just another piece of technology to go wrong. And young drivers, who may well learn to drive in a car with an electronic handbrake, could find themselves having to learn a new skill if their first car has a manual brake.”

People say all good things come to an end, and it seems to be the case with the old handbrake after negative driver comments relating to hill-starts being a task, the handle looking clunky and taking up space in the centre console.

One final drawback must be the handbrake turn, when of course performed safely in track conditions with the appropriate motor insurance policy in place, some will say a lost art for the latest generation of drivers.