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July 10, 2009

Car Talk

A common mistake with the emergency brake probably didn't do any damage

Syndicated columnists

Dear Tom and Ray:

Last week, I was cleaning the interior of my '04 Ford Escape. To reach a part of the console between the two front seats, I had to raise the emergency-brake lever. Stupidly, I forgot that I had done so, and drove the car about five miles. How much damage did I do to my brake linings? I must not have had the emergency brake fully engaged, because I was not aware of any braking sensation as I was driving. --Jim

Tom: Don't worry, Jim. You're certainly not the first moron to have done this.

Ray: My brother may have been the first.

Tom: You probably did no damage at all, Jim. You must have had the parking brake loosely applied. If it had been really engaged, one of two things would have happened:

Ray: One, you would have felt resistance when you tried to drive. It would have felt like ... well, like the brakes were on. Or two, you would have smelled the brakes burning after a mile or two. And you noticed neither.

Tom: I guess you didn't notice the big, red light on the dashboard that said "Brake!" either, huh?

Ray: My guess is that, in five miles with the brake loosely applied, you hardly did anything. You wore a little bit of surface off the parking-brake drum. On this car, it's a separate unit from the regular brakes, so it would have no effect on your normal stopping.

Tom: To give yourself peace of mind, next time you're on a hill, put the car in neutral and apply the parking brake so it's fully on. Then see if the car rolls. If it does, you can ask your dealer to have a look. If not, forget all about it.

(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk Web site.)

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