When do parking brake cables need to be replaced?

February 21, 2021
When engaged, a parking brake (emergency brake, e-brake or handbrake) applies brakes to both rear wheels, keeping the car from rolling. In cars with mechanical parking brakes, parking brake cables connect the parking brake lever or pedal to the rear brakes.
Parking brake cables Parking brake cables.
Because the cables run underneath the car, they tend to rust and sieze up. Other problems with cables include stretching, fraying, and breaking apart.

What are the signs of a sticking or seized parking brake cable? If the cable is seized, the parking brake may stop working and cause the vehicle to roll on an incline with the parking brake engaged. In other cases, a sticky parking brake cable may cause the parking brakes to not release fully. This can cause "brake drag" when it feels like the vehicle is not rolling freely. You also might notice squeaking noises from one or both rear brakes when driving at slow speeds. The rear wheel where the parking brake is not released fully may also appear excessively hot after driving. The parking brake handle or pedal may feel too tight or too loose when operated.
Is it safe to drive with bad parking brake cables? No, the parking or emergency brake is a mandatory safety feature and if it doesn't work properly, the vehicle is deemed unsafe. A faulty parking brake will cause the vehicle to fail a state (safety) inspection.
Parking brake system and cables Parking brake cables. See more illustrations: Fig1, Fig2, Fig3.
If the parking brake cables or other parts of the parking brake mechanism are bad, they must be replaced.

How can you check parking brake cables? Typically, mechanics check the parking brake operation during regular services that include a brake inspection. In some shops, a simple oil change might not include testing of the parking brake; in this case, you can ask a mechanic to check it separately. Often the damage to a parking brake cable is visible.
Damaged parking brake cables In this truck, the parking brake cable was rusted inside and sticking due to jacket damage.
Parts of the cables (conduits) are protected by a PVC jacket. When the PVC jacket is damaged, water gets inside the cable and causes it to rust and seize up. If the cable is sticking, but not otherwise damaged, freeing and lubricating it might be enough. The parking brake operation must be properly tested after repairs. A properly working parking brake must engage with a few clicks of the lever or pedal and release fully when the pedal or lever is released. The number of clicks is usually listed in the inspection procedure in the factory service manual for technicians. For example, the service manual for the Toyota FJ Cruiser specifies 5 to 7 clicks.

How much does it cost to replace parking brake cables? Parking brake cables for both rear wheels are typically replaced at the same time. In some cars, cables come as two separate parts, in others, as one kit with all the brackets and cables. In an average car, replacing both rear parking brake cables costs from $320 to $480. In vehicles with rust damage, more parts may need to be replaced. After the cables are replaced, the parking brake must be adjusted and tested. Replacing parking brake cables is not very difficult, but requires good access to the vehicle from underneath. In some cars, the rear drum or parking brakes must be taken apart to get access to parking brake cables.

Do parking brake cables need any maintenance or adjustment? Some cars have self-adjusting parking brakes,
Parking brake cable adjusting nut Parking brake cable adjusting nut.
but in others, the parking brake needs to be manually adjusted. In most cars, the parking brake mechanism is adjusted at the equalizer or at the lever (pedal). Typically the parking brake is adjusted whenever the brakes are serviced or replaced. In addition, some of the parts of the parking brake system might need to be cleaned and lubricated.