How To Master The Hand Brake

Last Updated: 10/04/2021

The hand brake is a core part of any car and while it’s appearance may have changed greatly between models and manufacturers in recent years, its purpose remains the same.

The hand brake, or parking brake as it may be known to some, is responsible for ensuring the car does not move.

It should only be applied when the car is already stationery and it can also provide stability when you’re looking for the bite.

Learner drivers can be tempted to use the hand brake too much as they see it as a fail-safe, a moment of relied when they can be assured that the car is not going to move, however, it should be used sparingly and in much fewer scenarios than you would probably suspect when you first begin learning to drive.

Below are the key moments when you should use the hand brake:


When you have parked the car and it will be left alone, or stationery for a while, then you should apply the hand brake.

Hill Starts:

If you’re looking to perform a hill start, then the hand brake can play a vital role in this.

Refer to our guide on hill starts (see ‘further resources’ section at the bottom of the page) for more detailed information.

After An Emergency Stop:

Contrary to what some non-drivers or learner drivers may think, the hand brake should play no part in bringing the car to rest in the event of an emergency stop.

It should, however, be applied immediately afterwards once the car has come to a safe halt.

When performing some manoeuvres, such as a three-point turn, it may be beneficial to use the hand brake if it helps you to stay in control of the vehicle, however, generally speaking, use of the hand brake during many manoeuvres is optional.

In our guide of how to master the hand brake, we will walk you through the following areas:

  • Step-By-Step Guide
  • Video Demonstration
  • Hints & Tips
  • Useful Information
  • Final Thoughts
  • Further Resources

What You Will Learn

Following our usual format, we will take you through everything you need to know about mastering the hand brake when you’re learning to drive.

This will include:

  • How to use the hand brake when parking
  • How to test if the hand brake for excessive wear – this is actually a key part of the driver education. Vehicle maintenance and safety features on the driving test in the UK by virtue of your examiner asking pertinent questions. One such question is whether or not the hand brake is excessively worn or in any way defective?
  • In our guide, we will explain how you can perform a quick check on this which will be enough for your examiner to be satisfied.
  • Why your hand brake should not be used in the event of an emergency stop

Step-By-Step Guide

Our-step-by-step guide is broken up in to two parts.

Our first guide will explain how to apply the hand brake properly and effectively in common scenarios, while the second part will explain how to perform a check on your hand brake for excessive wear – a common question posed to learner drivers during a driving test.

Applying The Hand Brake When Parking:

  • Pull your car over in a safe and legal place and bring it to a stop using your normal brake (pedal).
  • Once the car is stationery, apply your hand brake.
  • Put the gear stick in to neutral.

Using The Hand Brake During General Driving:

Whether or not you use the hand brake during general driving is up to you but your examiner will be looking for to you to demonstrate that you’re in control of the car and that you’re driving safely.

  • When you pull up to, slow the car to a stop like you usually would.
  • If you’re going to be held for a period of time, keep the clutch and brake pedals pressed in and apply the hand brake.
  • Release the brake pedal.
  • Place the car in to first gear and hold the clutch down.
  • Put the gear stick in to neutral and then release the clutch. Only do this if you are going to be stationery for some time (e.g. at a large junction with traffic lights) and always be ready to place the car in to gear ready to move.

Test The Hand Brake For Excessive Wear:

During your driving test, your examiner may ask you to check the hand brake, or parking brake, for excessive wear.

To do so, follow these steps:

  • With the car stationery and on a flat surface, apply the foot brake (pedal).
  • Next, apply your hand brake fully.
  • Release the hand brake.
  • If the car moves after releasing the hand brake, it would suggest that there is some sort of wear. You’re looking for the car to remain stationery as a sign that everything is working as it should be.

Video Demonstration

Hints & Tips

Using the hand brake is actually one of the simpler things you will have to master when you’re learning to drive.

To give you that extra peace of mind, here are a few more hints and tips:

Use The Hand Brake Only When Comfortable To Do So:

As we’ve touched on already, a driving instructor is highly unlikely to punish you for not using your hand brake for many manoeuvres, such as parallel parking, three-point turns or reversing around a corner.

Once you get the hang of using your hand brake, if you feel that it’s both safe and beneficial for you to use your hand brake in these scenarios, then you should do so.

If The Road Is Uneven The Hand Brake Can Be A Huge Help:

So, our point above essentially assures you that there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to using your hand brake during manoeuvres, however, it can save you some errors which can put you on the path to fail.

If you’re performing a manoeuvre on a road which isn’t even, or perhaps you’re just too close to the kerb for comfort, pop your hand brake on.

It will prevent the car from rolling and perhaps striking the kerb, or another obstacle.

Useful Information

There are many people who believe that you should always press the button on your hand brake when you pull it up to apply it, otherwise you’ll increase wear.

Some driving instructors are also keen on this, so it may be worth getting in to the habit of doing this when you’re learning to drive.

The handbrake is a mechanical process which works like a ratchet.

As you pull it up to apply it, the higher it gets the more it ratchets up.

To release the hand brake again, you will need to press the button to release the ratchet mechanism.

Final Thoughts

You should consider the hand brake as a piece of equipment that is most definitely there to help you when you’re learning to drive.

As we’ve alluded to, it can not only offer some rest bite at junctions, secure your car once you have parked or assist in a hill start but it can also give you that little bit of reassurance when you’re performing the most tricky of manoeuvres on your driving test.

Practice as much as you can so that you’re comfortable using it in whatever scenario your test throws at you!

Further Resources