Car & Truck Brake Cables

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How Brake Cables Contribute to Your Vehicle's Safe Operation?

If your parking brakes are working well, you don't need to worry that your vehicle will roll away when you park on a hill. Learn about brake cables, an important part of the mechanism that brings your car or truck to a stop and keeps it from moving after you park it.

What is a brake cable?

A brake cable connects the pedal to the vehicle's braking mechanism. When engaged, the cable creates tension and causes the brakes on the wheels to engage. This stops the car.

What is a parking brake cable?

A parking brake (sometimes called a handbrake or an emergency brake) creates tension in the brake system, causing the rear wheel brakes to engage. It is usually a steel-braided cable wrapped in a protective sheath.

Are brake cables and shifter cables the same?

No, these two cables are significantly different. A shifter cable connects to the transmission to control the gear selection. A parking brake cable, when engaged, keeps the rear wheels locked.

Do some cars have electric brakes?

Yes, many electric and hybrid vehicles have an electronic brake function.

Are brake cables universal?

No. Brake cables are not one-size-fits-all. They vary in length and diameter. The design and cable attachments can also be different. Make sure to confirm that the parking cable you buy fits your vehicle properly.

How long do brake cables last?

There is no standard for the lifespan. It's a good idea to have them checked every six months and adjusted as needed to maximize their useful life.

How do you engage the brake cable?

The brake cable mechanism commonly engages in two ways. In the first, lifting a lever on the center console causes tension on the brake cable, and the brakes lock the wheels. Depressing a plunger on the lever can return the lever to a normal position, thereby releasing tension.

The other method involves a separate pedal or rod under the dash. You depress the pedal until it locks the wheels or pull the toothed rod toward you until it engages the brakes. You can release the pedal using the release lever or twist the toothed rod so that it is no longer mated to the ratcheting design, releasing the tension on the rear brakes.

How do you adjust or tighten brake cables?

Over time, the brake cable can stretch and lose tension. Many cars have a self-adjusting mechanism for the parking brake, but if yours doesn't, here's how to adjust the brake cable:

  • Release the parking brake, then pull on the lever a few clicks to engage the brake.
  • Safely raise the rear of the vehicle, securing the rear wheels on jack stands, and chock the front wheels.
  • Spray the cable adjuster with penetrating oil to lubricate the nut and make it easier to loosen.
  • Loosen the adjuster nut, and loosen the cable slightly.
  • Tighten the adjustment nut until you feel a slight drag on the wheels.
  • Release the parking brake lever, and make sure the wheels can turn without drag.

Read this: How to Diagnose and Repair Your Parking Brake

Can brake cables break? How do you repair them?

Yes, cables can break from extreme wear or abuse. For example, sometimes drivers forget to release the parking brake when starting a car, and this can cause excessive wear over time. Once a cable is broken, the integrity of its balance is compromised. When a cable breaks, the entire length of the cable should be replaced.

How do you know what replacement brake cable to purchase?

It's a good idea to contact the original manufacturer for replacement equipment. Choose a cable made of high-quality and durable materials like steel. You can extend the life of the cable by selecting one with rust and corrosion protection.

To learn more, read this article: A Beginner's Guide to Hand Brakes