Has My Car’s Handbrake Cable Snapped?

A snapped handbrake cable is one of the most common faults on older cars. Unlike most newer cars, which have an electronic parking brake, older cars have a handbrake cable. The handbrake cable runs from the handbrake lever to the back wheels of the car, and is prone to failure.

Traditional handbrake cables are usually made out of metal. Their condition will inevitably deteriorate over time. After all, the cables are fitted underneath the car and are exposed to the elements. That means all kinds of road debris and water is thrown at them. The cables can start to rust after a while, which will weaken them a lot. If the tension put on them gets too much for the cables then the most likely result is that the cables will snap.

How do I know if my handbrake cable has snapped?

Checking whether your handbrake cable is on its way out can be a bit tricky. After all, you can’t actually do a visual check without getting underneath the car. When using the handbrake it may be that your car stays put and everything feels fine. When looking up close, however, it can be that it is dangerously close to snapping.

Checking the condition of the cable is the best way to find out if it is on its way out. This will usually be done as part of a service when you bring in your car to the garage. That said, there are ways to check without a visual check. For example, a good sign that the cable is deteriorating is when you have to pull the handbrake lever up higher than normal to stop the car.

When a handbrake cable does completely snap the consequences can be problematic. It will mean that there is nothing to lock the car in its place when stationary. If you live somewhere where it’s flat it’s less of a problem, but imagine what would happen if you park on a slope. Your car will most likely just roll off without you!

It’s something you want to avoid of course. Replacing a handbrake cable often doesn’t take much thankfully. The cables are often easily accessible from underneath the car. So a quick fix done mobile is often not a problem.

It’s important to get the problem fixed as soon as you notice any issues. Get help from a mechanic if you’re not sure which of the handbrake cables is needed. They will be able to tell you exactly what needs to be done to resolve the problem.

What causes a handbrake cable to snap?

The handbrake cable is exposed to surrounding elements such as road debris, rocks, etc which makes it all the more prone to damage which can cause it to become worn and brittle, leading to it breaking or snapping. As the cable is also exposed to moisture, it can also corrode which can weaken the cable eventually.

In some cases, driving habits can also impact when the handbrake cable can snap. If the brake is applied too forcefully, it may impart excessive stress which may also lead to premature snapping of the cable. In any case, if you think that the handbrake cable may have broken, it’s best to have a mechanic check the brake and fix it if needed.

Is it illegal to drive with a broken handbrake?

You should not drive with a faulty handbrake, especially if the cable has snapped. Remember, the handbrake is a safety-critical feature and needs to be in proper condition to be road legal and pass an MOT test. Additionally, if anything goes wrong your insurance could also be invalidated costing you a lot more than simply getting the handbrake cable fixed.

What are the signs of a loose handbrake?

A malfunctioning handbrake can be identified with symptoms such as:

  • Does not hold: The handbrake may fail to hold the vehicle in place when engaged. Despite applying the handbrake fully, you may notice that the car rolls or moves.
  • Lever position: You might not be able to return the handbrake lever to its usual position, or it may sit higher or lower than usual.
  • Lack of proper tension: When the lever is pulled up, you may experience a lack of resistance or tension and will be easy or “loose” to pull
  • Handbrake or parking brake warning light stays on: Some vehicles have a handbrake warning light on the dashboard that illuminates when the parking brake or handbrake is engaged (the symbol is generally a “P” inside parenthesis). It could indicate that the handbrake system is malfunctioning if the light does not come on or even if the light continues to illuminate when it is released.

Will a broken handbrake fail an MOT?

Yes, a broken handbrake can lead to an MOT fail. The handbrake is checked as part of the brake system checklist. The MOT tester will thoroughly check if the handbrake is functioning properly and whether it is able to hold the vehicle stationary on a steep incline. Additionally, if the handbrake warning light is illuminated on the dashboard at the time of the MOT test, it will automatically result in an MOT fail.

One way to check is by doing a test yourself before the MOT appointment by trying to see if the handbrake holds if you very gently try to apply some throttle (as in your driving test!). If the vehicle’s handbrake doesn’t hold well or starts to slip then it’s possible the cable may be loose or has stretched and will need to be replaced in order to pass the MOT test.

How easy is it to fix a snapped handbrake cable?

For a trained mechanic, replacing the handbrake cable is a fairly straightforward job as the cable is accessible under the car. The repair job can also be done by mobile mechanics by jacking up the car and takes about 60 mins and you can expect to pay a mechanic between £75 and £150 for a job like this.

Is it expensive to replace handbrake cable?

If the issue is detected early, the main cost involved in a handbrake replacement is the cable itself which can range between £30-80. With labour costs, you can expect this to cost between £75 and £150.

Ultimately, the exact cost of a handbrake cable replacement depends on the make and model of your car. To get an exact price, fill out your postcode and vehicle registration number via the link below.

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