To ratchet or not to ratchet, that is the question...

Blog post posted on 11/09/18 |

When Shakespeare wrote Hamlet these first world problems didn’t exist.  Horse drawn carts had a rudimentary form of parking or handbrake to stop them rolling away, whilst you fed and watered the horse or left it parked overnight in your thatched and oak-beamed cart port.

As vehicle manufacturers realised that the ratchet and pawl type of handbrake hold was the way forward, I bet they wouldn’t have dreamt of the hours of hot air that would pour from people discussing the only way to operate this simple device!

There was a time that vehicle manufacturers, driving instructors, advanced driving organisations and police driving schools were all on the same page, yes really.  The only way to operate a handbrake correctly was to depress the release button first, pull it up firmly, release the button and hey presto the car then didn’t move. 

Well actually not so simple. The actuation of the handbrake was easy, but did it really do what it said on the tin?  Not always as I found out at a very tender driving age when applying the handbrake on my first car, a 1967 Austin Mini, it was so pathetic you could drive the car with it applied! 

I became very adept at adjusting Mini handbrakes over the years and servicing the cable and lever mechanism. I even had one of those ‘fly off’ handbrakes fitted to more sporting models.  But enough of the mechanics, let’s get back to the issue of the simple application.

Have you ever actually read your car handbook under the bit that tells you how to apply the handbrake?  Of course not, how hard can it be - yank it on and job done right?

Better still press the foot operated parking brake down or even just press the little button so electronically, magically and with some whirring the handbrake is on, if it has auto application you don’t even need to touch it … great, no more thinking about it then.  Shall we move on now? Not just yet.

As a thinking driver we actually should concern ourselves and be thinking about doing a very simple thing like applying the handbrake.  The thinking driver would also leave it in gear (manual gearbox) or park (auto gearbox), we might even turn the wheels to the kerb all as suggested in The Highway Code and other driving publications, because we are aware of the outside chance of what is known as a ‘roll away.’ 

VOSA have completed extensive research on this subject and Loughborough University published a comprehensive study.  Why?  Because people have been killed as a result of a vehicle rolling away when the handbrake does not engage correctly. Now that is serious.

As a man I consult the manual after extensive fiddling and not getting the result I was initially hoping for.  Sound familiar? Well time for a bit of RTFM then. RTFM – a simple expression that asks you to ‘Read The Flipping Manual’ or words of broadly similar meaning. Many vehicle manufacturers now recommend that you do indeed commit what many believe is that sacrilege known as ratcheting the handbrake. 

In simple terms we are just not used to it, back in 1950/60/70/80 somethings we were taught to do it the right way – the only way.  Thankfully, times have moved on and so have the materials used in the manufacture of handbrake mechanisms, so often cited as the reason why we used to always depress the button first. 

So here is my challenge to you – read your vehicle manual.  You will be surprised just how many vehicle manufacturers actually advise you to not depress that button first and want you to ratchet their mechanism.  As ‘advanced drivers’ do we know better? At our peril do we advise someone to do something as important as setting a safety system known as the handbrake in direct conflict with their vehicle manufacturer’s advice.  Food for thought.

Enjoy the Drive.

By Shaun Cronin, IAM RoadSmart's regional service delivery team manager (Southern)