Foot brake vs Handbrake, The key differences between these brakes

Despite our familiarity with these brakes, people often seem confused about foot brake vs handbrake and how they work. If you want to be a complete driver one day, it’s mandatory to know about the brakes your vehicle you’ll have. Additionally, it’ll help you properly use the vehicle and understand the repair process too.

No matter which vehicles you drive, you are probably similar to the idea of a footbrake and hand brake. Depending on the vehicle, you’ll see either a footbrake, hand brake or both of them. For optimal braking functionality and safety, each of these brakes playsan equally important role.

In this article, I’ll break down the key differences between these brakes from different aspects. After we are done, you’ll have a complete overview of the brake in car and how they function. So without wasting anymore time, let’s begin.

Foot brake Overview

Foot brakes are the pedal-operated brakes at the vehicle’s front, typically used to control the front wheels. Unlike the car hand brake system, its application is pretty limited and straightforward. Whenever you want to stop or slow down a moving vehicle.

As the primary braking mechanism, foot brakes are significantly powerful than hand brakes run by a hydraulic system. Instead of depending on the pressure from the foot brake pedal, it utilizes a special hydraulic fluid that ultimately reduces the speed.

Handbrake Overview

Handbrake, also referred to as parking brakes, e-brakes, or emergency brakes, is typically the secondary braking system applied through a lever. As handbrakes are widely used while car parking, they are also known as parking brakes. That’s why naming it an emergency brake can be a bit misleading as it has other practical purposes.

Though primary brake malfunctioning in modern cars is pretty rare, hand brakes also come in handy if this failure happens. However, using only the handbrake to stop the vehicle needs experience and knowledge about the braking system.

Handbrakes also have variations of their own. Though most car uses the lever application, you’ll also notice some electric hand brakes operated by hand. Electric handbrakes are widely seen in luxury cars these days. 

Related: Brakes Squeak When Driving

The Differences between Foot brake and handbrake

After a general overview, it’s time to see what the actual differences between these brakes are. This is not a comparison to find out which one is better. Instead, we’ll try to figure out the aspects that separate these two brakes from each other and make them unique. Apart from the apparent locational difference, let’s have a close look at other differences.

Working Method: Foot brake vs Handbrake

The most obvious difference lies in the function process of these brakes. I’ll give a complete breakdown of how the mechanics work for both brakes so that you can see the difference for yourself.

  • Handbrake

A handbrake is the mechanical brake system usually operated by a liver. This lever is usually located just beside the gear shifter as an auxiliary braking mechanism in most vehicles.

When you pull this lever to apply the brake, the cable attached to the lever engages the break on the rear wheels. There is an equalizer that splits the force between rear wheels. That’s how hand brakes work.  As it’s an entirely mechanical system, the pressure on the hand brake depends on power generated from the hand-operated lever. There is no hydraulic system that’ll help you increase the pressure here.

You’ll notice both drum and disc brakes are widely used as handbrakes. Though the primary mechanisms are the same, disc brakes, utilize extra levers to engage the calliper on the brake.

  • Foot brake

Unlike the handbrake, the footbrake mainly works with the front wheels as the primary braking system of the vehicle. Foot brakes are usually located at the front, sitting between the clutch pedal and acceleration pedal. Most modern-day vehicles use a hydraulic brake system for the foot brake.

The whole thing starts when you put your foot on brake. The lever connected to the pedal you pressed pushes the piston into the master cylinder filled with hydraulic fluid.

The force from the piston allows fluid to reach the callipers around the brake pads. As the callipers get filled with hydraulic fluid, it squeezes the brake pads, stopping the wheels from rotating. The force from the friction between the callipers and the brake pad contains the kinetic energy of the front wheels.

Different Use: Foot brake vs Handbrake

Just like the function, the usage scenario is pretty different for both these brakes. Though brakes are meant to stop cars, these brakes serve different purposes due to their mechanism.

  • Hand Brake

Hand brakes are the secondary braking system that helps with slight braking instead of completely stopping the vehicle. For example, suppose you want to put your car in a certain spot in parking or in traffic. As the manually transmitted cars don’t have separate parking gear, you have to put the car in neutral gear and apply the hand brake to ensure the car stays still.

In that case, the handbrake helps by allowing you to apply the brake on the rear wheels. Now that name parking brake makes sense, right? Additionally, when climbing or descending from a slope, handbrakes make sure that the car doesn’t roll forward or backwards automatically due to the slope.

In exceptional cases where the primary hydraulic brake system fails, hand brakes can be a lifesaver by reducing the vehicle’s speed. 

In racecars, the slide caused by the handbrake is considered a benefit as it allows the diver to slide and drift around tight corners. Though it’s a serious safety concern for regular drivers and vehicles, this slide is a must for race cars.

  • Foot Brake

Foot brakes are typically used when your goal is to stop or slow down the vehicle completely. Some of you might be wondering why can’t you stop it with the hand brake, right? Well, because using a handbrake to stop a quickly moving car can cause the vehicleto skid, and you’ll end up losing control of the vehicle.

Though the foot brakes work the same way for manual and atomic transmission vehicles, the application slightly differs. Apart from slowing down or stopping, you’ll also need to press the foot brake when changing gears or use the gas pedal.

However, the application is simpler for automatic transmission vehicles. You’ll only need to press the foot brake to slow the vehicle down.

Related: brake sticking


Q: How often I should check my brakes?

A: Having an efficient braking system can make your driving experience more fun and save you from unwanted situations on the road. To prevent any unwanted malfunctioning, you should get your brakes inspected by a professional mechanic every six months to maintain optimum performance.

Q: How often should I change the brake pads?

A: No matter it’s a hand brake or foot brake, every type uses braking pads at the end to do their job. Now, that rate of changing the brake pads depends on quite a few things like how long you drive, your braking habit and the quality of your existing brake pads. Typically a gap of one year between every replacement is good enough. Additionally, you can maximize the life expectancy of the pads by avoiding sudden hard brakes. So instead, make a habit of applying the brake gradually.   

Q: How often should I change the hydraulic fluid?

A: When the friction from brake pads stops the wheels’ kinetic energy, it generates a considerable amount of heat. This heat gradually reduces the effectiveness of the hydraulic fluid. How often you should change this fluid actually depends on the vehicle manufacturer. Typically, an average of 30000 miles driving is recommended before you change the hydraulic fluid.

Q: How does a brake wear out?

A: The answer is pretty simple. Depending on your driving habit and the roads you drive, you may or may not be used to pressing the brakes more often than other drivers. While brake pads have solid builds with semi-metal build, they are not indestructible. When you use these pads to apply the brakes repeatedly, the pads, therefore the brake, tend to wear out.

Q: How much does a brake repair job cost?

A: Answer to this question depends on what type of repair your brakes require and what car you are driving. Different parts cost different, and luxury car’s parts also cost much high than regular cars. For example, an average brake pad usually costs around $150, which can easily g up to $500 depending on the vehicle. Additionally, a separate charge might also be applied for the inspection and repairing cost.

Related: Nakamoto Rotor and Brake Pad Kit

Final Words

That’s a wrap for today. I hope the article was informative enough to help you know the differences between these two brakes. As you have seen throughout the article, both brakes are equally important. The main difference between these brakes is just that both have different usage scenarios. To operate correctly, these brakes must have to work in sync.

Now that you know the differences between foot brake vs handbrake, hopefully, it’ll make you a better and more efficient driver on the road. If you can’t remember other differences, just remember when to use which brake, and you should be ready to hit the road.

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