A cable that helps to connect a brake handle, pedal, or lever to a vehicle’s braking mechanism.
Brake cables are what helps you to connect your hand brake to the wheel brakes. Over time your handbrake cables can stretch and its efficiency decrease. Most can be adjusted and tightened but eventually they might need replacing. Brake cables are usually the cause of NCT or MOT failure if your cars handbrake doesn’t work effectively. Brake cables aren’t particularly expensive components but they can be complicated to fit.
Checking and Renewing Brake Cables
The most straightforward type of handbrake layout is with one cable leading to a Y-shaped equaliser and a secondary cable.
Handbrake cable layouts can vary from car to car, but only have a limited range of types of component.
Although you might, for example, find an adjuster screw almost anywhere between the brake lever and the wheels, it can be treated in much the same way.
Alternative handbrake layout
A handbrake layout, with a primary cable running to a compensating bracket which works the brakes through a secondary cable.
The system is similar even on the few cars where the handbrake works on the front wheels Cables which stretches slightly with use. They require regular checking and lubrication, and adjustment when necessary.
Check in every six months, 6,000 miles, or 10,000 km or if you feel that the handbrake has become weak.
More Serious Problem
A more serious problem is fraying cables, which can break suddenly. Moving parts might also rust and stick, so that the handbrake cannot be applied or released fully.
Loosen the wheel nuts of the (hand- braked) wheels just before raising that end of the car, and chock the other wheels on both sides. Raise the car on axle stands so as not to get in the way of the mechanism. After that, remove the raised wheels.
Look over the whole length of the cables for fraying and particularly at sharp bends.
Look for cracks where cables run inside a flexible outer casing as they can let in water and cause rusting.
See that all parts are clean, sound as well as lubricated. If needed, smear them with brake or anti-seize grease.
At longer intervals in about every two years, dismantle all the moving parts, using the same method as for renewing a cable.
Clean everything thoroughly and inspect it for wear.
One common trouble which reduces braking power is clevis pins becoming `waisted’, i.e., worn away in the middle.
Renew a waisted pin and make sure to always use a new split pin or spring clip when reinserting a clevis pin.
Grease all parts during reassembly process, including the threads of adjusters.
Mini handbrake cable
On a Mini, the cable is held on in a sector on the rear radius arm. Keep the sector pivot oiled to stop it from seizing.
Early Minis and similar Leyland front-wheel-drive cars consist of cables running through channels and around quadrant-shaped sectors on the rear radius arms. The system is prone to rust as well as sticking.
For releasing a seized sector, treat it with penetrating oil. After that, disconnect the cable from the brake back plate. Lever or tap the sector back and forth.
Grease the sectors and channels way before you reconnect the cable.
Note: Remove the cable that the sector is nipped in two places to hold it. Lever the nipped parts open to remove the cable and close after reassembly
On a Mini, the cable is held in a sector which is in the rear radius arm. Keep the sector pivot oiled in order to prevent it seizing.
Symptoms of a Bad or Failing Emergency / Parking Brake Cable
Common signs consist of the parking brake not holding the car properly (or not functioning at all) and the Parking Brake Light coming on.
The parking brake cable is the cable that a lot of vehicles use to engage their parking brakes. It is mostly a steel braided cable wrapped in a protective sheath, and is used as a mechanical means of activating the vehicle’s parking brakes. When the parking brake lever is pulled, or the pedal is depressed, the cable pulls on the calipers or brake drums for engaging the parking brake of the vehicle. The parking brake is used to secure the vehicle so that it does not roll when parked or stationary. This feature is especially required when parking or stopping the vehicle on inclines or hills, where a vehicle is more likely to roll and is at a risk of an accident. Whenever the parking brake cable fails or has any issues, it can leave the vehicle without this critical safety feature. Generally a bad or failing parking brake cable will produce a few symptoms that can alert the driver of a potential issue that should be serviced.
1. Parking brake does not hold car properly
The most common type of symptom of a problem with the parking brake cable is a parking brake that does not properly hold the vehicle. If the parking brake cable is excessively worn or stretched, it will not be able to pull the parking brake as tightly. This will just result in the parking brake not being able to hold the weight of the vehicle, which might cause it to roll or lean, even when the parking brake is fully engaged.
2. Parking brake does not function
Another symptom of a problem with the parking brake cable is a parking brake that is not functioning. If the cable snaps or breaks, it will just disable the parking brake. The parking brake will not function and the pedal or lever might be loose.
3. Parking Brake Light comes on
Another symptom of a problem with the parking brake cable is your car’s illuminated Parking Brake Warning Light. The Parking Brake Warning Light comes on whenever the brake is set so that the driver does not drive with the brake engaged. If the Parking Brake Light becomes illuminated even if the brake handle or pedal has been released, then this may be an indicator that the cable may be stuck or jammed, and the brake may not be releasing properly.
Replacing a handbrake cable
Cable layouts might vary so make careful notes or drawings as you dismantle one in order to avoid confusion later.
Twin cables are mostly fixed to the handbrake adjusting screws.
One or two cables might run back from the lever. They mostly start above the floor and pass through it at points covered by a fixed guide plate.
Twin cables are fixed, usually through adjuster screws, to either side of the lever. Each cable goes to one of the brakes of your car and are adjusted separately.
A single (primary) cable is fixed to an arm below of the lever, mostly by a clevis pin. There might be an adjuster here. Sometimes there is a rod rather than a cable.
The rear end of the cable might carry an ‘equaliser yoke’ which is a transverse sliding guide.
Another (secondary) cable that runs freely across the equaliser, each of its ends being connected to one of the brakes so that this Y- shaped arrangement divides the pull equally between them.
There is mostly an adjuster for the primary cable in front of the equaliser, and for the secondary cable on one side only.
Mostly, you remove an equaliser to free the cable from it.
An equaliser yoke which is fitted to a rod on the handbrake lever.
Parts of either cable might run inside flexible outer casings. The casings are held at their ends through an abutment brackets on the frame.
Mostly, one end of a casing is a long, threaded tube which can be adjusted on the bracket by locknuts.
Some cars, for instance the VW Beetle have rigid outer tubes instead. While removing a cable from such a tube, tie a string to the cable, draw the string through the tube and leave it in place to pull the cable back.
Instead of a Y-shaped equaliser layout, some cars consist of a single cable linking the brakes around an equaliser fixed to an adjustable rod on the handbrake lever.
On other cars the primary cable runs directly to the rear axle or to an adjustment point where it works a secondary cable leading to the rear axle.
The cable runs around a compensating bracket, sometimes through a pulley, and to one of the brakes.
From the bracket, a third cable (or sometimes a rod) runs to the other brake in such a manner that the compensating bracket equalises the pull between the brakes.
Removing a clevis pin.
A cable might be connected to the brake itself outside the drum or caliper, usually by a clevis pin. Usually, a drum has an inside connection, in which case you have to remove the drum and also usually a spring and sometimes a clip inside the drum.
Whatever the details, all connections are through normal clevis pins with split pins or spring clips, by ordinary nuts, bolts and screws.
So long as you note the details, handbrake reassembly is not such a big problem. Always make sure to renew all split pins and spring clips.