Release A Frozen Emergency Brake

A frozen parking brake takes time to free but will release once thawed.

A vehicle’s emergency or parking brake can usually be found to the right of the driver’s seat near the floor. If the brake becomes frozen, the vehicle will be difficult to move. Unlike the hydraulic brakes that are used with a vehicle’s brake pedal system, the emergency brake uses a combination of levers and cables to render the vehicle’s tires immobile. If frozen due to cold temperatures, freeing the brake takes time but causes little more than a brief headache. A broken cable, however, needs to be replaced.


1. Pull up the emergency brake and release it quickly. If you believe your vehicle’s emergency brake is stuck due to freezing cold, the quick pulls and releases could knock any ice from the cables, allowing the mechanism to move smoothly. Continue pulling and releasing the brake multiple times. If these movements do not free the brake after a couple of tries, you may have to thaw the braking mechanism.

2. Start the vehicle’s ignition and let the engine run. The heat created by the engine and distributed through the exhaust system should warm the parking brake mechanism enough to thaw the ice and allow the emergency brake to work as designed. To quicken the process, push or shovel snow up to the sides of the vehicle to stop the warm air from escaping from under the vehicle.

3. Drive the vehicle into a heated parking garage if possible. Although it is not advisable to drive your vehicle with the emergency brake on, if you are parked close to a heated location, it might be the easiest option. Your vehicle will move if you drive with the brake on, but you may feel some resistance on the accelerator.

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4. Shift the vehicle in reverse and try driving backwards. The opposite motion of the tires could free a stuck emergency brake.