•Q. I’m looking to resolve a brake discussion between me and my dad. Do you think you two can help? My car is a 1996 Honda Accord, four-cylinder, five-speed. I understand that the emergency brake is designed for emergency situations, such as when the usual braking power is not enough to stop the vehicle or the braking has failed completely ... hence the name “emergency brake.” However, is the emergency brake able to be used slowly to help stop the vehicle daily? Does pulling back on the brake handle one click at a time to help slow the vehicle harm the braking system or present any danger? Many thanks.•
RAY: We’re guessing that you’re the “brake puller” in this family. You’re probably doing this because you think it’s an easy way to prolong the life of your regular brakes. But you may be surprised to know that the hand brake is actually designed for parking, not stopping. Hence its real name, the “parking brake.”
TOM: It used to be called the “emergency brake,” but after several car companies got sued because it didn’t stop the car in an emergency, car company lawyers forced them to change the name to the more accurate “parking brake.”
RAY: It’s really not designed to stop a moving car; it’s designed to keep the car stopped once it’s parked, so that it doesn’t roll away if the transmission or clutch fails.
TOM: There are two primary types of parking brakes. One type uses the same brake pads that your brake pedal actuates, although the parking brake uses only the brakes on the two rear wheels, rather than all four wheels.
RAY: So, in that situation, you’re not saving your brakes at all — you’re just applying them differently. In fact, if you have a pull-up parking brake like your Accord has, you’ll stretch and, eventually, break the parking brake cables if you use them that way every day.
TOM: The other type of parking brake employs its own, separately housed drum brakes on the rear wheels. Using those brakes will provide some additional braking. However, these parking brakes are not very robust, can be hard to access and can be very expensive to replace. So you may save $3 worth of brake pads in a year and cost yourself a $300 parking-brake job.
RAY: Either way, it’s not a good idea to use the parking brake for day-to-day stopping. Now, in an emergency, if your regular brakes aren’t working, you absolutely should try the parking brake. I mean, why not? You’ve got nothing to lose. And if it’s in good working condition, it might actually help you avoid a collision.
TOM: But it’s not designed to stop a car that’s traveling at speed. So you can’t count on it for that. And using it for that purpose every day will mean it’s less able to do its real job: keeping your car from rolling into some mobster’s Cadillac when you forget to park it in gear. And if you think brake pads are expensive, try new knees.
•Q. I live near the ocean, and my less-than-a-year-old battery died this week. My neighbor, who jumped the battery with his cables, said that my connections should be disconnected and cleaned with a wire brush due to corrosion. My other neighbor said that she poured a can of Coke on her battery and it cleaned off all of the corrosion. Before I start pouring Coke on my car battery, may I have your opinion on her fantastic remedy?•
RAY: We prefer Dr. Pepper.
TOM: If you do have a lot of corrosion between the posts and the terminal ends of the battery, it can prevent the battery from being charged completely, or discharged when you need the power.
RAY: But you shouldn’t have that kind of corrosion on a year-old battery — even if your next-door neighbors are Mr. and Mrs. Sea Cucumber.
TOM: Corrosion like that usually is caused by “out-gassing,” which means the acid in your battery is escaping from its container in gaseous form.
RAY: That can be caused by either a faulty battery — in which case yours should be covered by warranty — or a charging system that’s “overcharging” the battery and causing it to emit gas.
TOM: So you’ll want to take your car to a good mechanic, and ask him to test your battery and charging system.
RAY: If all’s well, the corrosion may be a red herring. Especially since we know herring live near you in the ocean. Your battery may have died due to human error: You may have left a dome light on, or simply left the car sitting for a few weeks without driving it.
TOM: If there IS a problem with the charging system, then you need to fix that before you blow through any more good batteries.
RAY: And Coke — with its carbonic and phosphoric acids — will help remove corrosion from battery terminals, as will any carbonated beverage (they all contain carbonic acid). Although a nice sparkling water, without the sugary syrup, would be an even better choice. Add lime or a twist if you want your terminals to feel particularly refreshed.
TOM: Or even better, and cheaper, mix a little baking soda with water to make a runny paste. Remove the battery’s terminal ends, smear your mixture on the battery posts and terminals, give them each a little scrub with a wire brush and rinse it all off with a garden hose.
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