Doctor Diesel

Damned Devices

Hi doctor, I would like to ask for your views and the benefit of your technical knowledge on the subject of electronic parking brakes (EPBs). Many car reviews (including those in DC) mention the space-saving advantages of an EPB, but are we really that strapped for space in our cars that a relatively small item like a handbrake needs to be replaced? 

I gather that most EPBs have some degree of automatic function, but can sometimes refuse to release in certain circumstances if no movement is detected (e.g. if the wheels are slipping). My garage is accessed via a slope that can be slippery in wet conditions and is prone to icing up in the winter, so this would be a serious consideration for me. My biggest concern is that of reliability. My local, much trusted, independent garage owner says that he sees quite a high rate of failure in some models, and that they are often expensive to put right. The increased complexity could become an issue as the car gets older. 

I am hoping to replace my current car (a 2008 SEAT Altea 1.9 TDI) later this year, but the cars I had in mind as possible replacements: SEAT Leon ST, Skoda Octavia estate, Peugeot 308 SW, Mazda 6 Tourer (bigger than the others, but I like the look of it!) all either have EPBs, or have just been revised to include EPBs. I would therefore be grateful if you can address any misconceptions that I may have over these devices.

Andrew Lunnon

Many thanks for your letter. Being “of a certain age”, I quite sympathise with your cynicism regarding automatic parking brakes. Like so much of the technology that is being fed to us, primarily it seems to allow us to do any number of other things than actually driving our car! I maybe have been fortunate that I have only had significant experience with the system used by Peugeot/CitroÎn, which I have to say has been virtually flawless. The only negative that I think I can report is that when moving off in reverse gear, it seems to take considerably more throttle (involving added wear on the clutch?) to release the brake than when moving off in a forwards direction.

Other systems that I have used over much shorter periods have seemingly improved considerably over the last few years, and all seem to work pretty well. It was the early systems that probably generated the greatest criticism, and earned them a bad reputation. I share your concern regarding a potentially slippery driveway, but one can always choose to employ manual override and apply or release the brake yourself, rather than rely totally on the automatic function.

I have to say that when encountering a strange car, the methods of application and release do vary ñ do you press the button or pull it up? There is scope for standardisation on this aspect. But how long did it take for standardisation to arrive with steering wheel stalks and indicators/lights functions? I nearly went totally bananas (or should I say it did my head in?) with the very last car with opposite stalk functions to what has now become standard, which was in a Kia Rio about seven or eight years ago. I remember it so well!

So, I don’t know whether I have allayed some or all of your concerns, but I would say that Mazda generally engineers things better than most manufacturers, and I know that the Peugeot/CitroÎn system works well. I think that you will find that SEAT still employs a conventional old-fashioned handbrake. If I confirm the old-fashioned handbrake, I would be making a beeline for a Leon ST. A fine machine! Best regards,

Doc Diesel

P.S. I later confirmed that the recently updated SEAT Leon does now have an electronic parking brake, but suggested to Andrew that he might well be able to pick up a pre-facelift car, new or nearly new, at a good price.

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