Car Won’t Move – Feels Like Handbrake Is On (Solved)

You shift gears, restart the engine, check dashboard lights, and you’re still not getting anywhere.

Here are some things that could be wrong with your vehicle and possible solutions to the problem.

Is It Normal For Brakes To Get Stuck?

Brakes are a measure of safety not only for your car but for others on the road as well.

But what happens when you can’t even move your car and feel as if the handbrake is stuck?

Sometimes, when your car hasn’t had brake maintenance, it can lead to issues with the brake system, such as the brakes getting stuck randomly. 

It usually happens when you’ve been severely negligent in brake maintenance, but it could happen to anyone.

Taking your vehicle to a service center can get expensive, depending on the problem and cost of service and spare parts of your car.

Hence, it’s best to keep a few tricks up your sleeve to help you solve the problem any time, anywhere.

This is a common problem for cars that sit too long.

Reasons Why Brakes Get Stuck:

  • Rusty caliper pistons & piston boot.

The boot preserves the pistons against any water or debris. Thus, damage to the boot can trigger an accumulation of dirt and other materials and upset the brake function.

  • Rusty brake pads.

Lubricated brake pads can glide easily when releasing or gripping the brake. A rusty brake pad would have no effect and cause the brakes to fail.

  • A dirty caliper guide pin.
  • Parking brake steel cables can rust, which prevents the calipers from accurately releasing post-handbrake release.
  • A broken brake hose interferes with the fluid transmission from the master cylinder to the brakes and causes sticking.
  • Old brake fluid

Ways To Avoid Brake Sticking:

  • Change brake fluid every 1-3 years for proper functioning.
  • Cleaning braking pads, discs, and pistons every other year avoids the problem.
  • Many people use cars to cover short distances, which causes the brakes to rust over time due to improper use. Brake hard at high speeds; it helps keep the brakes in optimum condition.
  • Always prefer using a parking brake, even during automatic transmission.

Also, take a look at our article about 7 common car brake problems and solutions.

Can The Handbrake Be Engaged Without The Lamp Being On?

What worries most drivers is engaging the handbrake and not finding the parking brake light ON on the dashboard. It makes you wonder whether the brakes are still engaged or not.

The most obvious conclusion is that the mechanical switch is broken.

But just to be safe, engage the handbrake and observe the dashboard light to see if it’s working properly.

This issue with the indicator or dashboard parking light isn’t consistent until it’s been left unchecked for quite a while in most cars.

On the contrary, the brake light flickering or being ON constantly could indicate that the handbrake is still in play or there’s a failure in the braking system.

If the drive isn’t as smooth as normal, there might be an issue with the brakes.

In cases when the brake light is dim or inconsistent, it could be signaling an issue with the brake fluid, or the wire on your reservoir bottle may have a bad connection.

How Do I Check If The Handbrake Is Engaged?

As a driver, it’s important to check your handbrake.

If not daily, then at least once a week by yourself. An indicator like a small light often gauges the handbrake in most vehicles.

Many automatic transmissions offer a manual release system for the handbrake in case the battery dies and leaves zero power to the control unit.

If not, you’d have to move your car manually.

Another con is that automatic handbrakes are slower to engage than manual ones, so you have to wait for a little before assuming.

Here’s How You Check A Manual Handbrake:

  • Keep your foot on the brake; since you’ll be checking the handbrake, it’s important to ensure the car’s safety.
  • Release the handbrake.
  • Reapply the handbrake after releasing it to note how far up it goes.
  • If the handbrake goes too further up than normal, it might be loose.
  • Release the footbrake afterward.

Can You Tell From The Sound If The Brakes Are Engaged?

Unless we’re talking about slamming the brakes so hard it causes the car to skid, there’s no sound that indicates the brakes are engaged.

However, in automatic vehicles, faint motor noises are heard when you apply the parking brake.

Here’s Why Car Brakes Create A Noise:

  • The brake pads are worn out, causing the metal tab to rub against the brake disc.
  • There’s dust trapped between the braking pad and the rotor.
  • If there’s a squeaking noise created, the brake drum must have worn down over time.
  • The backplate and other parts of the brakes aren’t lubricated enough for a smooth finish.
  • Poor quality or worn-out brake lining.
  • A sticking caliper may be compressing braking pads against the rotor.
  • A wrapped rotor condition causes a thumping sound.
  • Missing brake hardware or incorrect adjustments.
  • Dirty caliper slides intervene with the function of braking pads.

Can the Regular Brakes Be Locked?

Nowadays, most cars come with an anti-locking system for the tires, but it can malfunction.

If the brakes get locked when you stop your car too quickly, it can quickly turn into a dangerous scenario for you as a driver and the passengers in your vehicle because brake locks don’t allow for proper steering.

Why does it happen?

When a driver tries to make a sudden stop on a slippery surface or unnecessarily slams the brake harder than usual, the tires can lock up and make it almost impossible for you to change directions or avoid road hazards.

Things You Can Do To Undo The Lock-up:

  • Mostly, anti-locking systems adjust the fluid pressure to prevent such an incident, but in manual cases, you must pump the gas pedal to avoid such a scenario.
  • Check out your cylinder because of defective cylinders. You can loosen that to relieve the pressure.
  • Check the brake line for any holes. A leakage can stiffen your brakes and cause a front tire lock.
  • Handbraking while driving can cause your braking system to suffer a sudden halt. Avoid such driving problems.
  • Insufficient vacuum as per atmospheric pressure in the booster’s rear end can disrupt the diaphragm’s rhythm and bring it to a stop.
  • If sticky clippers or faulty brake pads seem to be the issue, use a set of brake caliper tools to lubricate the caliper pins and place them back into place tightly.
  • A damaged master cylinder can also be an issue. Get a recommended cylinder for your model and install it. Also, check the brake fluid and bleed the brakes if necessary.

Check also: Why is my car stuck in park?

What Else Could Be The Cause?

Now that you’ve checked everything listed above, you turn the key in the ignition; the car starts but still won’t move?

Here are some additional possible causes.

1. Low Fuel Pressure:

Sometimes, cars just suddenly stop working after changing their fuel pumps. The reason could be low fuel pressure. You can use a regulator to check and add more fuel pressure if necessary.

2. Insufficient Torque Converter:

Sometimes the car goes into gear but resists locomotion. The veiled problem may be low-quality transmission fluid. In many cases, it’s often a clogged or dirty transmission fluid filter.

3. Damaged Clutches:

Your vehicle will resist engaging in any gear if the clutches are damaged. Sometimes people install clutches that don’t match the framework or are too low quality to perform optimally. The clutches could be worn out from prolonged use. A change of clutches will solve the issue.

4. Engine Malfunction:

The engine is the most important and sensitive part of any vehicle that can be damaged by water, gasoline, or any other thing. Thus, if your car is not performing well, its engine might have a problem.

5. Upset Air/Fuel Ratio:

The car won’t move or overheat; try cleaning the air filter. More often than not, if you’ve checked all your transmission issues out of the way, there’s a problem with the sensors or air filters that refrains the engine’s cylinders from getting proper combustion.

Similarly, fuel injectors can clog, which prevent the engine from getting an adequate amount of gas for proper functioning.

6. Throttle Body Issues

As you press the gas pedal, it opens a valve that lets air inside the throttle body of the car, mixing it with fuel to increase power in the engine. Modern cars have throttle bodies but older cars usually have a mechanical linkage which is a bit more technical.

If the throttle ceases to open when you press the gas pedal, the engine may start smoothly but the car will resist motion.

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