Like Manual Transmissions, Handbrakes Are Also Hurtling Towards Extinction

We’ve long bemoaned the death of the manual transmission. But with few practical advantages other than being more enjoyable to a limited subset of the population, it’s quickly (and understandably) slipping into obscurity. It’s not alone. Based on research conducted by online automotive marketplace CarGurus, the good ol’ handbrake is also rapidly losing relevance as automakers shift their focus to electronic parking brakes.

Isolating its research to the United Kingdom, CarGurus claims just 37 percent of new cars leave the factory with a traditional, mechanical brake lever. And those that still have them are typically bargain-focused nameplates like Suzuki and Dacia. Considering neither of those brands sell any models here, the number is likely even lower in the United States. 

“It’s official, the death of the handbrake is coming as manufacturers switch to electronic parking brakes in huge numbers,” stated CarGurus editor Chris Knapman. “Within the next few years we expect the number of cars on sale with traditional handbrakes to decline further, likely only to be found on a select number of niche models. Of course, the benefits can’t be ignored, but as the latest technology trickles through manufacturer line-ups, many new drivers might never experience one of the most familiar of automotive features.”

He adds, “The temptation to attempt flamboyant handbrake turns is soon to be a thing of the past, too!”

Any teenager confronted with a snowy, abandoned parking lot has intimate knowledge of this temptation. But handbrake hooliganism works equally well on a rainy cul-de-sac or bone-dry switchback. Of course, that admission should probably have been written in the past tense, since electronic brakes are the new normal. (Electronic stability control makes it harder than ever to pull this off in a new or newish car, even with a handbrake. You really need physics on your side. – Ed.)

While the electronic alternative undoubtedly frees up room on the center console, we’re definitely losing a bit of freedom here. This isn’t like moving away from lever-based throttles mounted on the steering wheel or the introduction of the electric starter motor. The car actually loses a fun little feature when it ditches the handbrake; it just happens to be a feature that’s frowned upon by the general public. But there is no stopping progress.

[Image: Ildar Sagdejev/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)]

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