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Timely auto maintenance should include emergency brake cable check

Mechanic Inserting Brake PadTimely auto maintenance is crucial to keeping your car running properly. More than that, it ensures you can operate your car safely, as well.

One aspect of automotive maintenance that is almost universally overlooked is the emergency brake cable. Over time, the cable can rust, usually where the brake cable connects to the fittings on each end.

Denny Norton, owner of Performance Unlimited, a leading auto repair shop in McHenry County, IL, said it’s a good idea to replace emergency brake cables periodically. He said the industry recommends replacing the cables every 50,000 miles.

“The cables are relatively inexpensive,” he said, “as is the cost of installation. It just makes good sense.”

It’s good sense, he said, because, though people don’t use their emergency brake cables often, when they do need them, it’s generally a critical situation.

“If a brake line (the hollow line that carries brake fluid to hydraulically operate the brakes) snaps, you’ll have no brakes at all,” Norton said. “That’s why we check the brake lines and the brake cables. But, some shops aren’t as diligent about that unless you specifically ask them to check.”

Rick Gelscheit, the owner of Fox Lake, IL, based Bruin Brake Cables, said all brake cables are not the same either. Many are mass produced with inferior results.

“We pressure test our cables to 1,250 foot pounds for 10 seconds,” he said, the industry specified test. “If there is the slightest sign of failure, we reject the cable.”

Gelscheit said, however, that the manufacturing process is based on hand-crafted quality rather than mass production based on speed of production. Those mass-produced cables, built with a focus on quantity, in large, overseas factories, frequently fail the pressure test.

“We test other brands of brake cables, too,” he said. “It’s very, very rare when one of our cables fails the pressure test. With the other brands we’ve tested, the failure rate is approximately 90 percent. That means their cables are far more likely to fail than to pass the test.”

As Gelscheit pointed out, that’s not good news for drivers should they need their emergency brake cables if their brakes fail.