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Why bother with that auto parts store emergency brake cable? There’s a good chance it’s no good

Buy your new emergency brake cable at the auto parts store and you could find yourself taking a ride in an emergency vehicle.

Buy your new emergency brake cable at the auto parts store and you could find yourself taking a ride in an emergency vehicle.

Cal’s arms were covered with grease and dirt, as was his shirt and pants. His hands were clean because he washed them before getting into the car. He also spread a plastic sheet over the seat to protect it while driving to the auto parts store.

His trip to the auto parts store was prompted after the emergency brake cable on his 2003 Chevy Silverado broke when he thought to use it as a parking brake while parking on a steep hill. He tried to set the emergency brake by depressing the pedal but, before he hardly touched the pedal, the cable gave way with a bang. He could have saved himself the trip to the auto parts store.

Brenda waited at the front counter as the service writer entered Brenda’s personal information – make, year and model of her car; name, address and phone number. The service writer the asked Brenda to describe the problem again.

A little bit annoyed at having to repeat herself, Brenda described how the brakes failed on her 2006 Nissan Sentra and how she had pulled on the emergency brake lever to try to stop the car.

“When I pulled the lever, something snapped,” she said. “Then the lever was loose. I was just lucky I wasn’t going too fast and I had room to steer into a field off the road.”

What Brenda’s car needs is a new emergency brake cable. The service writer would call her later and tell her this adding that they had ordered the new emergency brake cable from the auto parts store. Brenda should have told her not to bother.

Brenda and Cal have something in common. They both need new emergency brake cables and the cables there is a good chance the new emergency brake cables the auto parts stores is providing won’t be any better than the cables that just broke.

The sad truth about aftermarket emergency brake cables

Virtually all the emergency brake cables sold at auto parts stores in America are manufactured somewhere else – usually South America, Mexico or China. But, regardless of which of these areas the emergency brake cables originate, they are all frequently faulty before they’re ever installed in a car.

How can this be? If these foreign-made emergency brake cables are so bad, why doesn’t somebody do something about it before someone gets hurt?

Someone has tried. Unfortunately, getting the people who could make a difference to listen is not easy when dealing with the government.

Rick Gelscheit, the owner of Fox Lake, IL, based Bruin Brake Cables, manufactures an emergency brake cable that is a dramatic improvement over those sold by foreign competitors. Gelscheit knows this because he tests his cables. He also tests his competitors’ cables.

“We give them a pressure test to 1,200 foot pounds,” said Gelscheit. “Almost all of our cables pass the test. Those that don’t are rejected before they have a chance to go out the door and someone installs them on their car. But the foreign brake cables fail our test between 50 and 90 percent of the time.”

Gelscheit has contacted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Unfortunately, the administration is more reactionary than proactive. If something happens, they’re quick to let people know they’ll do something about it. But, until something happens, it’s difficult to get the NHTSA’s attention.

“I hate to say it but the NHTSA probably won’t do anything about this until a mother and her children die in a fiery wreck because their brakes failed, and then the backup system – the emergency brake cable –snapped,” he said. “We’ve seen foreign brake cables fail under 150 foot pounds. Just to see what happens, we tested a piece of twine and it did better than some of the foreign brake cables.

“It’s sad to think that you might be better off with a piece of string under your car than with the emergency brake cable you’ll get from an auto parts store.”

Gelscheit said his cables are available through ebay (click here to visit the Bruin Brake Cable ebay site). Bruin ships the brake cables by the next morning after an order is received. Since auto parts stores don’t carry a wide range of emergency brake cables, it often takes them just as long to get an foreign emergency brake cable because they have to order it.