Parking your car: Shift to “P” or pull the handbrake first?

Arif · Jun 29, 2020 12:04 AM

An article from back in 2016 suggested that a car spends about 90% of its time parked. Is there any truth to that? Well, even if you did drive 2 hours a day, it would only amount to 8.3% of the 24 hours we have in a day. There’s still a good 91.7% left.

Parking Pro-tip: Keep all 4 wheels on the ground

If you drive an automatic, you need to shift to “P” and engage the parking brake to park the car. There are however, two different types of people in terms of the sequence of action. Some shift to “P” first, and then engage the parking brake, while some engage the parking brake first, and then shift to “P”.

How well can you parallel park?

Is there a right and wrong for this sequence?

Well, yes, sort of.

There is no difference when parked on a level surface. However, when parked on a hill, you might notice a rather unpleasant “clunk” when shifting out of “P”.

What is that sound?

That is the sound of your parking pawl trying to move against the transmission output shaft.

What is a parking pawl?

A parking pawl is a pin/lock on the transmission output.

When you shift, into “P”, the parking pawl engages and locks the output shaft of your transmission. The pawl disengages when you shift out of “P”.

Engaged and disengaged parking pawl of a Ford

When you shift into “P” first, lift your foot of the foot-brake, and then engage the parking brake, the weight of the car rests on that tiny metal bit we call the parking pawl. That’s not great. When you do this, you will hear the unpleasant “clunk” when shifting out of “P” later.

Broken parking pawl. Image from wildcatforums

Is it wrong to let the car's weight rest in the parking pawl?

Well, parking pawls can break. It might not look like much, but this little broken piece can be nuisance to fix. Sure, it’s a tiny metal bit, but that tiny broken piece can jam up some crucial parts in your transmission.

Sometimes, you might even notice people shifting into “P” at traffic lights. It’s not a great habit.

So how do you avoid the “clunk” sound?

Take the following steps when parked on a hill.

1. Bring the car to a full stop.
2. Keep the foot brake pressed.
3. Shift to "N".

*Now all the weight is on the foot brake.

4. Engage the parking brake.
5. Lift your foot of the foot brake.

*Now all the weight is on the parking brake.

6. Press the foot brake. (to prevent reversing)
7. Shift the gear into “P”.
8. Lift your foot of the foot brake.

*Now all the weight is on the parking brake while the parking pawl acts as a fail-safe if the parking brake fails.

In short, it is better to let the weight of your car rest on the parking brake than the parking pawl (especially on a hill). You wouldn't want to have a broken parking pawl in your transmission.