Brake cables are typically used as a mechanical way of applying pressure to the parking brake (also known as the emergency brake), which bypasses the hydraulic system, allowing the vehicle to be brought to a stop, if there is a brake system failure. Brake cables generally consists of a center brake cable made of steel encased by a plastic outer shell.
On vehicles with drum brakes the brake cable is mounted to a hand operated lever or a foot pedal and is connected to the brake shoes. On vehicles with disc brakes the brake cable is still mounted to the hand lever or foot pedal but operates in a different way. For calipers with a single piston floating the system uses the existing rear wheel caliper and adds a lever attached to a mechanical corkscrew device inside the caliper piston. When the parking brake cable pulls on the lever, this corkscrew device pushes the piston against the pads bypassing the hydraulic system to stop the vehicle. For systems with a four piston fixed type caliper the corkscrew system cannot be used. Instead a mechanical drum brake unit is mounted inside the rear rotor. The brake shoes on this system are connected to a lever that is pulled by the parking brake cable to activate the brakes. The brake drum is the inside part of the brake rotor.
Brake cables come with their own set of problems, especially in vehicles with an automatic transmission. Operators of vehicle with automatic transmissions tend to not use the parking brake all that often which can lead to corrosion of the cable and eventual failure. Another issue is that some braking systems rely on the parking brake to adjust the brakes, if the parking brake is not used then the brakes will not be adjusted. Do yourself a favor and set the parking brake every once in a while even if you feel it is not needed, this will help prevent corrosion, keep the brake cables clean and adjust your brakes if the system is designed for it.
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