As a driver, there are plenty of bad habits you can pick up without realizing it. One of these bad habits involves using your parking pawl instead of the parking or emergency brake when parking your car. When it comes to your vehicle, seemingly innocent bad habits can have plenty of unexpected consequences. The following explains why relying on your parking pawl to keep your vehicle stationary is a bad idea and what you should do instead.

What Happens When You Put Your Vehicle in Park

When most drivers put their cars in "Park," they tend to let the car roll backwards or forwards until it suddenly "stops." That's when the parking pawl engages and locks the transmission and drive wheels into place. The parking pawl itself is a metal pin that engages and disengages as the vehicle moves in and out of Park. As the driver shifts the vehicle into Park, the metal pin slots into a notch on a metal ring surrounding the transmission's output shaft, locking the shaft and the transmission until the driver takes the vehicle out of Park.

According to My Automatic Transmission, the parking pawl isn't intended to keep your vehicle from rolling away. Instead, it's actually designed as a secondary way of preventing the engine's power from being transmitted to the drive wheels while the engine is running. Keep in mind that the Park position is functionally the same as Neutral, where the engine stops transmitting power to the drive wheels by disengaging the transmission. The parking pawl engages in Park largely as a redundant safety measure.

Why Using the Parking Pawl for Parking is a Bad Idea

Using the parking pawl on a constant basis could eventually cause the metal pin to wear down, making it harder for the pin to grab onto a notch on the output shaft ring. It could also wear down the notches on the ring itself. Either way, you could end up with fine metal fragments in your transmission and a severely weakened parking pawl.

Not much happens when you park on a flat surface using the parking pawl alone, but it's another story when parking on inclines. If the parking pawl engages while the vehicle is on an incline, the weight of the vehicle could end up being concentrated on the pawl, making it exceptionally difficult to shift out of Park. Forcing the vehicle out of Park at this point could cause the parking pawl to shatter, sending metal fragments throughout your transmission.

The Parking Brake as an Alternative

If you want to make sure your car isn't going anywhere, you're better off using your car's emergency brake handle or parking brake switch. Unlike your parking pawl, the parking brake is designed to keep your vehicle from rolling around while it's in Park.

When using the parking brake, you should always engage it just prior to selecting Park. This way, you can let your car roll forward or backwards until the parking brake catches. This will save plenty of wear and tear on not only your parking brake, but also the rest of the transmission as well.

Setting the parking brake after putting your vehicle in Park would just defeat the purpose, so it has to be done before engaging Park or at least just before the parking pawl engages. Fortunately, many automakers automatically set the parking brake just before the parking pawl comes into play.

Since replacing a worn or failed parking pawl usually involves removing and opening the transmission for transmission repair, you're better off avoiding the hassle and expense that would ensue by simply following the above parking brake tip.