Most of the time, driving with the emergency brake engaged does little harm, but the driver should have a professional inspect the brakes for damage. In many instances, the driver notes the smell of hot brakes and disengages the brake, but prolonged driving with the brake engaged potentially ruins the rear brake shoe linings or drums.
If a driver is able to move a vehicle with the emergency brake set, he or she is not pulling hard enough on the lever to set the brake. When the brake is properly set, the vehicle should not move, even when the driver puts the car in gear and presses on the accelerator. If the brake is fully engaged and the vehicle is able to move, the owner should have the brakes inspected. An emergency brake that does not stop the car from moving is unlikely to stop it if it pops out of gear or during an emergency.
The emergency brake uses levers and cables to apply the same rear brake pads or shoes applied when pressing the brake pedal. However, it bypasses the hydraulic brake system the vehicle uses when a driver depresses the foot brake pedal. If the hydraulic system fails, the emergency brake allows the driver to stop. It also serves as a parking brake to prevent the vehicle from rolling.