One of the most common questions we get pouring into our email inbox, coming through in phone calls, featuring in product reviews, et cetera, is:

“Why won’t my wheelchair’s parking brakes lock?”
“How do I park my transit wheelchair?”
“The brakes on my wheelchair don’t work properly”!

..and so on.

In this post I’m going to demystify the issue and clear up how a common design of wheelchair brake handle works.

(TLDR? Scroll down to the pictures/video below)

Many models of wheelchair, both the Dash models we sell and others, have a dual action handbrake on the attendant handles. This is most prominently seen on attendant-propelled wheelchairs/transit wheelchairs, but we have seen examples of self-propelled wheelchairs with similar mechanisms.

These brakes have a two-way or dual-action mechanism that engages both the retardant brake and the parking brake. The retardant brake is pressure sensitive – the harder the force applied to the brake handle, the more stopping power – and presses up against the wheel to slow and/or stop its progress through friction and it is used to slow the wheelchair whilst going down a slope, or to instantly lock one wheel at a time up to push it around tight corners. The parking brake is a simpler clamping brake that is either locked fully on or completely disengaged.

When both of these mechanisms are combined in one braking mechanism – from a design point of view this is a brilliant feature, as it minimises maintenance and makes the attendant’s job much easier. As mentioned earlier, this dual-function brake is common across many different brands. The confusion comes, though, when attendants are not familiar with these brakes or haven’t used one of these wheelchairs before (we were all newbies to using wheelchairs at some point!).

For an example, let’s look at our flagship Dash Express transit chair. (Please make sure your wheelchair DOES have this kind of brake before you try this!) The attendant handles look like this normally:

Dash Express Brakes - Off

Dash Express brakes in off position – closeup

To activate the retardant brake, the attendant compresses the brake handle upwards like this – the harder you squeeze, the more the brake is engaged:

Express retardant brake activated

Dash Express brakes – retardant brake on – closeup

The activate the parking brake, the brake handle has to be pushed down – it might be a little stiff on some models of wheelchair, or if the wheelchair is brand new, but with a bit of downward pressure the parking brake will click into place:

Express parking brake engaged

Dash Express brake – parking brake locked on – closeup

Here’s a video showing this in action:


And there you have it – that’s the secret!