How to Depress Brake Pedal to Start Engine?

Starting a vehicle with a modern ignition system often requires the driver to depress the brake pedal before turning the key or pushing the start button. This safety feature is designed to prevent the vehicle from being started inadvertently and to ensure that it cannot be moved without the driver’s intention. Here is a guide on how to depress brake pedal to start engine properly, tailored for both novice drivers and those looking to refresh their knowledge.

depress brake pedal

What Does Depress the Brake Pedal Mean?

To “depress the brake pedal” means to push the pedal down towards the floor of the vehicle with your foot. This action applies the brakes and slows down or stops the car. The brake pedal is one of the primary controls in a vehicle, located on the driver’s side near the floor, typically to the left of the accelerator pedal in left-hand drive vehicles. Depressing the pedal activates the vehicle’s braking system, including hydraulic brake circuits, brake pads, and rotors (in disc brakes) or drums (in drum brakes), depending on the vehicle’s specific brake system design.

This action is a fundamental driving task, required not just for stopping the vehicle but also for controlling its speed, initiating a stop for a traffic signal or sign, or slowing down for a turn. In modern cars, depressing the brake pedal is also a safety feature required to start the engine, ensuring the vehicle does not unintentionally move when the engine turns on.

How to Depress Brake Pedal to Start Engine?

Depressing the brake pedal to start an engine is straightforward but essential for safe vehicle operation. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to do it:

Step 1: Enter the Vehicle Safely

Before attempting to start the engine, ensure you have safely entered the vehicle. Adjust your seat, mirrors, and steering wheel to full control and visibility. Fasten your seatbelt as a preliminary safety measure.

Step 2: Check Your Surroundings

Take a moment to look around the vehicle to ensure no obstacles or safety concerns in your immediate vicinity. This includes checking for pedestrians, animals, or any objects that might be obstructed from view once the vehicle is started.

Step 3: Press the Brake Pedal

With your right foot, firmly press down on the brake pedal. It is essential to use your right foot for this task to avoid confusion and to maintain the ability to transition smoothly to the accelerator pedal once the vehicle is started. Pressing the pedal prepares the car to be started and activates the brake lights, signaling to others that you are about to start the vehicle.

Step 4: Turn Key or Press Start Button

With the brake pedal depressed, you can turn the ignition key to the start position or press the start button if your vehicle has a push-button start system. Keep it pressed down throughout this process until the engine fully starts. For key ignitions, hold the key in the start position for a few seconds until the engine turns over. A simple press (while holding the brake) is typically sufficient for push-button starts.

Step 5: Wait for the Engine to Start

Once you have turned the key or pressed the start button, wait for the engine to start. Modern vehicles usually start quickly, but ensuring the engine has fully started and is running smoothly before proceeding is important. Retain the pedal depressed until you are prepared to drive.

Step 6: Prepare to Drive

With the engine running and the brake pedal still depressed, you can now shift the vehicle into drive or reverse, depending on your intended direction. Always recheck your surroundings before moving off, and slowly release the pedal as you gently press the accelerator to begin moving.

Safety Tips

  • Never Start the Engine in an Enclosed Space: Always ensure proper ventilation to avoid the buildup of exhaust fumes.
  • Use the Parking Brake: Engaging the parking brake before starting the vehicle can add an extra layer of safety, especially on inclines.
  • Stay Attentive: Always stay focused on starting the vehicle and preparing to drive. Avoid distractions such as mobile devices.

What is the Difference Between Depress and Press Brake Pedal?

The terms “depress” and “press” in the context of operating a brake pedal are often used interchangeably, and both refer to applying force to the pedal with your foot. However, there can be a subtle distinction in their usage that might be worth noting:

Press: To “press” the brake pedal generally means to apply force to it. It is a broad term that does not necessarily convey the extent of the force applied. Pressing can range from a light tap to a full, firm push. It is an action that indicates the initiation of braking but doesn’t specifically describe how much the pedal is moved.

Depress: To “depress” the brake pedal implies not only applying force to the pedal but also pushing it downwards towards the floor of the vehicle. The term “depress” more explicitly suggests moving the pedal from its at-rest position to a lower position, indicating a more deliberate action to engage the brake system to varying degrees based on how far the pedal is depressed.

In practical terms, especially for driving instruction or technical descriptions, “depress” might emphasize the need to move the pedal downwards, as is necessary to engage the vehicle’s brakes effectively. Meanwhile, “press” is a more general term that can be used to describe applying any level of force to the brake pedal.

Why is My Brake Pedal So Hard to Press?

A brake pedal that is hard to press indicates an issue within the vehicle’s braking system. Several factors can contribute to this problem, and it is crucial to address it promptly to ensure your safety and others. Here are some common reasons why your brake might be hard to press:

1. Vacuum Problems

Most modern vehicles use a vacuum-assisted brake booster to reduce the effort to press the brake pedal. If there is a problem with the vacuum system, such as a leak or a failure of the brake booster itself, it can result in a hard brake system. The vacuum booster relies on the engine vacuum to multiply the force applied by the driver, making it easier to press the pedal.

2. Brake Booster Failure

The brake booster can fail due to internal issues, such as a ruptured diaphragm, leading to a loss of power assist and consequently, a hard brake pedal. This requires immediate attention, significantly affecting your ability to brake effectively.

3. Master Cylinder Issues

The master cylinder transfers the force from the brake pedal into hydraulic pressure to engage the brakes. If master cylinder is malfunctioning or there is an obstruction in the system, it can make the pedal feel harder than usual.

4. Brake Line Problems

Obstructions in the brake lines, such as air or debris, can also cause the brake pedal to feel stiff. In particular, air in the brake lines can prevent the hydraulic system from operating efficiently, as air compresses more easily than brake fluid.

5. Caliper Issues

If one or more brake calipers are stuck in the engaged position, pressing the brake pedal further might require more effort. This is because the system is already activated, leaving less room for additional pressure.

Addressing the Issue

Diagnosing and repairing brake issues should be done by a professional mechanic due to the safety-critical nature of the braking system. If you experience a hard brake pedal, consider the following steps:

  • Immediate Action: Avoid driving the vehicle until the issue is resolved, as a hard pedal can significantly increase stopping distances and compromise your ability to control the automobile.
  • Professional Diagnosis: Have the vehicle inspected by a qualified mechanic. They can comprehensively check the vacuum system, brake booster, master cylinder, brake lines, and brake rotors to identify the root cause.
  • Regular Maintenance: Regularly servicing your vehicle’s braking system can help prevent issues related to wear and tear and component failure.

A hard brake pedal is not only an inconvenience but a serious safety concern that should be addressed immediately to ensure the reliability of your vehicle’s braking system.

Can I Start the Engine Without Pressing the Brake Pedal?

Whether you can start an engine without pressing the pedal depends on the vehicle’s design and its starting system. Here’s how it breaks down:

Traditional Key Start Vehicles

car starting

For vehicles with a traditional key ignition system, you typically do not need to press the brake pedal to start the engine. Turn the key to the ignition position to start the vehicle. However, it is always a good practice to press the brake anyway, as it ensures the car does not inadvertently move once started, especially if it is in gear (for manual transmission vehicles).

Push-Button Start Vehicles

Many modern vehicles equipped with a push-button start system require the brake pedal to be depressed before the engine can be started. This safety feature is designed to prevent the vehicle from being started unintentionally and to ensure that it cannot move unexpectedly. Pressing the brake signals the vehicle’s electronic systems that the driver is ready and intentionally starting the car.

Exceptions and Workarounds

  • Keyless Entry and Push-Button Systems: While most require the brake pedal to be pressed, there may be some exceptions or ways to start the engine without doing so, such as by activating the vehicle’s accessory mode or using a specific sequence of button presses. These methods usually won’t allow the car to be driven but can enable the electrical systems for diagnostic or maintenance purposes.
  • Hybrid and Electric Vehicles: Some hybrid and electric vehicles allow the engine (or power system) to be turned on without pressing the brake pedal, primarily to activate the electrical system. However, pressing it is often required to “start” the vehicle in a ready-to-drive state.

Precaution Note

It is important to remember that the requirement to press the brake pedal before starting the engine is a safety feature. It reduces the risk of the vehicle moving unexpectedly and ensures that the driver is prepared to control the vehicle immediately upon starting.

If you need clarification about your vehicle’s requirements or have encountered difficulties with starting the automobile, consulting the owner’s manual or a professional mechanic can provide guidance specific to your car’s make and model.


Depressing the brake pedal to start the engine is a simple yet crucial step in safely operating a vehicle. It enhances safety by ensuring the vehicle remains stationary until the driver is fully prepared to begin driving. By following these steps and adhering to safety best practices, drivers can always ensure a smooth and secure start.


Mr. Shafiqule Islam is a graduated Mechanical Engineer and has more than 15 years experience of repairing and maintenance of different brand vehicles like Toyota, Mitsubishi, Ford, Mercedes, BMW etc. He is also giving training to Mechanics. He has started writing to share his practical knowledge to Vehicle Owners, Drivers and Mechanics to keep their cars at best fit.

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