Car Advice

What is an auto-hold brake and is it the same as hill-start assist?

Not all cars have an auto-hold brake function but those that do can make stop-start traffic a more relaxed affair. We explain the difference between auto-hold and hill-start assist.

Auto-hold brake functionality is becoming more and more common on vehicles as manufacturers switch from a manual handbrake to electric handbrakes. And they can make life easier and more comfortable, especially in stop-start traffic, allowing you to give your leg a rest, and not worry about having to apply the parking brake manually or be concerned about rolling backwards when you transition from one pedal to the other.

The auto-hold function is a component of the ABS and ESP system and, once you’ve activated the system by pressing the ‘auto-hold’ button which is usually near your electric park brake switch, it will automatically hold the brake pressure you applied. This means you need to give the brakes a good shove to ensure adequate pressure is applied.

But, once you’ve done that, and the auto-hold light has illuminated on your instrument cluster you’re safe to remove your foot from the brake pedal. The brake will release once the throttle pedal has been pressed.

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There are a couple of things to think about. Always check that Auto-Hold is active, don’t just think it is, and while most vehicles with Auto-Hold functionality will remember the last setting (either on, or off) it pays to double check.  The other thing to note is that Auto-Hold can only be activated if you’re inside the vehicle with the doors closed and seatbelt fastened. And, if you’re towing a vehicle or a trailer then most car makers recommend you switch off Auto-Hold.

One more, Auto-Hold doesn’t replace your vehicle’s handbrake, so, make sure you apply it before leaving your vehicle.

Some vehicles may have both Hill-Hold and Hill-Start Assist, while the principal is the same, a hill-start assist function is usually only intended to prevent your vehicle from rolling backwards as you transition from the brake to the throttle. An Auto-Hold function is intended to hold the vehicle in place until the throttle is pressed which could be several minutes or more. The hill-start assist functionality is mostly associated with manual-equipped cars where one foot is on the clutch and one on the brake, to keep the vehicle stationary as you raise the clutch and move your other foot from the brake to the throttle.

Question: Does your vehicle have auto-hold? Do you use it?


Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober was born in the shadow of Mount Panorama in Bathurst and, so, it was inevitable he’d fall into work as a motoring writer. He began his motoring career in 2000 reviewing commercial vehicles, before becoming editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine. He then moved to MOTOR Magazine before going freelance and contributing to Overlander 4WD, 4×4 Australia, TopGear Australia, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, The Australian, CARSguide, and many more.