What to Do If Your Brakes Fail

On The Road

What to Do If Your Brakes Fail

Each time we drive our vehicle we expect everything to work as it always does. However, that’s not always the case. One rare (but scary) scenario is that the vehicle’s brakes may give out. If this were to happen to you, would you know what to do?

Here are some tips for safer stopping if your brakes go out:

Stay calm

The most common way to learn the brakes have failed is by applying them and having nothing happen. In some vehicles, there is a warning light on the dashboard. If your vehicle has one, don’t ignore it! If your brakes don’t engage, the first thing to do is remain calm. While it may be easier said than done, staying calm gives you a better opportunity to make reasoned choices. Putting yourself into a panic may lead to sudden, irrational reactions, which could affect your safety and the safety of those around you.

Leave space, break early, and give them another chance

To give you a chance to stop your vehicle at any time, always leave ample space between you and the vehicle in front of you, and begin slowing early for red lights, stop signs and stopped traffic ahead. Late braking may not give you enough time to attempt additional stopping techniques. If you’ve begun braking and you realize your braking system is failing, don’t give up on your regular brakes. Continue to pump the brake pedal, which could do two things: it may build pressure within your brake lines which can help the brakes work again and secondly, it can warn drivers behind you that you’re attempting to stop as your brake lights will continue to light up.

The emergency brake is there to help 

If you realize that your regular brakes aren’t going to stop your vehicle, the next step is to gradually employ (to help minimize skidding) your secondary form of braking – the emergency brake – also known as the parking brake.  Each vehicle has an emergency brake. Unfortunately, if it’s not used regularly when you park, it may not work in an emergency. The cable that is the main emergency brake may seize or become too loose. To keep the emergency brake in good working order, use it every time you park and have it adjusted when you take your vehicle in for a brake inspection.Woman hand changing gear while driving scene

Switch to lower gears

You’ve hit your brakes, pumped the brakes, and tried your emergency brake, but nothing has stopped your vehicle. The reality here is this has only taken a few, yet critical, moments although it may seem like an eternity to you. Now what? Whether you’re in an automatic transmission vehicle or a manual transmission vehicle, the next step is to begin downshifting into the lowest gear as quickly as you can. The lower gears should help to slow the vehicle down, but they won’t necessarily stop the vehicle. If you’re on a quiet road however, it could be enough to allow you to steer in a safe direction until the car completely comes to a stop.

Never give up

If you’ve done everything but the vehicle hasn’t stopped and you’re approaching stopped traffic ahead or a group of pedestrians. Now what? Turn on your hazard lights and honk your horn to warn other drivers, and then find a place to drive into that can create the least amount of damage. Look for an open parking lot, a grassy field, an open lane – somewhere that can give you more time to stop without endangering your life, the lives of others, and possibly without damaging your vehicle. Take the lesser of all evils. If you have to tear up the prize-winning garden, do it if that means reducing injuries.

NOTE: While shutting your car off might seem like a good option to get the car to stop, it’s not. Turning the ignition off will also turn off your power steering, which will make it more difficult to steer the vehicle to safety as it slows down. It will also prevent you from being able to rebuild pressure in the lines by pumping the brakes. Only turn the vehicle off once it has come to a complete stop.

Once you’ve been able to come to a stop as safely as possible, get your vehicle towed to the nearest service centre to have the brakes inspected and repaired. Don’t drive it again until you’re certain they’ll work as you need them to. Regular brake inspections can help reduce the chance of this happening to you.