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According to NHTSA, nearly 10,000 accidents between 2005-2007 were related to the braking system. If you are one of these drivers that notices your brakes are failing, you want to be prepared and know how to handle the situation.
When brake failure happens, follow these tips to stay safe.
1. Stay Calm
Above all else, it’s necessary to remain calm at all times. Having a clear head is the best way to get out of this situation. Your main priority is to stay safe, which requires that you think clearly. Panicking will likely make things worse. Take a breath and get ready to take action.
2. Press the Brakes Again
Most modern vehicles feature a dual braking system. The brakes are separated into two parts, either front and back or diagonally. With this setup, you have to have both sections fail to lose braking power completely.
What you might be experiencing is the loss of one half, which significantly reduces the braking ability. This reduced ability is still extremely unsafe, but you will have some power to stop. Push on the pedal with consistent force and attempt to slow the vehicle down.
If the brakes are working a little, downshifting will help. With a manual transmission, you can work your way down in gears to slow the vehicle down. With an automatic transmission, you want to take your foot off of the accelerator and allow the car to shift into lower gears. Some new vehicles permit you to drive the automatic transmission like a manual with paddle shifters. If this is the case, go ahead and take over to downshift.
4. Engage the Emergency Brake
If the main system has gone out completely, you do have the option to use the emergency brake, but you need to be extremely cautious. Because the emergency brake runs separate from your hydraulic system, you might be able to stop your vehicle. Apply the brake slowly. You will notice that it takes longer to stop with this method, but it might prevent an accident.
5. Do Not Turn Off the Car
You might think that shutting the car off is the best option, but it’s not. You want the engine running until you come to a stop. Otherwise, you will also turn off the power steering, which makes driving even more challenging. It could even cause the steering wheel to lock in place.
6. Move Off of the Road
As the car slows down, your main priority must be to get off of the road. If you are driving on the highway, you must start making your way to the right lane. Make sure you use your turn signals so that other drivers know what you are doing. Pull over as soon as it is safe to do so. If you have to park on the shoulder, make sure you turn on the hazards.
7. Have the Car Towed
Hopefully, you have a roadside assistance plan that covers towing. Get on the phone and have a tow truck head out immediately, especially if you are sitting on the side of the highway. To increase visibility, put your hood up and keep the hazard lights on. It’s wise to carry road flares or reflective triangles in the vehicle with you for these moments. Moments like these are why a AAA membership is a must.
8. Have the Car Inspected by a Mechanic
You should never get back on the road until you figure out what caused the brake failure. Have your car towed to a trusted mechanic for repair.
Another option is to have a service like Wrench send a mechanic to wherever the car is parked.
Before Brake Failure Happens
The best way to prevent this situation is to ensure you keep up with the scheduled car maintenance. Disc brakes should last between 30,000 and 50,000 miles, but you should inspect them often. Aside from replacing the brake pads regularly, you also want to perform a complete brake inspection.
This service includes examining the brake pedal, hoses, lines, assemblies and fluid. If you don’t know how to perform this yourself, you should have your mechanic do it for you.
After Brake Failure Happens
If you aren’t able to stop the vehicle before a crash occurs, you need to know what to do after an accident. Hopefully, you will never have to think about this step, especially if you perform proper maintenance and remain calm when the brakes go out.
Consult with a certified mechanic for maintenance and repairs to your vehicle. We may receive a referral fee for recommending some of the products, apps or services listed on this website. This article is for informational purposes only.
Brian Jones has been an ASE Certified Master Technician for more than 30 years, working with many dealerships around the nation.