What To Do If Your Brakes Fail
By: Good2GoPublished: May 20, 2014
It’s a typical day and you’re driving around without a care in the world. You come to a red light only to find out that you can’t seem to slow down. You realize your brakes are out as your car speeds through the intersection and hurtles toward oncoming traffic. What do you do?
Brake failure is one of the scariest experiences any driver can undergo. It’s an unexpected, life threatening event that tests your nerves under pressure and your defensive driving skills. Although brake failure is generally a rare occurrence, it still remains one of the top causes of accidents involving larger vehicles like trucks, SUVs, and vans.
Common causes for brake failure
Brake systems are complicated, and today’s vehicles are required to have various fail-safe mechanisms to reduce the likelihood of complete brake failure. This makes pinpointing the exact cause of brake failure difficult since there are so many variables to consider such as owner negligence, faulty servicing from a mechanic, or faulty installation.
Brakes use friction to stop the vehicle, and any interference with that friction can lead to brake failure. This may include:
- Grease or oil on brakes
- Hot spots on the metal in the brake rotors or drums
- Worn down brake pads
- Misadjusted brakes or misaligned brake linings
- Sticking brake calipers
Warning signs of brake failure
When was the last time you had your brakes inspected? If your checkups have been few and far between, be on the lookout for these warning signs of potential brake failure:
- Difficulty stopping
- Pulling to one side
- Leaking brake fluid
- Squealing, grinding or clicking noises when braking
- Vibration or pulsation of the brake pedal during braking
- Excessive drag when accelerating
- Anti-lock brake system light comes on
What to do if your brakes fail
Let’s assume that you’ve ignored all of the warning signs above, you’ve neglected to get an annual inspection, and you’re on the road trying to brake. The National Safety Council offers the following tips for dealing with brake failure:
- Don’t panic. When you realize you can no longer brake, you need to stay calm. This may be difficult to do at the time, but it’s crucial for your safety and the safety of others. Panicking will make matters worse and cause you to make irrational decisions.
- Get out of the way. If you’re on the highway, try to maneuver your vehicle into the right lane towards the shoulder or, if possible, towards an exit. If you need to change lanes, do so smoothly and carefully. Keep a close eye on your mirrors and surrounding traffic.
- Be visible. Use your directional signals to indicate your intentions to other drivers. Once you reach the right lane, turn on your emergency hazard lights.
- Slow down gradually. Start by taking your foot off the gas pedal. Continue to steer your vehicle as it slows down and shift the car into a lower gear to let the engine help slow the car.
- Use your emergency brake. Once off the road, shift into neutral and gradually apply the hand brake (emergency brake) until the vehicle comes to a complete stop. If that brake has also failed, direct the car onto a soft shoulder or rub the wheel against a curb to slow down. Get the car off the roadway and to a safe place to avoid stopping traffic or being involved in a rear-end collision.
- Sound the alarm. When safely off the road, put out reflective triangles beside and behind your vehicle to alert other drivers. Keep your hazard lights on.
- Put out an S.O.S. To flag down help or professional assistance, raise your hood and tie something white to the radio antenna or hang it out the window so police officers or tow truck operators will know you need help.
- Call for help. For assistance, use a “call-for-help” phone if one is nearby. You may also use a CB radio or your cell phone to call for help.
In addition to these tips, always drive with your seatbelt on in the event that you experience brake failure and are involved in a crash. Lastly, resist the temptation to drive your vehicle without an operational brake system. It’s a risk you can’t afford to take.
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