Encountering brake failure can be one of the scariest things that can happen to you while driving your vehicle. It’s a terrifying scenario that can happen unexpectedly and can catch even the most experienced drivers off guard. Typically brake failure happens when your vehicle does not have enough brake fluid due to a leak or has pads that are severely worn out, leading to a malfunction in the braking system. Either that or your calipers seize or there is a clog in your brake master cylinder. If you find yourself in this tricky situation, you can follow these steps so that you can safely bring your vehicle to a stop.
One of the very first things you should do is to not panic. This puts you in a clear frame of mind to think of what to do next and assess the situation at hand. With a clearer mind, you will be able to make better decisions that will help you get your vehicle stopped and prevent accidents from happening along the way. If your brakes fail it will be in your best interest to keep calm while you attempt to get your vehicle off the road. Also, turn on the hazard lights to mark yourself as a potential hazard on the road.
Try applying the brakes again
Most modern vehicles will have a dual braking system, that controls your front and rear brakes. This means that even if your front brakes fail, you still should be able to tap into the braking power of the rear wheels and vice versa. While your stopping power will be reduced it’s still enough to bring your vehicle to a halt, albeit with more space needed. In the event that either the front or rear brakes fail try applying strong and consistent pressure to the brake pedal to see if the car will slow down. If nothing happens at this point and your vehicle still isn’t slowing down proceed to the next step.
Downshift to a lower gear
In the event that the emergency brake isn’t enough your next best step is to downshift to a lower gear. This will, in turn, utilize the engine brake to slow down your vehicle, this works best with a manual transmission vehicle but can also be done with an automatic transmission.
In the case of an automatic transmission, you can use the paddle shifters to select a lower gear or its manual mode to do so. This also applies to older 4-speed automatic transmissions as they will still let you shift to a lower gear. As you are slowing down and if the revs permit you can also enter L to further maximize the engine braking of your vehicle. Once your speed is low enough you can then try using the handbrake to see if it will be able to stop the car.
Carefully apply the emergency/ hand brake
If your foot brake system completely fails your next best option is to use the emergency or handbrake. It is important to remember that the handbrake utilizes a different system from that of your hydraulic brakes. While it doesn’t have the same stopping power, it’s still enough to get your car to stop but with a little more space needed. Make sure that when you are applying the manual handbrake to keep the locking mechanism pressed down so you can release the brake at any moment if your car starts to slide, which is something you do not want to do.
For electronic parking brakes, make sure that you keep the steering wheel as stable as possible, and then engage the e-brake. Do not turn off your vehicle at any point when you are trying to stop it. This holds especially true for vehicles with electronic parking brakes as they use electric motors to clamp the pads onto the brake disc. It will also affect your ability to steer the vehicle as the steering could lock up in the process. In an emergency situation, you do not want to lose these features as they are a big help when it comes to stopping your vehicle.
Try and bring your vehicle to the side of the road
In the process of trying to bring your vehicle to a halt, make sure that you plan ahead and slowly move to the rightmost lane or to the shoulder away from faster-moving traffic. This will ensure that you have enough space to stop your vehicle without causing other accidents. Also, remember to put your hazard lights on as your vehicle is already considered a hazard due to its lack of stopping power.
Ideally, you should shift your car into neutral and try to use the handbrake to bring your vehicle to a stop. Make sure that you are ready to release the handbrake again in case your vehicle begins to skid. If this doesn’t work, you will need to keep your eyes peeled for other ways you stop your vehicle. Your last resort is to find a safe location to gently crash your vehicle into if you have complete braking failure. During this process do not turn off your car’s engine and only do it once you have come to a complete stop.
Call for help
Once your vehicle has been stopped, you can now turn it off, exit it, and call for help. Ideally, you should call for a tow truck as your vehicle could be an obstruction on the road. This will prevent you from having to push it to a shop doing more damage to the vehicle.
Get your brakes professional inspected
Now that your vehicle is safely being towed to a service center or repair shop. Make sure to have your braking system thoroughly inspected by a professional. This is to ensure that the necessary repairs are done correctly and to prevent further events of brake failure from occurring.