Vehicles are nothing more than large machines that require consistent maintenance in order to stay in good working condition. And although we don’t like to think about the many different pieces that could fail while cruising down the interstate at 70 mph, it is possible to be met with unfortunate circumstances that could leave you and your car susceptible to an accident.
In this article, we’re diving into every driver’s greatest nightmare. Here’s what to do if you have a brake failure while driving.
The Anatomy of a Vehicle’s Braking System
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to react to a brake failure while driving, it’s important to note that a total brake failure is a rarity because the braking system on your vehicle is not one single entity. In fact, it’s comprised of many different components that work together to help your vehicle stop.
Each wheel is equipped with a brake system. Depending on the age, make and model of your vehicle, your brake system may be made up of any of the following combinations:
- Drum brakes on all four wheels (common in classic cars)
- Disc brakes on all four wheels (common on most modern vehicles)
- Disc brakes on the front wheels, drum brakes on the rear wheels
In the event that one of these components fail, the other three brake systems would be able to pick up the slack and stop your vehicle before an accident ensued.
Most Common Causes of Brake Failure
Nevertheless, there are several circumstances that can cause a vehicle’s braking system to fail.
- The most common of these is natural wear and tear. As your brake pads age over time, they will naturally lose their ability to stop the vehicle. To prevent this from happening, ensure your brakes are inspected by a licensed mechanic at least several times a year. As a general rule of thumb, most brake pads need to be changed once every 25,000-50,000 miles.
- The second most common cause of brake failure is a malfunctioning brake booster. This component is the reason your brake pedal is easier to press down while the vehicle is running than it is to engage while the vehicle is turned off. If the brake booster is defective, more force will need to be exerted on the pedal to stop the vehicle, even if the engine is running.
- The final most common cause of brake failure while driving is a phenomenon called brake fade. Although this doesn’t happen in most modern vehicles, brake fade is the product of a braking system that has overheated from extreme use or if there is water in the brake fluid.
How to React to Brake Failure While Driving
According to this video by Howcast, these seven steps outline how you should react to brake failure while driving.
- Remain Calm: Assess your surroundings by noting the traffic, pedestrians, and intersections around you. Try to pump your brakes to see if you can build enough pressure to stop your vehicle.
- Warn Surrounding Drivers: Turn on your hazard lights immediately and honk your horn to alert nearby drivers of your situation.
- Steer Toward Safety: If possible, find a clear space to steer toward in order to minimize damage and maximize the safety of those around you. Shift to the lowest gear possible; if you have an automatic transmission, this is usually noted as D1 or L1.
- Use the Parking Brake: Gently engage the handbrake or parking brake. If you apply it while you are moving too fast and the car starts to skid, release this brake before you lose control of the vehicle.
- Throw the Car into Reverse: If you’re unable to stop the car and you are heading toward pedestrians, throw the transmission into reverse. Although shifting into reverse while the car is moving can irreversibly damage the transmission, it may just save your life and the lives of others.
- Call for Help: Once your vehicle has stopped, call roadside service for assistance. Don’t try to drive your vehicle again until the issue has been repaired.
- Get Your Car Checked Out: Once assistance has arrived, have your car towed to a garage so that it can be repaired.