How to handle and prevent car brake failure

Team AckodriveJun 6, 2022

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Brakes are one of the most crucial components of a car. They help you slow down the vehicle or bring the car to a standstill. It is also an essential piece of safety equipment as it can come to your rescue in emergencies.

How to Handle and Prevent Car Brake Failure

But did you ever imagine what would happen if the brakes fail while you are driving? In reality, such a thing is improbable, but it's better to be prepared for the worst. This article provides you with insights on how to handle car brake failure.

What to do when your car brakes fail while driving?

Before diving deep into the do’s and don’ts while coping with a car brake failure, let’s throw some light into the basics of car brakes.

A car has four wheels, and each wheel is equipped with a brake assembly/system. Different automobiles have different brake systems. Below are the types of brakes used in a car.

  • Drum brakes: It was used in older cars where all four wheels were equipped with drum brakes.

  • Disc brakes: It is a brake system that is common amongst all modern cars.

  • Disc and drum brakes: It is a combination of drum and disc brakes. In this system, the front wheels are equipped with disc brakes, while the rear wheels use drum brakes. You can find this system in most budget-friendly cars.

Generally, modern cars are technologically advanced; the chances of a complete brake failure is very rare. Some high-end cars even come with fail-safe technology that warns you in case of any issues with the brakes. But that does not mean that the brakes will never fail. They may suffer a catastrophic failure under some circumstances, and it may catch you off guard. 

So, how to stop a vehicle that has suffered a brake failure? The below points will help you in that regard.

  • Do not panic: First of all, do not panic. A clear head on the shoulders can be your ally when the car suffers a brake failure. Do not panic as it may worsen the situation. Instead, keep calm. Think about how to get your vehicle safely off the road and come to a standstill.

  • Switch on the hazard lights: If you can control the vehicle and the road is clear, you can try to switch on the hazard lights. Also, honk the horn to warn the other motorists on the road. They may not understand the problem, but at least they can steer clear from your way. 

  • Try pumping the brake pedal: Remember that your car has two braking systems, front and rear. Both the systems are controlled independently. Hence, both front and rear brakes have to fail for a complete loss of braking. Even the front/rear brake failure can make the car unstable under braking, but either front or rear brakes are enough to control the vehicle. Hence, keep pumping the brake pedal to see if any of the brakes work.

  • Downshift gradually: If pumping the brake pedal does not work, and you lose all the braking power, you can use the engine braking to slow down the car. To do that, you have to release the accelerator pedal and downshift the gears. The engine will help you to shed some speed, and you can steer the vehicle to the side of the road. In the case of a manual car, you need to work it down through the gears. If you are driving an automatic vehicle, release the throttle pedal, and the car should shift to lower gears. Some automatic cars even allow you to override the automatic gearbox via paddle shifters. You can also use this feature to put down the anchors when there is a catastrophic brake failure.

  • Use parking/hand brake: If you cannot slow the car by downshifting, the next option is to use the parking brake. Apart from the front and rear brakes, there is one more braking system in your car: parking/hand brake. It works independently and may help you to slow down your vehicle. But be mindful, do not engage the parking brake at high speeds. It may throw your car into a spin. So, always use it at slow speeds.

  • Get off the road: After you have managed to slow down the car, the next priority is safely getting off the road. If you are driving on the road with multiple lanes, pay attention to your surroundings. Use turn signals to indicate that you are getting off the road. Steer the car to the shoulder of the road and then shift into ‘Neutral’. If needed, you can use the parking brake to slow down the car but ensure that the vehicle is moving at a slow speed. Lastly, switch on the hazard lights and also use your headlights and horn to alert other motorists.

  • Do not shut down the engine: Never make the mistake of shutting down the engine before you have come to a standstill. First of all, by turning off the engine, you will lose engine braking. Next, when you turn off the ignition, you will also lose power steering, and the steering wheel may also lock. So, ensure that you do not shut down the engine before coming to a standstill.

  • Call for assistance: Once you have safely parked the car on the side of the road, the next priority is to call for help. But before that, make sure your car’s hazard lights are on and place a reflective triangle (if available) behind the vehicle. Avoid standing next to your car and watch out for oncoming traffic. Next, you can call roadside assistance or the nearest service centre. You may also need a tow truck to tow your vehicle to the nearest service centre.

  • Inspection of brakes: It’s better to tow your car and get the brakes inspected by an expert mechanic and perform repair work before you drive the vehicle. Even if the brakes seem to work normally after a brake failure, never drive the car without proper inspection. 

Also, read: Top 10 compact SUVs under Rs 10 lakhs with the biggest boot space

How to identify brake failure

Identifying minor issues with your car’s brakes is crucial to avoid any dangerous situations like brake failure. The earlier you identify the problem, the easier it is to fix. Remember that a braking system has many moving parts such as  rotor, disc, calliper, etc. You may have to keep an eye on such components.

Refer to the below points to understand how to identify issues with brakes.

  • Screeching/grinding noises: It is a common sign that the brake pads are worn out and need a replacement. Ignoring brake pads could lead to a hefty repair bill as it may cause damage to other components as well.

  • Shaking brake pedal/steering wheel: If your brake pedal or the steering wheel is shaking/rumbling, it may be due to some issue with the rotors. So, head to the service centre to get it checked whenever you feel that the pedal or steering wheel is shaking.

  • Burning smell from brakes: It may be a sign of multiple issues with the braking system. Generally, it indicates unwanted friction within the components.

  • Brake malfunction light: There are several warning lights on your dashboard, and the brake warning light is one of them. Whenever the brake warning light is on, never ignore it and take your car for a brake checkup.

  • Brake fading: It is nothing but the loss of stopping power when you pump the brake pedal. It is caused due to overheating and can also lead to a complete brake failure.

  • Brake fluid leakage: A slow leak in the brake fluid system can lead to brake failure. So, always pay attention to such leakages. Typically, you can find the fluid on tyres if there is any leak.

Also, read: How to Increase Car Mileage for Petrol/Diesel Variants to Save Costs?

How to prevent brake failure

As the saying goes by, prevention is always better than cure. The same applies to your car’s brakes as well. If you service your vehicle regularly, you can avoid most of the issues related to the brakes. Follow the below points to prevent brake failure.

  • Pay attention to how the brake feels: If the brakes feel ‘spongy’ or non-responsive when pressing the brake pedal, the brakes need a check-up. The brakes should be responsive and react with a tap on the pedal. If it takes too much effort to bring the car to a stop, it’s time to service the brakes.

  • Service the car at regular intervals: Servicing your vehicle at regular intervals is key to preventing any braking system issues. Change of brake pads, an inspection of brake pads, brake fluid and rotors is necessary to keep the brakes in perfect working condition. Hence, regular service can prevent brake failures.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions related to car brake failure.

I drive an automatic car. What to do if the brakes fail?

If the brakes fail in an automatic car, release the throttle immediately and use the engine braking to slow down the vehicle. When the speed comes down, you can use the parking brake to try to stop the car.

What should I do if the brakes fail while driving downhill?

Engine braking is your best friend if the brakes fail while driving downhill. Shift to lower gears (release the throttle if driving an automatic car), and the vehicle should slow down due to engine braking. You can also use the hand brake to slow down the car.

Can my car’s brake fail suddenly without any warning?

Yes, the braking system can fail suddenly without any indication or warning. However, sudden total failure is very rare. But brake failure is dangerous, and that is the reason why you should maintain the brakes properly.

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