Brake Failure - Why, How, Don't!
You’re cruising back home from dinner, singing to Ariana Grande’s latest top hit, 5 minutes away from home. As you start pulling up to a red light, you ease on to the brake pedal—but nothing happens. Wait, what? You press it again, all the way to the floor this time, but still, nothing.
What do you do?
How Does This Happen?
1. Wear and Tear
To avoid the most common causes of brake failure, perform a visual inspection of your brake pads, rotors, lines and brake fluid levels. The easiest way to do this is to get your vehicle inspected thoroughly by a licensed mechanic a few times a year.
2. Brake Booster Malfunction
The brake booster is a component that makes it easier for you to depress your brake pedal while your vehicle is running, as opposed to engaging it while your vehicle is switched off. A defective brake booster will require more force to be exerted on the pedal.
3. Brake Fade
Brake fade is a product of an overheated braking system, caused by friction fade (long periods of light braking downhill), fluid fade (brake fluid degradation causing water absorption), or mechanical fade (breakdown of resin when brake pads get too hot).
What To Do When Brakes Fail
Easier said than done, but panicking will likely cause you to make more errors, and decreases your ability to pay attention to your immediate surroundings, putting you and other motorists or pedestrians in more danger. Staying calm will help you focus on what matters: finding a way to stop your vehicle.
1. Try to pump the brakes
The brake system may have air in it, so pumping the brake pedals quickly could get it to work again. If your brake pedals feel hard or does not respond, something in your system may have already failed.
2. Engine braking
If possible, find a clear space to steer towards. If you were travelling at a high speed at the point of brake failure, shift gradually, one gear at a time, to the lowest gear possible. Downshifting too quickly could cause a skid.
3. Slowly pull on the handbrake
The gradual motion ensures that one can scrub off speed slowly. This takes a measure of control, and a calm-enough head, or the rear wheels could lock up, and you could lose control of your vehicle.
4. Use your surroundings
If all else fails, try to use what’s available in your surroundings to slow your vehicle down. Grass, gravel and dirt are good options if there are some off the road. At worst, brushing the side of your car up against a rail or divider will slow it down.
5. Pull over and have your car towed
Turn on your hazard lights, and call for roadside assistance. Even if you manage to get your brakes working again, it is not advisable to continue driving your vehicle until it has been taken in for inspection and repair.
Things You Shouldn’t Do
1. Don’t turn off your engine!
Our minds work in funny ways in moments of desperation. On the off-chance turning off the engine might look like a good idea in a moment of panic, doing this will cause you to also lose control of the steering, as your car continues to barrel along the direction your steering wheel was locked into.
2. Pulling on handbrake fully and abruptly
As mentioned earlier, proper usage of the emergency brakes can help bring your car to a halt. What shouldn’t be done is a panicked and abrupt pull on the handbrake, which would cause you to spin uncontrollably.
As with all vehicle malfunctions, brake failure is a situation no driver wants to be in. Prevention goes a long way in reducing the chances of it happening, but even with regular maintenance, brakes can still fail. It is important to equip ourselves with techniques and knowledge to help us stay calm in an unforeseen situation.