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What should you do if your brakes fail?

Nobody ever thinks about their car’s brakes. It’s just one of those functions we take for granted. Press the pedal, slow down, stop. Repeat as necessary. Pretty simple, right?

Yep, the whole process is as simple as it gets – until the brakes stop working. Brake failure is one of the most common causes of road accidents, immediately behind steering and tire problems. How brakes fail is due to many factors: negligence, road hazards, or maybe a small issue that quickly becomes a big problem.





Defining Brake Failure

Brake failure happens all the time. It’s probably happened to someone you know, or somebody your friend or family knows. Sometimes, it happens because of poor workmanship – even when the repairs are totally unrelated to the brake system!

Here’s something to keep in mind when brakes fail – they don’t have to “completely” fail. Just ask a driver who was tailing another car too close, and found themselves in the sudden situation of having to stop. The best-performing brakes on the road would be hard-presses (no pun intended) to safely manage a quick stop without hitting the car in front of them.

The term “brake failure” usually refers to complete and total lack of brake power. But underperforming brakes (low brake pad level, wobbly rotors, little or no brake fluid, etc.) are just as responsible for causing accidents. But for this blog, we’ll look at what you should do if you suddenly lose brake power.


When Brakes Go Bad: What Works Best

OK, let’s imagine the following scenario: you’re behind the wheel without a car in the world – well, other than the cares associated with normal driving conditions. You’re on a highway traveling 60 MPH. About a quarter mile ahead, you notice brake lights; could be an accident down the road, or maybe road construction. Whatever it is, you recognize the need for less speed and pump the brake.

And nothing happens.

So what’s the best plan of action? Here’s what to do (and what not to do) when you experience malfunctioning brakes.


1. Try to remain as calm as possible. Nothing makes an existing problem worse than by going off the rails emotionally. Calmer heads usually prevail, and that true with brake failure.

2. Take your foot off the gas. That’s the first example of how calm, cool-headed calculation can help get you out of jam.

3. Try the brakes a second time. Apply steady pressure a second time – and hopefully that does the trick.

4. If that doesn’t work, turn the cruise control off.

5. Try pumping the brakes. If your hydraulic fluid has been compromised, this can at least force enough brake fluid to the master cylinder (and consequently the caliper pistons) to slow or stop your vehicle.

6. Try the emergency brake. Use, sure-handed, slow motion to engage the emergency brake. If you’re going slow enough, this may be enough to stop your car.

7. Shift to a lower gear. Obviously easier with a manual transmission, but still very much an option with an automatic.

8. Do NOT turn off the ignition. Many people do this, figuring the car will slow down. However, turning the key will also disable your power steering, making a bad situation worse.

9. Turn the wheel, assuming you have a wide enough berth. This creates road friction, which can slow your car drastically.

10. Keep your eyes on the road – you’ve lost your brakes, not your steering capability.

11. If all else fails, try to use terrain, guardrails and other objects as potential stoppers.

12. Once you’ve safely slowed, make sure your car is well off the road.

13. Once you’ve stopped, call roadside assistance or a friend / family member.


Hopefully, you’ll never have to worry about your brakes failing. But some careful considerations, common sense plus calm nerves can help avoid disaster.


Since poor brake maintenance can lead to brake failure, you should ensure your car’s brakes are performing at peak levels. If they’re not, it may be time for brake repairs or replacements. And BuyAutoParts.com, the online leader in brake parts, has everything you need to stay as safe as possible. To place an order or ask a question about our top-quality OEM brake components, give us a call at (888) 907-7225, or visit the BuyAutoParts.com contact page. Thanks for stopping by our blog – check back for more tips & tricks, industry news and other information that matters to DIY mechanics like you.


Written by Dara Greaney. 

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