How to Stop Your Car When Your Brakes Fail

Published by on . Updated on 18 May 2020

Motorist Car Brake Fail(Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

Employ these defensive measures if your car brakes fail while driving on the road.

Picture this: You’re out driving your car when the brake system suddenly fails on you. You also realize that the traffic light ahead is turning read soon. What do you do?

It may come as a surprise, but most drivers probably won't know how to react. After all, brake failure rarely occurs in modern vehicles. However, the results from it can be life-threatening, and it won't hurt to familiarize yourself on the steps to take should the situation arise. Read on to find out more.

Don’t Panic and Warn Other Road Users

Maintain a clear and calm mind in the event of brake failure. Overreacting or panicking can make the situation worse. Instead, focus on safely getting your car off the road. Remember to flash your high beam and honk your horn to warn other road users. This should let them know something’s wrong and would give them some time to react accordingly.

Employ Engine Breaking by Shifting to a Lower Gear

Engine breaking occurs when retarding forces within the engine are used to slow a vehicle down. To make use of it, shift your car to a lower gear. For automatic vehicles, you’ll need to shift your gear from Drive (labelled as “D”) to the lowest range (usually labelled as “1” or “L”). For manual cars, simply change gears as you normally would. You should feel the car slow down.

Remember, downshifting too quickly might cause you to lose control of your vehicle, so only do this if you need to slow down as soon as possible.

Pump Your Brakes

Pumping your brakes builds pressure in the braking system to help you come to a stop. If your car comes with an anti-braking system (ABS), simply press down hard on the brakes. Your vehicle’s ABS should help pump the brakes for you. For vehicles without ABS, you'll need to stop on the brake pedal several times to build enough pressure. Once that is done, press down hard on the brake pedal and keep it pressed down to the floor.

Engage Your Emergency Brake

This method can stop your car, but it might take a longer time to do so. This is because the emergency brake only stops the rear wheels of your vehicle. To use your emergency brake, press the release button and slowly regulate the pressure as you apply the brake. Do not under any circumstances use the emergency brake while travelling at high speeds – this will cause the wheels to lockup and you might lose control of your vehicle. If your car comes equipped with a foot brake, you can follow the steps above as well. The only difference is that you will be stepping on a pedal instead.

Use Road Terrains to Slow Your Vehicle Down

If the above methods fail to slow or stop your vehicle, you might need to improvise and make use of the road terrain and other obstacles. Here are some examples:

- Look for inclining roads to help slow your vehicle. Use this together with your emergency brake to bring your car to a stop.

- Use guardrails or road curbs. Striking guardrails or road curbs should cause enough friction to slow your vehicle. Vehicle damage is to be expected. Remember to approach guardrails and road curbs at a diagonal angle.

- Small trees and shrubs. An alternative is to drive into thick shrubberies and small trees. Position your vehicle in the centre of these obstacles. Avoid large trees if possible.

- Strike the back of another car. Your last resort is to hit the rear of another vehicle. Try to hit the vehicle square in the back. This would make it easier for the other driver to control his or her vehicle.

Experiencing brake failure while driving can be terrifying, and we hope you'll never find yourself in this situation. However, knowing these tips and techniques could save the lives of yourself and others. Stay safe drivers!

Do you have any tips you wish to add? Share them with us in the comments below.

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1 Comment

Alvin Hong
Using the Emergency brake is using what method. Need to state clearly. Using the "Hand Brake" for cars with hand brakes systems. Using the "foot brake types of 'Hand Brakes' systems". Some more advanced cars are using sensors "Hand Brakes" systems. For the Automatic transmissions types of cars some does not comes with 'Gear 1' but "L" as it represents a Lower gear. My 2 cents.

over 5 years ago