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Brake failure: What you should and shouldn't do

Brake failure: What you should and shouldn't do image

Jose Altoveros / Kelvin Christian Go | August 10, 2017 11:58

What you should, shouldn't do and how to prevent brake failure

If you have been watching the news lately, there have been more and more road accidents occuring due to brake failures. Often times, the incidents we know about brake failure involve a non-conditioned truck, someone scratching their head saying "pasensya na, nawalan ng preno eh" (sorry, I lost my brakes), or most often, a combination of both. These accidents add to the major traffic build up in the metropolis, and sometimes lead to unfortunate injury or death of innocent bystanders.

To help you avoid being involved in a similar situation, we list down what you should and shouldn't do when your brakes fail; as well as how to try and prevent brake failure from happening.

Brake failure: What you should and shouldn't do

Prevention

They say prevention is always better than cure; the same can be said with regards to your vehicle's brakes. Before brake failure even occurs, one should ensure that the vehicle's brakes will not fail. Given that sometimes brake failure occurs even with a properly maintained system, it will help give you an ease of mind if the brakes are sorted out on a regular basis.

As with most mechanical parts, doing a visual inspection of the brake pads, rotors, lines and brake fluid level is the most basic maintenance anyone can do. Ensure that the brakes pads are still in service condition and the rotors do not have any unusual blemishes or fatigue on them. For those running slotted or cross-drilled brake rotors, check to see if hairline cracks are already appearing. If there are, then it would be wise to replace them with genuine parts and not just cheap replacement units. 

Also remember to top up on brake fluid should it be lower than usual. And do replace your brake fluid every 18-24 months as the fluid will absorb water vapor through time and degrade in performance.

Brake failure: What you should and shouldn't do

On most occassions, a brand new car from the factory will have a well sorted out braking system. The problems occur once brake parts have been replaced, and the proper steps have not followed during the replacement or installation. One such example is having air pockets in the brake lines; occuring when the brakes are not bled properly while being installed. Having air in the lines is dangerous as the force applied by the pedals compresses the air in the lines instead of the fluid going to brakes. Air in the lines can easily be mended by having it bled properly before using it once again. If you are not sure as to how, take it to your trusted shop or mechanic.

What should be done

Brake failure: What you should and shouldn't do

Going online, there are numerous ways of stopping a 'brakeless' vehicle. Like most things found on the internet, not everything is true and will yield results. Instead, we will list down steps that will ensure your vehicle will stop or slow down even without the brakes.

First, one should stay calm. Panicking will not only lead to distortion, but will likely cause you to make more mistakes, putting you and others around you in even more danger. Though it is easier said than done, staying calm will allow you to focus on finding a way to stop the vehicle. Remember to pay attention to your surroundings while doing so as you would not want to get others involved.

Once you have calmed down, try to first pump the brakes. As mentioned earlier, the system may have air in it and pumping the brake pedals could get it to work again. However, if the brake pedals feel hard and simply does not move, then likely something in the system may has already seized or failed.

If the brakes have really failed, one of the most common way of stopping a vehicle is to slowly pull the parking brake (handbrake). By slowly pulling on the handbrake, one can scrub off speed slowly. Ensure that the rear wheels do not lock up or begin squealing or you could lose control. Depending on the how fast the car is moving, it is possible to bring the car to a stop given it is not in high speed. When travelling at a high speed, one should do this move with caution as it can cause you to easily spin the vehicle or use engine braking to slow the vehicle down first.

If your vehicle is equipped with a foot brake or umbrella type parking brake, this will be a little bit difficult to do. For newer vehicles, these usually come equiped with an electronic parking brake, making this almost impossible to do; leaving you with the other two options.

Brake failure: What you should and shouldn't do

Another solution to get a brakeless vehicle to stop is via engine braking. Both manual and automatic transmissions can engine brake to scrub speed. This is done by shifting to a lower gear, keeping the engine revs at a high, and naturally letting the speed drop.

For automatic transmissions, this can be done by going down one range at a time until the last gear.

As for manual transmissions, downshift one gear at a time slowly feeling the car slow. Doing rapid downshifts on a manual car could cause you to lose control due to the vehicle possibly jerking. As a last resort, one can downshift into first gear on manual cars and just blow the engine in hopes of quick scrubbing speed to stop the vehicle.

Lastly, one can use the surroundings to slow the vehicle down. If all else fails, brushing the car up against a guard rail or a cement divider can slow the vehicle down. Gravel and dirt can also slow your vehicle down, but can also cause you to lose control. When attempting to do so, approach the dirt or gravel at a smooth pace instead of aggressively going into it. 

As always, think ahead and clearly. Try to use a combination of these steps mentioned to help slow the vehicle down. Different scenarios require different solutions, so decide which one would be best suited for your situation.

What you shouldn't do

Brake failure: What you should and shouldn't do

Apart from non-functioning brakes, the last thing you'd wanna lose control of is steering. That said, one of the things that should never be done when you lose your brakes is turning off the engine. Not only will the car continue coasting, but it will lock up the steering wheel, causing you to lose any control of the vehicle. Locking up the steering wheel would also result to the vehicle going in only one direction as to where the wheels locked up.

Brake failure: What you should and shouldn't do

As mentioned earlier, using the hand brakes can help slow down the vehicle if done properly. What shouldn't be done is pulling on the parking brake fully. Doing so can cause the car to spin and hit others in your surrounding. Being in a state of panic, one can easily make this mistake. Which is why before attempting to use the hand brake to slow the car down, one should try to calm down and focus on what to do.

Brake failure: What you should and shouldn't do

To sum it up, brake failure is a situation no one wants to be in. However, nothing is ever certain in life. Even with proper maintainance and constant check ups, brakes can fail, and they do. Furthermore, having upgraded brakes will not ensure that they will no longer fail, as even race cars with high-end brakes suffer brake failure. Unlike a race track, public roads do not have sand traps or run offs to stop you. What's important is to stay calm and try out which techniques would be applicable in stopping the car safely. If a crash in inevitable, try not to involve others with you.