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What to do if your brakes fail while driving

Updated on January 2, 2013

This guide will help you understand some important procedures to take if your brakes fail whilst you are driving. This might just save your life.

Brake Failure

If, under normal driving conditions, your braks fail (for example: whilst slowing down at traffic lights) you should still be able to slow down and stop safely if you act quickly.

  • The first thing you can do to try and stop is to apply the handbrake smoothly, whilst at the same time pumping the footbrake pedal. This can cause the hydraulic pressure to be restored to the main braking system.
  • At the same time, keep a firm grip on the steering wheel, as applying the handbrake may cause the rear wheels causing the back of the car to slide sideways. If this does happen, and the rear wheels lock, ease of on the handbrake.
  • As the car slows, progressively change down the through the gears, using the engine to help in the slowing process as you engage the lower gears
  • If you find you are not slowing enough to avoid an accident, the next best thing is to quickly assess your surrounding and if possible, steer your car safely up a slope or bank, or along a hedge or fence (but not directly into it)

Handbrake Failure

If your handbrake where to fail whilst you are on your way up a steep hill, moving a stationary vehicle again without rolling back can be difficult. However, it is possible - using the "heel and toe" technique;

  • Depress the footbrake with your toe and swivel your foot so that the heel can be used to depress the accelerator
  • At the same time, select first gear and use your other foot to let in the clutch. As the car moves forward, remove your toe from the brake and accelerate normally.

Check your brakes!

Weekly checks on your vehicles car braking system should decrease the chance of brake failure, which is relatively rare nowadays.

Leakage in the hydraulic system causing a loss of brake fluid is the most common cause of brake failure. Check the fluid level in the master cylinder reservoir (usually located near the bulkhead of the engine compartment). It is especially important to check this before long journeys.

Take your car to a garage immediately if you find the fluid level has dropped. It could just save your life.


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