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What Should You Do When Your Brakes Fail?

You slam your foot on the brake pedal so that it’s all the way down to the floor, but nothing happens. What do you do now?

Most drivers hope that it will never happen to them. However, brake failures are surprisingly common. They make up 5% of car accident causes, usually resulting in drivers heading straight up the back of other vehicles. Depending on the speed this can be deadly.


Fortunately, even when the brakes give in, you can still come to a stop safely, and here’s how…

Select a lower gear

You can usually force your car to slow down by selecting a lower gear. If you’re in a high gear on a fast moving road, put your hazards on first and move to the outer lane – then start selecting lower gears letting the car slow down naturally as much as it can before selecting the next lowest gear.

Pump the brakes

Whilst gearing down, try pushing your foot down on the brake a few more times. The brakes may not be completely broken and you may be able to build up enough brake fluid pressure to finally get them to work. Usually if they’re still not working after three or four pumps, it’s a good sign that they’re completely broken. In such situations, you’re best applying the handbrake – this is not ideal and you should be prepared for the car to skid, however it will bring you to a halt.

At high speeds, you may have to physically slow yourself down using a guard rail

Slowing down at high speed without brakes is no easy task and you may have to use the guard rail at the side of the road to help slow you down. Take a very shallow angle and start brushing against it and your car will naturally slow down. These rails are built to take impact at the wheels and won’t damage the bodywork. Alternative ways of slowing down could be to use a neighbouring field, especially if it’s sloping up hill, however this should be a last resort as hitting rough terrain at high speed could be unpredictable.

Warn other drivers and pedestrians

It’s important to warn others of your presence in every possible way from using hazard lights to using your horn. This will tell them to keep their distance and avoid them getting involved in an accident. Without signals, drivers and pedestrians may respond erratically and make life harder for you.

How to prevent brake failure

The best way of never getting in this situation is to frequently check and service your brakes. A lack of brake fluid or indeed a brake fluid fault is one of the most common causes. The likes of the Brake Fluid Tester Dot 3 can help you to check that your brake fluid is a healthy dilution whenever you refill it. Meanwhile, you should always check that the brake fluid you’re using is right for your vehicle.

Know the signs of the problem before they happen. Sounds such as screeching brakes or smells such as burning from the tires can be clear indications of a problem – most likely worn brake pads. As for your pedal, this should never feel spongy and springy as it could be a sign that the pedal or brakes are wearing. Sites like Euro Car Parts can supply new pedals for cheap – make sure that a professional still gets these parts fitted.

You should also never ignore a brake warning light. The moment this light comes on, test your brakes if safe to do so and then proceed to your nearby repair centre to diagnose the problem.

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