What to Do if Your Brakes Fail

What would you do if your brakes had to fail while you were driving? We have set out a practical guideline of what to do if this happens.
Sherryn de Vos
2017-04-06
Imagine the scene. You are driving to work as you usually do. You are minding your own business and then suddenly, you feel like something is wrong with your car. The brakes are not working the way they should or have failed completely. Your first reaction is to naturally panic, but we thought we would help you out with a practical step by step guide of what to do in case this happens.
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Step One

This may sound obvious, but the first thing to do is take your foot off the accelerator and take off cruise control if it is on. Put your foot on the clutch and start pumping the brakes up and down with your right foot. Also, try and take note of how the brake feels. If it feels soft and can go all the way to the floor, it may be a problem with low brake fluids, a faulty master cylinder or problems with the drums or callipers. If it feels hard, however, it may be your brake system seizing or there could be an obstruction under the pedal. Put on your emergency lights as soon as possible and start warning drivers around you that you are in trouble. Try and open all windows. This could also slow the car down.

Step Two

Keep pumping the brakes. This may create enough pressure for the brakes to start slowing and possibly stop the car. ABS will only kick in if you are braking hard, so keep squeezing the pedal to the floor as quickly as possible.
READ MORE about how to cope in stressful breakdown situations below

Step Three

If you are driving a manual car, start shifting the gear into the lowest possible. Naturally, your clutch will be in, so start going through one gear at a time. Make sure to do this slowly as a rapid change to first or second could mean you could lose control.

Step Four

Use your emergency brake. Once again, we do not suggest yanking it up, but rather pulling it up slowly. Pulling it up too quickly could cause the tires to lock up and you could lose control of the car. Squeeze the button in and do it as slowly as possible. It needs to be noted here that there probably will be some squealing of the tires, this doesn’t mean you have locked them. If you feel like you have locked the tires, release the pressure a bit and hold it there for a while.

Step Five

If you can, try and move your car into the furthest lane left to get out of the traffic. If it allows you, and there are no cars around you, try and veer your car in and out of the lane. ONLY do this if you are not putting yourself and others around you in danger. The movement of the car will start slowing the car down. Don’t do this too fast either, you don’t want to lose control of the car.

Step Six

If you can, try and drive your car into something that will slow it down. Now, we are not talking about a tree here or the nearest bridge. That wouldn’t end well. If on the side of the road, there is gravel or grass, try and take your car onto that surface. It will create friction and the car will be slowed down. Seek out an incline, if possible as that will be ideal to slow the car. Also, in the case of extreme emergencies, use the guard rails and cement barriers to try and slow your car. Don’t drive head first into them, rather try and ease the side of your car into it. They are mostly pear-shaped to withstand the car’s body and not blow out the tyres. You will lose your paintwork, but not your life.