1. Gradually deploy your parking brake (hand brake):
In case of a brake failure, the first thing one should do is try their best to not panic and take calculated steps. While it is now clear that your primary braking system has failed, you still have your parking brake (hand brake) which is mechanical in most cars and one can gradually engage to bring the vehicle to crawling speeds before stopping. However, many modern cars have electronic parking brakes these days which will not engage in a moving vehicle. What to do then?
2. Pump your brakes to generate hydraulic pressure:
One can try and repeatedly pump the brakes not erratically but in full to and fro motion. What this process can hopefully achieve is that it can build some residual pressure in the hydraulic system and slow down the car. If you start feeling some pressure coming back to the pedal, gradually press the pedal to maintain the pressure until you come to a complete stop.
3. Down shift and utilise engine braking:
We’ve all felt that jerk when the driver inadvertently shifts down a gear too soon. This happens when the wheel speed is higher than the engine speed in the lower gear. It’s called engine braking and can act as a lifesaver in the event of a brake failure. Downshifting gradually from higher gears to lower ones will help the car slow down and give better control to the driver as it will restrict free forward motion. Refrain from downshifting gears too quickly as that could potentially send the car into an out-of-control skid. Use the engine braking to slow down and go into neutral for a complete halt.
However, what about those who are driving automatics? If you are driving an automatic, then you can simply take your foot off the gas pedal which will start a sequence of downshifts as the car loses momentum. Some automatic cars even have paddle shifters that can be used to downshift at will.
4. Do not turn off your vehicle unless you have achieved a complete stop!
One might think that in such a situation, switching off the engine will help win half the battle. However, they would be wrong as it can double your problems. Switching off the ignition will also cut power to your power steering, it will negate any engine braking opportunity you had, or worse, the vehicle’s steering could get locked.
5. Worst case scenario! Drive into the least hazardous obstacle
If nothing has worked or you simply do not have time to carry out the above-mentioned procedures, drive into the least hazardous obstacle present in front of you. ‘Least hazardous’ applies to both you and the pedestrians that might be on the road. Look for an empty patch of land, a group of thick bushes or walls to scrape against on the side and come to a halt. Use your presence of mind and most importantly STAY CALM! Take calculated steps.
Prevention is better than cure:
We hope no motorist ever has to face a brake failure situation ever, however, preventing a brake failure is more important than mitigating one. One needs to ensure that the brake pads, rotors and other brake system peripherals and wear and tear parts are in top-notch health before they get on the roads. Having your brake’s master cylinder inspected during every scheduled service is another crucial step. If your vehicle triggers the ABS alert light, or your brakes have started feeling spongy then you have a potential failure on hand. Leaking brake fluid lines, damaged seals and uneven brake pad wear are a few of the factors that one needs to watch out for. These are also factors that can only be identified by trained mechanics. So stay aware and stay safe.