What to Do If Your Brakes Stop Working

There are few things more important to your driving safety than your brakes. So, there are few things more frightening than finding out that your brakes do not work while you’re driving. While brake failure will almost inevitably lead to some type of accident damage, you can increase the likelihood that you can walk away and that your car can be restored by knowing what to do.

Once you recognize that your brakes are not responding, your priority is to safely exit traffic and come to a stop. To help you do so:

  1. Warn other drivers that your vehicle is impaired:
  • Turn on your hazard lights
  • Honk your horn
  1. Shift your vehicle to a lower gear. In a standard, you can downshift immediately to the next lower gear and continue to downshift as your vehicle loses speed. In an automatic, downshift into second gear (likely the only lower gear option you have available). Your engine will rev, but don’t let the noise scare you—you won’t do any permanent damage to your engine.
  2. Carefully steer your vehicle out of the path of traffic—i.e., toward the shoulder or exit ramp if on the highway. As your vehicle slows, you may be able to use barriers, like guard rails or ramp walls, to help slow you down. Gently turn your wheels so that the side of your vehicle makes rubbing contact (not crash impact) with the barrier.
  3. As your vehicle continues to decelerate, shift into neutral and gently apply the emergency brake.

Never attempt to turn your car off while it is still in motion. Turning off your car will completely disable your power steering, making it harder to get safely out of the flow of traffic.

The amount of time it will take for your vehicle to come to a complete stop will depend on the speed at which you were traveling when your brakes failed, road conditions and obstacles. As your car decelerates, you may continue to try/test your brakes.

In a vehicle with a standard (non-ABS) brake system, you can try pumping the brakes. The pulsing of the brake pedal can build up brake fluid pressure, which may restore brake function (at least enough to help you slow down more quickly).

In a vehicle with anti-lock brakes (ABS), pumping is unlikely to be very effective. However, if loss of brake fluid pressure was the problem, the electronic control systems may have detected it and shifted braking power to other wheels, allowing you to recover some braking capability.

Once your vehicle comes to a complete stop, under no circumstances should you attempt to drive it. Call a tow immediately and have them take your car to Quanz Auto Body for a full brake inspection and repair estimate. Our ASE-certified technicians have the experience and skills to handle brake systems on all makes and models. And, with Enterprise Rent-a-Car onsite, we can restore your mobility while your car’s in our shop.