How Brake Failure Works

By: Chris Marlowe  | 

How to Handle Brake Failure

Complete brake failure in modern vehicles is rare, but it can happen. This can be the result of a defective brake system from the manufacturer, so pay attention to recall notices. Total brake failure could also occur if all the brake fluid has leaked out. Fortunately, most of us would notice either a leak or a sound before that happened.

Perhaps the most important action a driver can take when the brakes fail is to remain calm. Panicking doesn't help. The next step— the first action step— is to lift the foot from the accelerator. Notice the flow of traffic and any obstacles or pedestrians, and look for a place to pull over safely. Then try downshifting to a lower gear, whether your vehicle is an automatic or a standard. This is called engine braking. As the vehicle slows down, keep shifting to lower gears.


Once the vehicle is moving at 30 mph or less, you can try engaging the parking brake. Because it is a separate system from the regular brakes, it should still work.

As a final resort, put the car in reverse. But remember, this could destroy the car, so never use it as a first response.

Try to maneuver the car off the road if possible as you come to a complete stop. Turn your hazards on and call or wait for help.

We've discussed dealing with break failure in your car, but what if more than your car is involved? What if your brakes fail while you're towing something? Read on to find out.