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How to Handle Brake Failure


Size up the traffic situation and base your decisions on the whereabouts of other vehicles, intersections or steep hills.


Look for a safe place to steer your car and quickly downshift to low gear (this applies to both manual and automatic transmissions).


Build up your brake pressure by pumping the brake pedal fast and firmly. It should take three or four pumps to get the brakes to work. Don't pump anti-lock brakes -- press down hard on them instead and plan on taking longer to stop. It is normal to feel pulsation at the brake pedal if you have anti-lock brakes.


Use your parking brake if the pumping solution is ineffective or not recommended. Release it quickly if the car starts to skid.


Don't forget to steer. Swerve only if it's absolutely necessary -- doing so can cause you to lose control of the car.


Throw your car into reverse if all else fails. Note that this can cause serious damage to your transmission.

Tips and Warnings

  • Sounding your horn and flashing your headlights will warn other motorists.
  • Turn on your emergency flashers once you've come to a complete stop.
  • Try to remain calm - panicking can cause you to make mistakes.
  • Use a cell phone to call for roadside assistance if your brakes continue to fail. Wait in your car or another safe place until help arrives.
  • Get your brakes and brake hoses checked every 6 months.
  • A not uncommon cause of inability to brake is a soda bottle or ball rolling under the pedal: clean out under your seat!
  • If you have anti-lock brakes, do not pump them. Autos sold in the United States must contain fail-safe brake systems. If you have problems with your anti-lock brakes, simply press down hard and plan on waiting longer to stop.
  • Do not drive for any long period of time with the brake light on. Add brake fluid and go see your mechanic.

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