What to Do When Your Brakes Fail While Driving

Emergency braking refers to the sudden application of brakes to avoid an imminent collision or dangerous situation. It is a crucial maneuver that can prevent accidents and save lives. In cases when your brakes fail, this critical function becomes impossible, creating a potentially hazardous situation for you and others on the road.

Brake failure happens due to various reasons, such as low brake fluid, worn-out brake pads, or mechanical issues within the braking system. When you experience a complete failure of your brakes and need to engage in emergency braking, quick and decisive action is essential. Knowing how to handle this emergency can help you slow down safely and minimize the risk of an accident.

what to do if brakes fail while driving

Brake Failure: Steps to Avoid Accidents

Experiencing brake failure while driving can be one of the most terrifying situations on the road. While this scenario is rare, it’s crucial to know how to respond quickly and calmly to ensure your safety and the safety of others. Here’s a comprehensive guide on what to do if your brakes fail while driving in the Philippines or anywhere else.

Step 1. Stay Calm and Assess the Situation

The first and most important step is to stay calm. Panic can cloud your judgment and hinder your ability to manage the situation effectively. Take a deep breath and focus on the steps you need to take to bring your vehicle to a safe stop.

Step 2. Try the Brakes Again

In many modern vehicles, a dual braking system is in place, which means if one part fails, the other can still function. Apply strong, consistent pressure to the brake pedal. If you feel some resistance, it might be enough to slow down your vehicle gradually.

Step 3. Pump the Brake Pedal

If pressing the brakes doesn’t work, try pumping the brake pedal rapidly. This can help build up brake fluid pressure in some systems. However, if your vehicle is equipped with an anti-lock braking system (ABS), avoid pumping the brakes as this can interfere with the ABS function.

Step 4. Use the Emergency Brake

Engage the hand brake or parking brake slowly and steadily. This brake operates independently of the main hydraulic brake system and can help slow down your vehicle. If you have a manual hand brake, raise it gradually to avoid locking the wheels. For cars with electronic parking brakes, engage them by pulling the lever or pressing the button.

Step 5. Downshift to Lower Gears

Downshifting to a lower gear can help slow your vehicle using engine braking. If you drive a manual transmission, shift down through the gears progressively. For automatic transmissions, use the manual mode or paddle shifters if available, to shift to a lower gear.

Step 6. Warn Others

Use your horn, flash your headlights, and turn on your hazard lights to alert other drivers and pedestrians. This will help them understand that you are in an emergency situation and may need to maneuver unexpectedly.

Step 7. Steer to Safety

Carefully steer your vehicle towards the side of the road or the shoulder. Avoid swerving suddenly to prevent losing control. If you are on a highway, try to move to the rightmost lane. If necessary, you may gently brush against barriers to slow down your vehicle further.

Step 8. Do Not Turn Off the Engine

While it might seem like a good idea to turn off the engine, doing so can disable power steering and make the vehicle harder to control. Keep the engine running until you have come to a complete stop.

Step 9. Call for Help

Once your vehicle is safely stopped, turn on your hazard lights and call for assistance. Contact a tow service or roadside assistance to get your vehicle to a repair shop.

Step 10. Get Your Brakes Inspected

Before driving again, have your brakes thoroughly inspected by a professional mechanic. Ensure that any necessary repairs are made to prevent future brake failures.

Tips to Prevent Brake Failure

Maintaining your vehicle’s brakes is essential for ensuring your safety on the road. Here are some key tips to help prevent brake failure and keep your braking system in top condition

  • Regular Brake Inspections

Schedule routine brake inspections with a professional mechanic to ensure all components are in good working order.

  • Check Brake Fluid Levels

Regularly check and maintain the brake fluid level. Low brake fluid can indicate a leak or worn brake pads.

  • Monitor Brake Pad Wear

Inspect brake pads for wear and replace them if they are too thin. Worn-out brake pads can lead to brake failure.

  • Keep Brake Lines Clean

Ensure that brake lines are free from dirt and debris. Contaminants can block fluid flow and reduce braking efficiency.

  • Pay Attention to Warning Signs

Be alert to any unusual noises, such as squealing or grinding, when braking. These can indicate potential brake issues.

  • Avoid Overloading Your Vehicle

Do not exceed the recommended load capacity of your vehicle, as overloading can put excessive strain on the braking system.

  • Replace Brake Components as Needed

Replace brake rotors, calipers, and other components when they show signs of wear or damage.

  • Check for Leaks

Regularly inspect the brake system for fluid leaks, particularly around the master cylinder, brake lines, and calipers.

  • Use the Correct Brake Fluid

Always use the type of brake fluid specified by your vehicle’s manufacturer.

  • Avoid Aggressive Driving

Drive smoothly and avoid sudden, hard braking whenever possible to extend the life of your brake system.

  • Flush Brake Fluid Regularly

Follow your vehicle’s maintenance schedule for brake fluid replacement. Old brake fluid can absorb moisture and reduce braking performance.

  • Ensure Proper Brake Caliper Operation

Make sure that brake calipers are functioning correctly and not sticking, which can cause uneven brake wear and overheating.

  • Listen for ABS System Alerts

Pay attention to any alerts or warning lights related to the anti-lock braking system (ABS) and address them promptly.

  • Use Quality Brake Parts

Invest in high-quality brake parts and components to ensure reliability and longevity.

By following these preventive measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of brake failure and ensure your vehicle’s braking system remains in optimal condition.

Video: How to Survive a Motorcycle Brake Failure

For information on how you would survive a brake failure while driving a motorcycle, this video from Manibela Academy should help:


While brake failure is a rare occurrence, knowing how to react can make a significant difference in maintaining your safety and that of others on the road. Regular vehicle maintenance and brake inspections are essential in preventing such incidents. By understanding and preparing for this emergency, you can drive with greater confidence in your car, knowing that it is equipped to handle one of the most frightening situations a driver can ever face on the road.

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