The New Drivers Crash Course in Driving: What to Do If Your Brakes Go Out

When I was younger my car was in the shop and I had to borrow my Dad’s old truck to get to work. As I was driving down the road the light ahead turned red, and I pushed on my brakes and nothing happened – I pushed them down all the way to the floor and still nothing. I panicked! I had enough sense to turn right and thankfully no cars were coming and I was able to guide it until it stopped on its on without incident – but I will never forget the fear that overwhelmed me when I couldn’t stop the truck.

There was never anything in drivers ed, or even what my parents had taught me to prepare me. It never came up – I guess no one thought it would ever happen; but it did , and it could. So here’s a good crash course (no pun intended) in driving for new drivers (and drivers who may just not know) what to do if your brakes go out.

This post is sponsored by Reedman-Toll Subaru.

Don’t Panic. I know that’s easier said than done; but panicking could possibly make things worse. It’s for your safety – and others – to remain calm so you can have a clear head on what to do next.

Try the Brakes – one more time. Your car probably has a dual braking system which controls the front and back brakes separately. In order to not to be able to stop at all, both brake systems would have to lose all braking power. (which can happen, obviously). But if it’s only one set of the brakes, being able to at least use one of them – at least you’d have some braking power. Apply strong and consistent pressure to the pedal to see if you can stop the car (or at least slow it down significantly).

Engage Emergency Brake. This is one thing for some reason I didn’t think of – emergency brakes are there for exactly that – an emergency. Engage the emergency brake to help your vehicle stop; though it won’t stop as quickly or suddenly as your regular braking system, at least it will get you stopped and hopefully to safety.

Downshift.  Keeping your foot off the accelerator and down shifting so that the engine can help slow the car down; whether you are in an automatic or manual.
If you have a manual transmission, work your way down through the gears to slow the car down.
If you have an automatic transmission, taking your foot off the accelerator should cause your car to shift to lower gears as it slows down. Now if you have a newer car some of those transmissions allow you to drive manually as well. You would have to use the paddle shifter (if your car has it) which are levers on the steering wheel of cars or put your transmission in manual mode and switch to the lowest gear.

Safely Get Off the Road.  Look for the safest opportunity to get off the road; If you are on the high way or on a road with multiple lanes, get over to the right as far as possible. Use your turn signal and hazard lights to signal to other drivers you are in distress. Hopefully you can get over into the ‘break down lane’ or over onto a side street/exit/ grass/ etc and get yourself off the road where other drivers are coming. 

Don’t Turn Your Car Off. Though this may sound like a good idea, when you turn off your car most of the time you are also turning off the power steering which is going to make it a lot harder to steer your vehicle off the road. Not to mention the steering wheel could lock up completely. Keep the car running until you are at a complete stop.

Get it Towed and Checked Out. Even if they just locked up, it’s not worth driving again to ‘find out’. Call a tow truck and have it towed to a trusted mechanic who can check out your brakes for you and get you back into running (and stopping) shape! 


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