How To Deal With Failed Brakes When Driving

Last Updated: 10/05/2022

There are few more worrying incidents to occur when you’re behind the wheel of a car than having your brakes fail.

The sudden loss of control can be terrifying and you’re instantly thrust into a situation in which you need to find a way to bring your vehicle to a stop safely and in a safe position on the road.

While having your brakes fail may seem a catastrophic failure, there are other ways in which you can slow the car down and safely stop it, depending on the circumstances.

Whether you need to stop suddenly, for example in traffic, or you need to bring your vehicle to a gradual and controlled stop on a quiet road, there are different methods in which to do it.

At all times, you need to remain calm and keep the safety of yourselves and other road users at the front of your mind.

While a brake failure would certainly be mitigating circumstances in any accident caused by a brake failure, the steps and actions you took would also be reviewed.

If your actions were deemed dangerous then you may end up in trouble.

Therefore, you should take the time to learn and familiarise yourself with what the best practice would be in the event of suffering a brake failure.

What You Will Learn

This guide has been put together to educate you on the best steps to take if you suffer a brake failure when driving your car.

Our step-by-step guide will give you a list of different methods you can use to bring your car to a stop in the event of losing the ability to brake conventionally.

To make sure we stay consistent with our other guides, we have split this up in to the following sections:

  • Step-By-Step Guide
  • Video Demonstration
  • Hints and tips
  • Useful information
  • Final Thoughts
  • Further Resources

Step-By-Step Guide

If you suffer a brake failure when driving then remain as calm as possible and follow these steps:

  • Your first action should always be to remove your foot from the accelerator, if it is not already.
  • Ensure your cruise control function is turned off, if your car has it fitted.
  • Next, shift down to a lower gear. This helps increase the revs and force the car to slow down without the use of brakes. If you have a lot of stopping room, then this is the best method to gradually and safely stop the car – the cycle down through the gears gradually.
  • If you need to stop suddenly, or you’re not slowing quickly enough using gears, you can try to use your handbrake. Beware, this can cause your car to skid, so, once you have applied the handbrake, be ready to take it back off if you begin to lose elements of control of your car. You will know whether the handbrake is going to work for you or not.
  • If you’re on the motorway or dual carriageway, move over to the slow lane or the hard shoulder as soon as you notice you have a braking issue. Stopping the vehicle on the hard shoulder is the aim – so getting into that lane safely should be a priority.
  • Check for obstructions around the brake pedal in case there is something preventing it from being pressed down properly. Coffee cups, rubbish and other debris could fall beneath the brake pedal making it impossible to properly operate. This is dangerous and so once you have successfully brought the car to a safe stop, check in the driver’s footwell for possible obstructions.
  • Put your hazards on – Once you have pulled over safely, it’s important to put your hazards on to warn other motorists that there is a stationary vehicle by the road.
  • If you’re still not able to stop your car and you need to bring it to a halt, then now is the time to aim for something to help slow you down. If you need to hit something, then aim for something as soft as possible. Read our hints and tips section below for more information on this.
  • Call your breakdown service – this is a vital step because once you have stopped your car, you should not drive it again. Instead, call your breakdown service and have them recover the car so that it can be taken for repair.

Video Demonstration

Hints & Tips

There is no doubt that a brake failure when driving can be incredibly stressful and scary.

Your aim is to safely stop your vehicle as soon as possible.

If nothing is working to slow your car down then using an object to help slow the car down is the next course of action.

A kerb or crash barrier is useful for helping to slow the car down.

To do this, you need to drive alongside it and ease the car against it gradually and at a very slight angle.

Hitting it too directly can cause significant damage as well as a further accident.

Obviously larger items such as crash barriers will cause damage to the car and have an increased chance of causing injury to yourself and any passengers, so always look for smaller structures that will minimise risks to all involved.

Also, you should never hit an object head-on when you’re looking to slow the car down.

Gradually pull alongside, as we’ve described above.

Even hitting a straw bale head-on, for example, could cause injury, trigger airbags and other such events.

Useful Information

Once you have managed to stop your car safely, your mind will probably still be racing and the adrenaline pumping.

You’re not finished yet, however.

With your car successfully pulled over at the side of the road, you should now put into action steps for dealing with a breakdown.

We have written a guide all about it, so familiarise yourself with this now so that you know what to do should you ever break down while out driving your car.

Final Thoughts

Reading up about how to deal with situations such as brake failures is really useful when it comes to dealing with them when they arise for real.

While practising for a brake failure is not practical, preparing by reading articles like this and watching video demonstrations is helpful.

Further Resources