stop a car without brakes
Imagine this. You’re exiting the freeway off that killer ramp-the one with the steep grade and the hairpin turn midway down. You smash on the brakes, and… nothing. You keep careening at 75 mph toward the guardrail, that broken length of floss that is the only thing between you and a 400-foot dive into a shallow lake full of fire-breathing alligators.
Okay, that scenario is a bit unlikely, but the fact is, brake failure can be a terrifying-and dangerous-experience no matter where it occurs. While automobile brakes rarely fail, every motorist should know what to do if it happens. Here’s control your car safely if the brakes come out.
1. Remain calm. It’s easier said than done, but a cool head is essential to safely control your vehicle.
2. Keep your eyes on the road and continue to steer. Pay attention to what’s in front of you, and maneuver to avoid heavy traffic, pedestrians, and dangerous obstacles. The one exception is if your brakes don’t work because something is stuck under the pedal. If that’s the case, you should try to remove the object with your foot, rather than bending down to get it.
3. Warn other drivers and pedestrians. Turn your hazard lights on, and honk your horn to make others aware that there is a problem. While they may not be able to figure out what the problem it is, a warning should cause most people to proceed with caution and pay attention to what your vehicle is doing.
4. Pump your brakes. Pumping your brakes several times may rebuild enough pressure in the braking system for you to stop. This may take a while, so keep trying. You should do this even if your car is equipped with ABS as the ABS is only activated when your car is braking too hard, which won’t be the problem if your brakes have failed.
5. Shift into low gear. If you have a manual transmission, downshift quickly. You may not be able to downshift directly into first or second gear at high speeds, but go into the lowest gear you can, and try to downshift again once the vehicle slows a bit. With a manual transmission you can possibly stop the car very quickly by slamming it into reverse; according to one report, it spins the drive wheels in reverse momentarily, then the entire transmission fell into the street as the car stopped! If you have an automatic transmission, shift into low range (generally labeled as “1” on the shifting mechanism). Again, if you can’t go directly into the lowest range, try gradually shifting down.
6. Use the emergency brake. The emergency brake, or “parking brake” can usually stop a vehicle, although it will take longer than usual to come to a stop. Apply the brake (depending on your vehicle this is done either by pulling up on the handle or pushing down on the pedal) slowly and steadily. If you pull up the brake quickly, your vehicle is liable to spin out of control.
7. Slow the vehicle however you can. If the above measures fail to stop you, or if you must stop very quickly, do whatever you can. Ideally, you could use a runaway truck ramp, but as these are not particularly common, you’ll probably have to improvise. Keep in mind, however, that these techniques can be very dangerous, especially at high speeds, and should only be used as a last resort.
Use friction to slow your vehicle. Driving through gravel or dirt (such as you might find right off the side of the road) can slow your vehicle considerably.
Use guardrails to slow your vehicle. Cement dividers are built pear-shaped so that contact is made with the wheels, not with the precious metal and paint of your automobile. Applying friction to the rubber on your wheels will slow the car considerably without harming other portions of your vehicle.
Use terrain to your advantage. Try to seek out inclines that you can go up.
Small trees and shrubbery will slow your vehicle when all else fails. Try to put your vehicle through the center of a line of shrubs or saplings, being careful not to pick a tree that is too heavy for your car to go through.
Hit the back of another car. While obviously not a first choice, it can slow your vehicle. If you’re going to do so, try to warn the driver in front of you by honking your horn. Try to strike a vehicle that is traveling at about the same speed as yours (hitting a slow-moving or parked car will stop you, but the deceleration will be quick and extreme) and attempt to make impact squarely on the back of the vehicle. Glancing blows will likely send both vehicles out of control.
8. Look for a safe spot to pull over (or to crash). Scan the road ahead for a safe area to pull over once you’re able to come to a stop. If you’re not able to bring the vehicle to a complete stop, look for open spaces that you can coast across without hitting anything.
If the safest spot to “crash land” your vehicle requires you to jump a curb, extra caution must be taken. Even with power steering, the cars’ initial reaction will be to rip the steering wheel from your hands, bounce from the curb and back into traffic. It is imperative that you grip the steering wheel in a firm manner and angle your car deep enough into the curb so that it will go up and over, yet shallow enough so that you don’t turn the car completely and lose control in a spin.