How to Stop a Car When Brakes Fail

March 2, 2021

On top of the defensive driving techniques, you also should prepare for other unknowns when driving. You may find yourself in an unfortunate situation where your brakes are not working. There are safeguards in place to help know how to stop a car when brakes fail which can bring your car to a complete stop safely and effectively.

Should you find yourself in that situation, follow these steps:

1. Stay Calm

Your immediate reaction would likely be to panic and freak out when you push your brakes only to realize they are not working. If you are the praying type, you may hurriedly mumble your last prayer and wish you had enough time to write your will if you had not.

But, you should stay calm as though nothing serious has just happened. You will only remember what you should do next if you remain calm. So much is at stake in this critical moment and whatever will follow depends entirely on how calm you are.

Your brain can only function properly if you are clear-headed. Of course, by being calm we do not mean you delay your much-needed efforts to save the situation.

2. Put Your Hazards On

How to stop a car when brakes fail

Putting the hazards on lets other road users know that something is wrong with your car or are experiencing some vehicle difficulty. Drivers who see your hazards on will give you some extra space. The extra space can be handy when you are bringing your car to a stop now that your brakes have failed.

Apart from turning on your hazards, you can also honk your own. Honking can especially alert the pedestrians many of who usually have no time for the hazard lights when walking on the sidewalk.

3. Downshift To A Lower Gear

If you are driving a manual car, it is easy to downshift. You should downshift to a lower gear and then release the clutch. That will considerably slow the vehicle.

However, if you are driving an automatic car, there are a few different options because they use the gear selector. The selector invariably gear has a second and first gear. You should shift to “L,” which stands for Lower.

Whichever the car model, ensure you downshift into an appropriate gear for your engine and vehicle speed. You can damage your engine if you shift into a low gear.

If you are not in immediate danger of hitting something, you should downshift slowly so that your car gradually slows down. That’s why it pays not to panic.

4. Pump Your Brakes

How to stop a car when brakes fail

You should pump your brakes; there are times the brakes have suddenly worked after they are pumped. Brakes can partially fail, meaning they can still work. They will not function fully but will still be able to slow you down.

If you have regular brakes, pump hard and fast to build up the brake fluid pressure. To test if you any pressure now, press the brakes down to the floor.

5. Use Your Emergency Brake

Your last resort to bring the car to a stop is to use your emergency brake. You should hold the emergency brake, press the top button, and then slowly bring up the lever.

If you grab the emergency brake and pull it up suddenly at once, the car will likely skid to a stop, and you may lose control completely.

If you slowly apply the emergency brake, bringing it up gradually, the car will come to a slow and smooth stop. Once the vehicle has stopped, release the emergency in an engaged position to keep it contained. If the car stops and you take the emergency brake down, the car will keep going again.

What Are The Things Not To Do When The Brakes Fail?

  • When the brakes fail, do not turn your car engine off because you will lose your steering power, yet you need to steer the car to a safe stop. After the brakes have failed, all you have left is the steering. You do not want to lose that power of control too. With the engine running, the steering will be on. Actually, even drivers who know this simple fact have turned the engine off out of confusion and panic when the brakes fail. That is one reason why you should stay calm.
  • Do not steer too much. All you should aim to do is to steer out of obstacles as the car gradually slows down. You may have to head towards the guardrail and slightly rub the car’s side against it to slow the car using the friction.

If the coast is clear, do what anyone else will do in the first place: safely pull over to the roadside.

  • After the car has stopped, do not try driving it again. Get out of the vehicle and contact a nearby mechanic to fix the problem. It doesn’t matter how close you are to your house or wherever you were going. Talking of mechanics, you should have your brakes regularly checked by a mechanic. Air usually gets into a car’s brake lines over time, so do not wait until the day they fail before looking for a mechanic. Brakes are critical car parts that should always be up to standard.


The worst you can ever do when the brakes fail is to throw in the towel without as much as trying to save the situation. When you decide to become a driver, always be prepared anytime to handle critical situations like when the brakes fail. As we have already said and worth repeating, do not panic; courage is all you have left between you and the next few seconds.

At Pierre Paul Driving School, Brooklyn, New York City, we equip our driving students with all the necessary skills they require to drive safely when things are well. We also teach them how to manage different situations when things get out of hand. As you have noted, there is more to driving than cramming the traffic rules and steering.

Do you want to learn to drive? Reach out to us today. If you have a busy schedule and do not have the time for classroom lessons, we now have DMV-approved online classes to cater to your needs.