How to Stop Your Car if the Brakes Fail

We’ve all seen the movies where the bad guy cuts the hero’s brake lines. What ensues are some crazy action scenes where the hero not only manages to stop a car with no brakes in rush hour traffic, but they do so without hitting a single pedestrian, kitten, or hapless puppy. 

While the tricks they use in the movies might look totally spectacular and leave you with a strong desire to drive like you’re in a Fast and Furious movie, that’s not exactly a good idea. While some movies might have a grain of truth about what to do regarding car safety, most do not. Here’s what you should do instead if you find yourself in a situation where your car has no brakes. 

Don’t panic if your brakes fail

The brake and gas pedals attached to carpet upholstery under the driver's seat
Brake and Gas Pedals | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The first step in any emergency is not to panic. Next, Allstate recommends you try your brakes again to check if they haven’t totally gone out. If this doesn’t work, you need to engage the emergency brake carefully

Another method you can try is to downshift into another gear. In a manual vehicle, you do this by working your way through the gears. If you have an automatic vehicle, taking your foot off the accelerator will do the trick.

While you’re going through these steps, try to get off the road. In most movies, it seems like the hero chooses the busiest streets to keep moving. It would be best if you did the opposite by getting completely off the road. However, this may not always be possible. If you find yourself in a situation where you can’t get off the road, try hitting a barrier. This means your car will most likely be totaled, but you’ll live to buy another one.

Once you start to slow down, it might make sense to turn the car off. Don’t do this. You need to keep your car running until you’ve come to a complete stop. Turning off the vehicle also cuts off its power steering, which means you will lose control over where you’re headed. 

Once you’re out of the vehicle safely, don’t try to drive it again. Have it taken to a mechanic who can find and fix the problem.

Know what brakes are on your car

While many of us aren’t exactly car experts, there are a few things it’s just a good idea to know. One of them is what types of brakes you have, according to Defensive Driving. So how do you know what brakes you have without pulling out your car manual? Just look for a logo that lights up with ABS when you crank up your car. If you see this, you have anti-lock brakes. Otherwise, you have regular brakes.

So, why does this matter, exactly? If you have regular brakes instead of anti-lock brakes, you need to pump the brake pedal fast after you downshift to a lower gear. This will help build up the brake fluid. 

wikiHow goes into more detail on brakes

The site wikiHow is often the go-to place for a wide variety of tips and how-to guides. For instructions on what to do when driving a car with no brakes, the site had some surprising tips.

One suggestion is to roll all the windows down. The idea is that this will increase air resistance, which will help slow down your vehicle.

The next option is to go uphill, as opposed to down. Anyone who has ever lived in an area with mountains knows you have to apply more pressure to the gas pedal to go up. Let off the gas, and you might start to slow down and roll backward. The one downside to this is if the hill you’re going up has a building at the top, you may not be able to stop in time. With that in mind, it’s recommended you not head uphill unless you know what’s at the top.

One final tip from the site is to avoid shifting to park in an automatic while the car is moving. The parking pawl is not designed to support a moving car, so you’ll end up doing a lot of damage to your car without stopping it.

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