Monday, 11 February 2013

No Brakes

Imagine you’re negotiating a dangerous bend a few hundred metres going downhill steep. You try to apply your brakes and... Nothing happens.
You try to scream, "Mayday! Mayday! I'm going down with this car!"

Going at speed of 75 mph, you brace yourself for a potentially life threatening moments…What to do next? The driving instructor did not teach you this lesson at Driving School. Just don’t panic, that's easier said than done.

Okay, that scenario might not unlikely happened to all driver, but the fact is that brake failure is a terrifying and dangerous if you don’t know how to react with a follow up what to do.

My friend, Yeo Kim Hoe recalls he encountered a close shave with accident when his brake failed to get any response while driving one day.

Before it happened, he sent his car for inspection at a garage he trusted for many years. His foreman recommended his brakes were in need of repair, brake pads likely worn out. It is necessary to follow up by brake bleeding.
Brake system bleeding is to remove the old fluid and replaced with new fluid, which is necessary important  part of your vehicle's maintenance schedule.

After servicing his brake he drove to Seremban from Mantin. YKH says, "I was driving down this hill and suddenly when I tried to brake, I couldn’t!"

Don't panic! Overreacting to this situation will only make it more dangerous but only if you have the know how. First thing he did was to hit the hazard warning light to alert others drivers he's in trouble.

At low speed you have to start change to low gear and engaged the emergency hand brakes gradually 

Never pull all the way back your emergency brakes else your car will spin
He's in deep shit when when he desperately tried to pump the brakes several times but no reaction. He then remembered to use the emergency brake to stop and swerved to the left of the roadside, the front tyre safe by a roadside drain pipe from falling into a drain.


He sends back his car to the same workshop, this time the foreman change the brake master cylinder and reassure him says, “I’m confident you don’t have any more problem, I test drive your car by myself”.

YKH drove his car from hillside trunk road of Mantin to Seremban, while he going downhill he applied his brakes but does not react. Fortunately, he found dirt road by the side and use the emergency brake to swerve on the left.
Driving on loose gravel and dirt roads slow down speed

Do you think he will look somewhere for a mechanic? No, he will drive back to Mantin with no front brakes, just the Hazard warning light as a warning to other road users.  What foolish thing he did because the first thing he ought to do is to look for a nearby mechanic instead of continuing.

Anyway, when the mechanic saw him drive to his workshop again, he would scratch the back of his head, you again? The hell you say! You assure me there's going to be no trouble!

The mechanic having many years of experience in the industry, finally met with his Waterloo. He even beginning to doubt himself whether he knows how to repair car anymore. Probably still have air in his brake line somewhere.

After extensively searching searching the faults, he changed the brake pipes as a last alternative .

So far so good, the car has been tested on the road for 2 hours, you can be sure the problems have finally settled.

Sometimes it's difficult to find answers when troubleshooting auto problems, even for highly experienced mechanic.
Troubleshooting your car's braking system is not always easy to do. Each part of the system must be in good condition for it to work correctly. Bleeding brake fluid  is critical to your vehicle's ability to stop, it must be perform its task properly.

Take as an example, I face problems with my van stopped all of the sudden while driving.
Initially the mechanic suspect the dirty carburetor is the problem, he cleaned the carburetor several times and also replaced the fuel filter.
Alas, I suspect it got something to do with the car alarm. Indeed, as before the problem happen I took my van into the workshop to change the brake oil, it must have drip into the car alarm wiring. Subsequently, I got it fixed wiring at a car accessories shop, the problem stopped occurring afterwards. After I have suffered so much anxiety and panic moments, the ordeal is finally over.

To stop a car if the brakes suddenly fail the following steps experts recommends:

1.Shift into lower gear

Change your gear by shifting into lower gear gradually at a time.   You must not downshift too fast as you may risk a skid.

Never shut off/down the car engine to stop because this loses your power steering control and never put your car in Neutral mode as this will lose your engine braking effect.

2. Apply the Emergency brake (Parking brake)

The emergency brake can do the job to put your car to a stop but this will take longer distance because it only brakes the rear wheel tyres. Apply the Emergency brake  by pulling up the handle gently few clicks steadily without applied too hard (depend on the type of car how it’s done)– this prevent you from loses your control and put your car in a spin.

3. Steer zigzag pattern

If you have enough room on either side of you, steer sharply from side-to-side like a zigzag pattern. Turning in this way creates friction, which help slows your car naturally. Please do not do this at high speeds. Turning at high speeds at a sharp movement may overturn your car and, so beware!

3. Keep left/right- Which side of the road do they drive on? 

Work your car into left lane (depends which countries, Malaysia has left-hand traffic, a former British colonies)

Steer towards the left shoulder of her road, be careful when changing lanes- watch your rear mirror, side mirror and traffic around you carefully.

4. Take your foot off gas pedal

Take your foot off  of the accelerator pedal to allow your vehicle slow down, your purpose is to slow down and pull over safely- no more accelerating. You don't want to panic and let fear take over, can cause more harm by accidentally pressed the accelerator pedal.

5. Check for anything blocking your brake pedal. 

We may be careless when we did not bother to find rubbish or drinking water bottle that obstruct your pedal by wedge at the bottom of brake pedal therefore preventing it from use. Use your leg to remove it by kicking.

6. Pump up brakes

if your car did not have enough hydraulic pressure to work, keep pumping by press the brake pedal eventually it might work again.

7. Turn on Hazard light on

Make sure you know where to look for the Hazard light, especially when driving someone else's car.
Alternatively keep on honking to warn others of your situation will force others to pay attention on your car.

8. Safe landing/crashing.

 Look for a safe spot to land your car once you’re able to bring your car to a stop. Use road friction to help you to slow your vehicle. Driving through gravel or dirt (such as you might find off the side of the road) can slower your vehicle considerably. The gravel resistant will act as friction to slow down the speed. There’s a catch in this technique- the road must have no surprises on the terrain as large object under the wheels on one side of the car can resulted the car to flip over and cause serious injury.

In a worst scenario situation, look for open spaces for shrubs and run it through the friction, it will eventually reduce car speed to a halt. One must look for a something soft as a buffer, be careful not to pick a big tree for to hit. Watch out for that..tree!

9. Stay calm.

It's a piece of cake for someone like James Bond who jumps down into the train, after he pulled open by the digger arm, lands down on train aisle and still able to stay cool by correcting his cuff but for ordinary people like us we can start to tremble after the ordeal.



10. SOS - Help!

Now it’s time to call for help. Don't be tempted to drive the car again, even if the brakes suddenly start working. Have the car towed to a repair shop or dealer for inspection and repair.

It happened once where an acquaintance car's brake had failed, it rammed into several cars. He claimed his brakes did not work at that moment. The Police charged him with reckless driving cause when they  conducted brake test and it worked! So we have a situation where brakes seem to work fine and sometimes does not work at all.

Practise good habits of checking your brakes in good working order when every time you get behind the wheel.

Should you feel your brakes are not in a good condition sent your car to your trusted workshop to repair? Do not wait for anything untoward incident to happen then only live to regret it.



Good prevention brake checking habits, how do you know the brakes needs inspection?

Static brake test:

As soon as you get into the car press and depress the brake pedal. There should be resistance from the pedal; if there was no sign of resistant or little - the brake pedal feel soft and easily to the floor then you’re in trouble. Get down from the car to make sure there is no fluid leaking on the floor or tyre. You should resist yourself from driving the car if you suspect it has a faulty brake system.

Every car brakes are based on the function on a hydraulic brake system. In order for the system to work effectively there must have clean sufficient quantity of hydraulic fluid in the hydraulic pipes. When the fluid starts to leak from the system the brake pedal will feel 'softer' or less resistance.

Rolling brake test:

Run a series of brake of performance of your vehicle's braking system tested on a rolling road in a safe environment.

As soon as you reverse or moving off slowly presses the brake pedal gently. Go on by breezing around your neighbourhood road and feel the brakes at slow speed- 5 or 10 miles/hour.


Certain warning symptoms of brake problems- You need to be alert when:

1. Spongy brake pedal- sign of there's air leak into the brake hydraulic system.

2. Brake -warning light appears indicates is an imbalance between the front and rear brake system pressure.

3. An amber brake-warning light that could signal a a fault occur with the ABS system.

4. Continuous squeals or grinding sounds should be taken very seriously as it's time you need to take your car to replace new brake pad or shoes.

5. Low brake fluid level. Take your car to top brake fluid at the earliest opportunity cause a low level fluid will cause the loss of hydraulic pressure, consequently reduce the braking performance.

Keep on monitor the brake fluid as usually the brake fluid will return to the upper level when the brakes are serviced. If the fluid required constant top up, you could have a serious dangerous brake problem so take the car to a mechanic to do a thorough check. You might have leaks even you feel the car are working properly.

6. The car pulls to one side during braking. If it were under inflated tires or alignment, it would pull
all the time. If it only does it while braking, the problem is obviously in the brakes.

The two most common causes of this are:
1) a bad brakes caliper (most likely)
2) leaking brake hose

7. A pulsating brake pedal, which may be accompanied by a shuddering problem is coming from the front wheels.
The two most common causes of this are:
1) loose wheel bearings,
2)  a bent axle shaft or loose brake parts.


8.The brakes drag( Brakes are sticking). It will not release completely when the brake pedal is released.

The two most common causes of this are:

1.One or two sets of shoes being adjusted too tightly
2. Weak or broken return springs will result in brake drag
3. There may be pressure trapped in the brake line.
4. Lubricate slide pins on disc brakes to prevent brake drag and binding as the shoes move across the plate.

9. Weird burnt smell coming from brake rubber. This is usually when braking very hard. If you are going down a very steep hill and engaged the brakes, then this friction of the rubber can become so great that your brakes smoke. However if a burning smell from the brakes during regular driving then you got problem.

The two most common causes of this are:

1. A calliper piston may have stuck. It need to removed, clean it , lubricate thoroughly and reassemble properly.

2. This is one of the most common mistake individual done, left the brake on without release it and went on driving. I know I'm one of the Dumb Dumb.


Brake Maintenance


Master Cylinder and Brake Lines

Brakes operate on a simple hydraulic principle. When you press the brake pedal, the force from your foot gets to the four corners of the car fluid brakes.
The force is magnified by master cylinder, it is the main starting point of the flow. It is important to check the fluid is clean and no damage to the brake line.

Calipers, Pads and Rotors

Brake callipers house the brake pads and fit over the rotor. While the rotor or normally called brake disc is circular plates that spin with the wheel. Normally made of cast iron.
 Disc brake caliper cover removed for changing pads

All of the component work together to stop your car safely. When you applied the brakes, the fluid sends to the calipers squeeze against the disc which exerting pressure on brake pad clamp. Brake pads need to check for signs of wear and tear. You won't have to remind as you can hear the squealing and grinding brakes sounds. If you have changed all your brake pads and they still squeaking then the disc brake lining is the culprit of the noise and not due to a worn out brake pad.


Maintenance Schedule

It's often best to follow recommendations in your owner's manual to service your brakes.

During a brake inspection the entire brake system is checked including brake pedal, brake fluid, brake lines and hoses.
Today's cars often use a combination of disc brakes and drum brakes.

The things that must be inspected on disc brakes are the brake pads, brake rotor, and the caliper.

Brake drums rarely wear out, often lasting in excess of 100,000 miles.
You have to jack your car up and removing the wheel and drum before you can change drum brake shoes 

Part of brake preventative maintenance is you should replace/flush the brake fluid in your brake system every 2 years regardless of the mileage. Brake fluid absorbs water from the atmosphere and becomes acidic  causing corrosion after two years or 30,000 miles.


Remember, any time you notice any of these or other symptoms it's a good idea to have the brakes checked immediately. Please make an appointment with your mechanics, no delays.

Well, let's keep our fingers crossed. Everything was fine while YKH drove his car back to Terengganu which is over 300km.

Maintaining your vehicle's brakes is essential to you and and others around you.

Play safe, having your brakes check regularly, your brakes are the first line of defence!

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