Are you prepared for whatever life can throw at you? You may pride yourself on your ability to deal with the unexpected, but in truth may not have dealt with a real emergency for quite some time. So, ask yourself what you would do if you were driving along a busy road and suddenly discovered that your car had no brakes. Would you be able to cope?
For many people, this is the stuff of nightmares as they are used to the car responding to their every command. However, it doesn't have to end in disaster if you know what to do and don't panic.
There's an old saying in the military – "forewarned is forearmed." This means that you should be as prepared as possible for theoretical situations, and you can apply this by testing the brakes before you set out on a journey.
While some vehicles will only start if you apply pressure to the brake pedal, this is not the case with manual gearboxes. Consequently, always check the pedal before you move away in the morning.
As you put your foot onto it, you should feel a normal amount of resistance and a slight movement of the pedal. Once you have started the car and moved out of your driveway, test it again in a safe environment.
What Can Go Wrong?
Usually, brake failure is caused by a loss of hydraulics, with low brake fluid being a key suspect. When the pressure is not as it should be, the brake pedal will feel spongy with some resistance, but not as much as there should be.
Techniques to Cope
If you are caught out by complete brake failure when you are driving at speed, you need to retain your sense of calm and assess the environment. Look at other road users and decide if you can pull over towards the side of the road safely, but always do so gradually and not in haste. Depress the clutch and change down into a lower gear, even if that makes the engine "scream." By doing so, the engine will act as a brake as it brings the vehicle down to a speed that is more conducive with the internal revolutions.
You can also use the parking brake but be careful not to pull on it too harshly. If you do, you might lock the rear wheels which could cause the vehicle to go out of control. Otherwise this mechanism will apply pressure to a pair of wheels at least, which can provide some additional braking effort.
What Not to Do
Some people are tempted to turn off the engine altogether, but this will defeat the object and could lock the steering wheel in one position, with potentially disastrous consequences.
Finally, if none of these techniques work and you can see a sharp corner or other obstacle in the distance, then you may try to rub the tyres up against a curb or verge. While this is not easy to do and may not always end up with a good result, it could provide some friction to help decelerate the vehicle.
All of this sounds like a nightmare scenario and it can be. However, if you make sure that your brakes are in good condition at all times, it's unlikely to happen. For your peace of mind, schedule a visit to a repair person to check your brakes as soon as possible.