Brake Failure: A Complete Guide to Brake Failure Causes and it’s Prevention

Rahul Jha
Rahul Jha

Updated on: 15th December, 2023 IST

Common Causes of Brake Failure

Brake failure is a driver's worst nightmare, a situation none of us want to experience. However, understanding the causes and learning how to navigate this problem can make all the difference. In this blog, we'll look into brake failure, the role of the Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), and the underlying reasons that can lead to this alarming problem in your car.

Brake failure is not solely about your vehicle's safety; it directly impacts your safety and well-being. We'll systematically explore the causes and reasons behind brake failure, making it easy to understand even if you're not a car expert.Join us on this journey towards making every journey safer for you and your co-passengers.

Common Causes of Brake Failure

To understand how brakes fail, it's crucial to look into the mechanics of a car's braking system. The primary objective of any brake system is to convert kinetic energy, associated with a moving vehicle, into heat energy, ultimately slowing down or halting the car. 

Here's a breakdown of some of the issues that can cause brake failure:

Loss of Hydraulic Pressure

  • In most modern vehicles, hydraulic brake systems are used
  • When you press the brake pedal, it activates the master cylinder, which pushes brake fluid through the brake lines, exerting pressure on the brake callipers (for disc brakes) or wheel cylinders (for drum brakes)
  • If there's a leak in the brake lines or a malfunction in the master cylinder, it can lead to a loss of hydraulic pressure, resulting in brake failure

Wear and Tear

  • Over time, the components of a braking system, like brake pads and rotors (for disc brakes) or brake shoes and drums (for drum brakes), can wear down
  • Excessive wear can reduce the braking efficiency, and if left unaddressed, it can lead to brake failure


  • Braking generates heat due to the friction between the brake components
  • Repeated, heavy, or prolonged braking can cause the brakes to overheat, leading to brake fade
  • This reduces their effectiveness and can result in brake failure

Faulty ABS

  • The Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) is designed to prevent wheel lockup during hard braking, maintaining steering control
  • If the ABS malfunctions, it can disrupt the brake function and result in brake failure

Other Factors 

  • Brake failure can also occur due to factors like contaminated brake fluid, worn-out brake hoses, or issues with the brake booster

Also Read : Braking System In Automobile – Types of Brakes Explained

Warning Signs of a Brake Failure

Recognising the warning signs of brake failure is important for every driver, as it can be a matter of life and death. It's crucial to identify and address these warning signs promptly. Ignoring them can not only jeopardise your safety but also lead to more expensive repairs down the line.

Here are some of the most common warning signs that should never be ignored:

Soft or Spongy Brake Pedal

  • If your brake pedal feels soft and spongy or sinks to the floor when you press it, it's a clear indication of a problem
  • This could result from air in the brake lines, a brake fluid leak, or a failing master cylinder, all of which can compromise your ability to slow down or stop

Strange Noises

  • Unusual sounds when braking, such as squealing, grinding, or clunking, are red flags
  • Squealing can indicate worn brake pads while grinding often points to completely worn pads, which can damage the rotors
  • Clunking noises may suggest loose or damaged brake hardware

Reduced Braking Performance

  • If you notice that your car takes longer to stop, or the brakes don't feel as responsive as they used to, it's a clear sign of brake trouble
  • This could be due to worn-out brake pads, contaminated brake fluid, or a malfunctioning brake booster

Pulling or Vibrations

  • When your car pulls to one side during braking or you feel vibrations through the brake pedal, it indicates an uneven application of brakes
  • This could be due to misaligned brake components or unevenly worn brake pads

Illuminated Warning Lights

  • Most modern vehicles are equipped with warning lights for the Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) and brake system
  • If these lights illuminate your dashboard, it's a direct indication of a problem within the braking system

Burning Smell

  • A burning odour when you brake can be a sign of overheated brakes
  • This can occur due to excessive or prolonged braking, causing brake fade and reduced effectiveness

Fluid Leaks

  • If you notice puddles or stains under your car, it could be brake fluid leaking
  • Brake fluid is crucial for transmitting the force from the brake pedal to the brake components
  • A leak can lead to a significant reduction in braking power

Also Read : When Should I Replace My Car Brake Pads? – Here’s How to Know

Things To Do In Case of Brake Failure

Brake failure is a frightening situation no driver wants to encounter. The most important thing is to stay calm and assess the situation before you look for ways to remedy the problem. 

However, preparedness and knowing what to do in such a scenario can be a lifesaver. Here are ten essential steps to take if you ever face brake failure:

  • Take a look at your surroundings for open spaces or clear paths leading to less congested areas to minimise damage to individuals and property. Steer your vehicle away from traffic and towards the side of the road
  • If your vehicle has a manual transmission, downshifting to lower gears can help gradually slow down the car. This technique effectively utilises engine braking to reduce speed.
  • Quickly engage your hazard lights to inform other drivers of your situation. This signals that your vehicle is experiencing an issue and encourages caution from others
  • Honk to alert pedestrians and other drivers. A loud horn can serve as an audible warning, potentially preventing a collision
  • Gently and progressively engage the handbrake to slow the vehicle down. Jerking it can lead to skidding. The handbrake provides an additional means of slowing the car.
  • If your vehicle doesn't have an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), try gently pumping the brake pedal. This action may help regain some braking ability and control
  • Continue to use your horn and lights to communicate with other road users. Clear and consistent signals are essential for warning others of your situation
  • Contact a reliable roadside assistance service to report your brake failure and provide your location. Seeking professional assistance is crucial for a timely resolution
  • It is essential to never turn off the ignition in the event of a brake failure, as this could lead to crucial components of the car — such as the steering wheel — lose hydraulic pressure, and as a result, keep you from steering your vehicle

Also Read: Signs That Your Brakes Are Unsafe

How to Maintain Brake Health and Prevent Brake Failure?

Preventing brake failure is a fundamental aspect of vehicle safety and responsible driving. A well-maintained braking system can make the difference between a smooth, controlled stop and a potentially disastrous accident.

Here are some of the key steps to prevent brake failure:

Regular Inspections

  • Schedule routine brake inspections with a qualified mechanic
  • Monitor the condition of brake pads and rotors regularly
  • Replace them when they near the end of their service life

Brake Fluid Maintenance

  • Keep brake fluid at the recommended levels and replace it as per the manufacturer's guidelines to ensure it can transfer force effectively

Adequate Heat Dissipation

  • Avoid excessive and prolonged braking, as it generates heat
  • Overheated brakes can lead to brake fade, reducing stopping power

Avoid Overloading

  • Excessive loads can strain your brakes
  • Ensure your vehicle's weight stays within the specified limits

Quality Brake Parts

  • When replacing brake components, use high-quality, reputable brands
  • This ensures reliability and longevity

Also Read : What is Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS) – How it Works

Brake Challenges in Different Weather Conditions

Driving in varying weather conditions poses unique challenges to your vehicle's braking system. To ensure your safety and the safety of others, it's important to understand these challenges and how to navigate them effectively.

Tips for Safe Braking in Various Conditions:

Wet Roads

  • When it's raining and the roads are wet, your brakes might not work as effectively
  • To stay safe, keep a reasonable distance from the vehicle ahead and start braking a bit earlier to avoid skidding

Cold Weather

  • In cold climates, your brakes become stiffer and can lose some of their effectiveness 
  • Using winter tyres for better grip is a smart move if you stay in extremely cold areas with heavy snowfall 
  • Also, remember to brake gently and progressively on icy roads

Hot Weather

  • High temperatures can make your brakes overheat, leading to brake fade
  • To prevent this, try using engine braking and avoid constant hard braking on hot summer days

Foggy Conditions

  • Reduced visibility in fog calls for cautious driving
  • Brake gently and ensure you maintain a safe following distance to allow for any sudden stops

Dusty Roads

  • Dust and sand on the road can reduce your tyre's grip
  • Drive at a moderate speed and be ready for decreased braking effectiveness

The Bottom Line 

In conclusion, understanding the intricacies of your vehicle's braking system and how it interacts with diverse weather conditions is an essential component of safe and responsible driving. Your brakes are your first line of defence in preventing accidents and ensuring your safety, especially when confronted with challenging weather. 

By following regular maintenance practices, adjusting your driving style to suit specific conditions, and remaining vigilant on the road, you can significantly reduce the risk of brake-related mishaps. 

Remember, safe braking is not just about the mechanical components of your vehicle; it's also about your ability to adapt and make informed decisions in ever-changing weather scenarios. Stay prepared, stay safe, and keep the roads secure for all.


What is the main cause of brake failure?

The primary cause of brake failure is often attributed to the gradual wear and deterioration of brake components, particularly brake pads and rotors.

How do you manage brake failure?

In the event of brake failure, it's crucial to remain calm, downshift gears (if possible), and use the handbrake gently to slow down the vehicle, all while steering towards safety and alerting others with hazard lights and your horn.

What happens if brakes fail?

Brake failure can lead to a loss of control and accidents. Promptly follow emergency procedures to mitigate risks.

What are the signs of brake failure?

Signs of brake failure may include a soft or spongy brake pedal, grinding or squealing noises during braking, reduced braking power, and illuminated warning lights on the dashboard.

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