Brake Failure

The one system in today’s cars most drivers take for granted is their brakes. The good news is that brake failure accidents don’t happen that often, making up an estimated 5% or less of car accidents each year in the U. S. With today’s modern systems, it’s unusual for an automobile to suffer a total braking failure. Even though brake failure is relatively rare in passenger cars, it’s one of the top causes of accidents involving trucks and larger vehicles. It remains that the possibility of brake failure in cars is real as indicated by recent manufacturer recalls.  

Manufacturer Recalls
The proper functioning of brakes is critical to the safety of motorists and their passengers. Brake systems are susceptible to failure as any other system in a vehicle, and as some recent industry recalls indicate, manufacturers’ defects that could result in partial or full failure of an auto’s brakes are not that rare.  

Nissan has announced a recall involving 10,586 Nissan Sentras because of an issue that can lead to brake failure, according to a notice by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  The NHTSA has determined that in certain 2009 models equipped with Bosch master cylinders, if the brake fluid becomes too low and the subsequent warning light is ignored, a brake circuit can fail. If that happens, stopping distances will be increased and the risk of a crash heightens. To remedy the issue, Nissan dealers will inspect and replace the master cylinder booster assembly for free.

In August of 2009, Toyota Motor Corp announced that it will launch a voluntary safety recall with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that will effect roughly 96,000 Toyota and Scion vehicles sold in the U.S. thanks to possible brake problems. The problem occurs in extremely cold temperatures in the 2009 and 2010 Toyota Corolla and Corolla Matrix, along with the 2008 and 2009 Scion xD vehicles, all of which come equipped with 1.8 liter engines. Toyota will notify vehicle owners from 19 affected states in early September 2009. Toyota dealers will install a newly designed intake air connector to correct the problem.

BMW in April 2007 recalled over 160,000 SUVs because of a problem that could cause a potential loss of brake fluid or even the brake circuit to fail completely.
And in May of the same year, Chrysler recalled 60,000 vehicles due to an issue with potential brake failure. The bonded disc brake linings can separate from the shoes due to a bonding deficiency, which allows corrosive degradation of the bonded attachment. Separation of disc linings results in an increase in stopping distance. This could lead to a safety hazard.

Brake System Maintenance
Prevention, it is often said, is better than cure. There may be no sure way to prevent the possibility of a brake failure accident. Several specific issues can help contribute to brake failure. Some common problems include the hydraulic lines not being attached properly and overheating brakes which can damage brake pads or rotors. And a car may not have a brake shift interlock system, which is the device that prevents the driver from shifting out of park without having to depress the brake pedal.

Modern dual circuit brake systems are significantly less likely to fail than the drum braking system, often found on older cars. And the introduction of anti-lock brakes has helped to prevent the wheels from locking up if the driver has to brake hard.
The brakes are one part of the vehicle where it’s fairly noticeable if there’s a problem. Ususally there are warning signs that there is something wrong with your brakes.

  • Grinding or squeaking noise when using the brake
  • Difficulty actually stopping the car
  • Use of the brakes causing the car to veer to one side
  • The brakes must be pumped to stop the car or the pedal sinks to the floor

These symptoms could indicate damage to the system's pads, linings, drums or rotors; a leak or excess air in the lines; low or contaminated brake fluid; or the need for an adjustment. Most experts recommend that you completely change the brake fluid every year or two despite the fact that this important point isn’t referenced in many vehicle owners’ manuals.

Brake fluid that contains glycol starts to attract moisture almost as soon as it is put in the car’s system and too much moisture can make the brake fluid unsafe. Brake fluid that has been in the car for a year may contain 2% water. Brake fluid that hasn’t been replaced in several years may be up to 8% water. Never use anything other than approved brake fluid for your car.

Brake Failure Emergency Tips
With proper care such as annual brake inspections, maintenance, and repair, brakes should not fail. In the unlikely event that brake failure occurs, the National Safety Council offers these tips:

  • Try not to panic. Work your vehicle into the right lane and then toward the shoulder or, if possible, toward an exit. Always signal and when you reach the right lane turn on your emergency hazard lights.
  • Let the car slow down gradually by taking your foot off the gas pedal. Simply steer as your vehicle slows and use low gears to let the engine help slow the car.
  • Once off the roadway, shift into neutral and gradually apply the hand brake until the vehicle stops. If that brake has also failed, direct the car onto a soft shoulder or rub the wheel against a curb, which will help you to slow down.
  • Get the car off the roadway and to a safe place to avoid stopping traffic or being involved in a rear-end collision.
  • When safely off the road, put out reflective triangles beside and behind your vehicle to alert other drivers; keep your emergency flashers going.
  • Raise your hood and tie something white to the radio antenna or hang it out the window so police officers or tow truck operators will know you need help.
  • Don't stand behind or next to your vehicle; if possible, stay away from the vehicle and wait for help to arrive. Do not be tempted to drive your vehicle, no matter how slowly, without brakes. Call for help to get your disabled vehicle towed.

Brake Failures Require a Full Investigation
Establishing liability for an accident caused by brake failure requires a sophisticated and expert investigation. Usually accident reconstructionists and scientific experts are required. The challenge is proving negligence on the part of the brake manufacturer, auto maker or maintenance shop. Consulting a personal injury expert who specializes in brake failure law is important to protecting the rights of an injured party. Typically people injured as the result of defective brake parts have the right to recover compensation for their injuries including lost wages, medical costs, disability, pain and suffering, and more.