What to Do if the Brake Goes to the Floor

January 27, 2012

It’s a subject that has been discussed almost since the first car hit the roads over 1oo years ago: What can be done when your brake goes to the floor. Below you will find a number of suggestions and recommendations from driving experts, various driver’s training classes and safety classes. First and foremost: Don’t panic! When you panic, you’re unable to think clearly. Keep calm and think the problem through.

Pump the Brake Pedal

Passenger car brake systems are hydraulically actuated. When you push the brake pedal, you’re pushing a piston that forces fluid through the lines to actuate the brakes. When the brake goes to the floor, you’re experiencing a form of brake failure caused by a loss of fluid pressure. This is most likely caused by a leak. Pumping the brake pedal to build and hold pressure will help if the leak isn’t so large that all the fluid escapes at once.


When you experience brake problems, you should downshift. This is because your car’s transmission is only capable of so much speed in each gear. Downshifting will slow your vehicle down, sometimes rather quickly. If you have an automatic transmission, this means going from Drive to either second or Low 2.  If you have a manual transmission, you should down shift one gear at a time, if you have enough space ahead of you. If not, skip a gear. For example, go from fourth down to second and release the clutch rather slowly as you don’t want to over speed the engine.

Engage the Emergency Brake

If you experience brake failure where your brake goes to the floor, you should slowly engage the parking, or emergency brake. This doesn’t mean to mash down on the pedal as fast as you can or to yank up on the brake handle. The proper engagement of the emergency brake is easiest with a hand actuated emergency brake. Push the button and slowly lift the handle. With the foot type, pull the handle and slowly push the pedal down. You don’t want to completely lock the brakes up, because if you do, you will most likely lose control of the rear end as the wheels lose traction.

Shut the Engine Off

This method is viable for both types of transmissions, but does work much better with a manual transmission. Turn the key off and leave the car in gear. The gearing of the differential and transmission, coupled with the compression of the engine, will work to slow the car and eventually stop it without any other intervention. However, once you have reached a slow enough speed, you will be able to finish stopping your car by using the emergency brake. Remember that when you do this, steering assist will be gone and therefore steering input will need to be much more pronounced.

When your brake goes to the floor, the first thing to remember, as stated, is to stay calm and to not panic. Panic will keep you from being able to think through the problem. Follow the steps outlined above and when you successfully bring your car to a stop, have it towed to a repair facility immediately.

Related Questions and Answers

How Common is it for a Parking Brake to Fail?

A parking brake fail act is not that common in automobiles, and only a small percentage of cars experience this. Auto manufacturers know the importance of the brake system in cars and that is why they have spent so much time and resources in making it almost flawless. In the event of brake failure, these manufacturers immediately recall the concerned automobiles and have them thoroughly checked before returning them to their owners. In most cases, certain parts of the system are replaced in order to function properly, adding to the safety of the car. Parking brake failure is something that you should not be worried about, because cars nowadays have very high safety standards.

Is Pulling the Emergency Brake the Best Option for Brake Failure while Driving?

In the event of brake failure, the first thing that comes to mind is to pull the emergency brake. Yes, that is definitely an option to slow down the car, but it is not the first. The best option is to remove your foot from the gas and shift to a lower gear. This will significantly slow down the car. Keep switching to the next lower gear until you reach first gear. You should be running pretty slow by this point. Only then, should you pull the emergency brake. Pulling it while running fast may cause your car to spin, creating more harm than good in the event of brake failure.

What is the Average Cost of Brake Calipers for an Auto?

When replacing brake calipers due to wear and tear, you should be able to determine the right cost of brake calipers before you purchase the parts. When you look around various auto shops, you will notice that the average price for one caliper is around 40 dollars. They are also sold as a set and you can get 10 dollars off. So you pay 150 dollars for all four wheels of your car. The average cost of these calipers is more or less within this range, and anything way above these figures will not be cost effective. Make sure that the cost of brake calipers you buy is proportional to the total cost of your car.

Are there any Fail-Safe Brakes for a Car?

Although it is not standard on all cars, there are car makers that have installed or are planning to install fail-safe brakes on their car models. For example, Toyota is about to come out with cars which cut the power of the engine when the accelerator and brake pedals are pressed simultaneously. The reason for this is that in the event that the brakes fail, the computer will sense the urgency to stop the car, killing the engine. If the engine dies, the car will naturally come to a stop. This is one of the fail-safe brakes that are being introduced into the market today by many car makers.

What Should I Look for When Inspecting Brake Pads?

When inspecting brake pads, the first thing that you have to look for is its thickness. You can easily determine by checking them in between the brake caliper and disc brake. If they are thin already, it’s time to replace them. Check also for uneven pad wear. This can cause your brakes to not work effectively so replace them as well. In changing the brake pads, also check the hoses of your brake system for any cracking or leaks. Brake fluid could have made its way to the brake pads, compromising their integrity and therefore their ability to stop the car. These are some of the things that you have to consider when inspecting brake pads.

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