Brake Failure as a Cause of Accidents

Contrary to what most people believe, brake failure accidents involving cars are relatively rare.

It is unusual for cars to suffer a complete failure of the braking system. The reason for this is that many cars have dual braking systems. The one acts as a backup system so that most drivers will have at least some degree of control over their vehicle’s brakes.

It is not easy to prove brake failure as a cause of an accident. It can be caused by –

  • Driver/owner negligence, where the car overall is of poor condition.
  • Faulty servicing, perhaps by an incompetent mechanic.
  • Faulty installation by the manufacturers, making it a product liability claim.

This makes it difficult to decide where the blame lies, and one needs to employ the services of an attorney specially qualified in these matters. The claim can become very complicated.


Briefly, how do brake systems work?

brake failureWith cars, there are no brakes until they are actively applied by the driver‘s foot. Brake fluid in the system then causes the transfer of pressure to the brake callipers, causing the car to stop. With trucks, brakes work on two systems – park brakes and foot brakes. When the driver brakes, the vacuum is released, and the brakes are applied. When the vacuum is applied, the brakes are again released.


Causes of brake failure in cars

  • Brake fluid may have leaked out, so there was not enough fluid to transfer the pressure to the brake callipers.
  • The seals might have been damaged, causing pressure to escape.
  • The brake linings (pads), become worn, causing the driver to have to apply harder foot pressure.
  • Brakes can also overheat, causing the brake fluid to boil.
  • Generally speaking, it’s the brake pads, the master cylinder (that applies the initial pressure), and the slave cylinder (which actuates the callipers), that affects the chances of brake failure.
  • Old brake fluid is an another cause of an inefficient braking system.


Causes of brake failure in trucks

  • A leak in the vacuum system will mean the brakes actuate and stop the vehicle.
  • If there is not enough grease on the bearings (fluid leak), the surface of the brakes loses it’s friction and becomes too slippery. It then doesn’t brake efficiently.
  • If the vacuum chamber (booster) fails, they can try sealing the pipes, but this can lead to overheating and brake failure.


When to have the brakes checked

In cars:

  • they become spongy
  • the brakes appear to fade
  • if there is a scraping or grinding sound when applying brakes
  • you have to pump the brakes to stop
  • when you ever have difficulty stopping the car
  • if the vehicle veers to one side when braking


In trucks:

  • the spring brakes take too long to release after starting the truck
  • when the pressure fluctuates
  • you hear the brake system unloading while driving
  • when you smell the brakes or see smoke from the wheels or brake system
  • If you can’t stop effectively
  • if there is a sound of mechanical knocking or banging
  • the trailer brakes lock when loaded


Experts suggest it is a good idea to change the brake fluid every one or two years. Having an accident, and then blaming it on brake failure isn’t a good excuse. This is often the choice of drivers who are guilty of negligence in some way and try to worm their way out of blame. Genuine brake failure is seldom the real cause of a car accident.

Arrive Alive wants to promote road safety, and to this end, their website is a massively informative portal to assist different groups such as the Department of Transport as well as tourists and road users about how to avoid the terrible carnage we see on South African roads.


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All info was correct at time of publishing December 3, 2018