Being a car owner means you have to know the answer to many car-related questions, from something as simple as whether you can drive your car without a muffler to something more complicated like if driving your car without a catalytic converter is a good idea.
I’ve found that no matter how much one knows about cars these questions never end and if you’re here then you’re probably asking yourself whether you can drive a car without brakes:
While it’s possible to drive a car without brakes, it’s dangerous and illegal. Your car’s braking system, essential for safe deceleration and stopping, can’t be replaced by engine braking or the handbrake, which aren’t designed for this purpose, especially long-term. Always maintain your brakes and get them inspected by a professional if you suspect issues.
Driving with brakes intact makes driving easier and keeps your mind at peace, but there might be a time when you have to drive your car without brakes because your brakes are suddenly faulty or you had brake failure.
We will explore this question under such circumstances and the reasons why driving a car without brakes is a bad idea. But before I dive deeply into driving without brakes, let’s see how brakes work.
What Is A Brake And How Does It Function?
A brake is an automatic device that controls movement by absorbing energy from a system in motion. It is used to slow and stop running automobiles.
How Do Car Brakes Work?
A moving car carries a considerable amount of kinetic energy, that is, energy in motion. To stop or slow a vehicle, the brakes need to eliminate this energy in motion. They do so by using friction to convert this moving energy to heat.
By using your foot when pressing down the brake pedal, you activate a lever connected to the brake pad. This lever pushes the piston into the master cylinder containing hydraulic fluid. This fluid circulates into the bigger cylinder placed close to each wheel with the help of a pipe system.
The hydraulic system increases the pressure on the brake pad into a potent force. It is this force that helps to stop the car.
What Are The Types Of Car Brakes?
There are four types of brakes, namely: Disc, drum, emergency, and anti-lock brake.
The disc and drum brakes are used while driving or stopping a car. In comparison, the emergency and anti-clock brakes are backup brakes. They are used in cases where either the disc or drum brakes fail.
The majority of cars use either Disc or Drum brakes for their operation. Most recent vehicles use disc brakes on the front wheel, with the rear wheels using the drum brake.
For costly models, the four wheels use the disc brake. In contrast, the drum disc is found on the rear wheels of relatively old cars.
Disc brakes comprise a brake disc, caliper, and brake pad. When you press the brake pedal, the hydraulic fluid prompts the caliper to push the brake against the brake disc.
As the brake pads touch the brake disc, friction is generated. This fiction further converts the moving energy into heat energy in the brake pad.
The heat generated in the brake is up to 950°F strong enough to stop the car. So to wedge such heat, strong materials are used to make the brake pedals. The materials include alloys, ceramics, and composites.
Drum brakes also convert kinetic energy using friction too, but a bit different from disc brakes.
The drum brake has a brake drum and brake shoes. As the wheels turn, the drums turn with it. And as you pressed down the brake, it activates the master cylinder.
This cylinder uses friction to push the brake shoes against the brake drum’s internal surface. This, in turn, creates a force that helps to slow the wheel.
Emergency brakes are also called parking brakes. They function independently without the help of the other brakes and they’re a common point of failure in some vehicles like the Silverado 2500 or Nissan Leaf. They are used to keep a vehicle parked in one place. And are also used in case of an emergency when the actual brakes fail.
There are different kinds of emergency brakes. And almost all of them function using cables that automatically apply fiction to the wheels. They include
- A stick lever between the driver and passengers
- A Third pedal
- Hand brakes etc
Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS)
You will find ABS in very recent vehicles. They are used when a driver suddenly applies the stationary brakes. How? As you suddenly apply the static brake, the ABS ensures the wheels are not locked up so that the tires do not slide.
Is It Safe To Drive Without Brakes?
Driving without brakes is a matter of safety. Brakes are essential for stopping the vehicle safely. Driving without brakes is highly dangerous and it doesn’t just put you at risk but also the lives of other people.
No amount of situational awareness can safely compensate for a vehicle’s lack of brakes. So, no matter the circumstances, a vehicle should never be operated without a functional braking system.
Is It Illegal To Drive Without Brakes?
Driving without brakes is illegal. Most states in the U.S. require that emergency brakes should be intact in case of brake failure. So that a driver does not lose total control if the stationary brakes fail.
So if the emergency brakes are this important, what do you think about the actual brakes?
Are There Penalties For Driving Without Brakes?
Driving without a brake is risky. You intentionally expose people to danger when you do this.
Your car could be seized and your license is withdrawn, and you’re never allowed to drive again.
In other cases, you might be placed on watch till regulatory bodies are sure you don’t commit such an act again. This also includes paying a huge fine.
Should You Drive Without Brakes?
A direct answer is no. Ensure your brakes are intact before driving out. Some do it on purpose to save gasoline; they say it is fuel-efficient. But is it worth the risk?
Driving without brakes is not a matter of fuel efficiency; it’s a matter of safety.
When you purposely drive without a brake, you are endangering your life and the lives of other people. What if you lose consciousness? What if a stray dog runs into you? Will you have enough time to stop or maneuver? Will you be able to control the car in that condition?
Instead of asking yourself these questions make sure you drive with functioning brakes.
Why You Might Drive Without Brakes?
If you are driving without brakes it could be that
- Your brakes are faulty
- You intentionally do not use them
- Or you had brake failure
If your brake is faulty, it is ideal that you fix it before hitting the road. If you intentionally drive without it, it means you are taking a risk at the expense of other people’s lives.
If you experience brake failure, it could be that something went wrong while you were driving. If that is the case, you need to do the following:
What Should You Do If Your Brake Fails?
If you’re driving, and your brake suddenly fails, you can slow down and stop the car using these tips. Also, consider checking out this video that is great for beginners!
Now it’s time to check the following tips!
Ensure You Don’t Panic
When your brake fails, you need to stay calm. You’ll only make the situation worse if you panic. Just think of the possible ways to get your car off the road.
Warn Off Road Users
Use your car horn to alert road users. This will let them know that something isn’t right and make them respond correctly.
Try The Brakes Again
Your car should have a double braking system that helps regulate front and rear brakes separately. That is, one braking system controls the front brakes while the other controls the rear brakes.
This means that both braking systems will have to fail for your car to lose control totally.
Even though it’s risky to depend on a half-brake system, it may still work to stop the car. So try to apply a stronger force consistently using one of the brake systems.
Use The Emergency Brake
The emergency brake is another way to stop your car if the primary brake fails. This brake functions independently from the main brake. But know that this brake will only work to stop the rear wheels of your vehicle.
To use the emergency brake, locate the brake handle, then hit the release button and regulate the pressure slowly.
No matter what, do not engage your emergency brake when driving at high speed. Doing this will lock up the wheels causing you to lose control of your vehicle.
Pump Your Brakes
Pressure can be built into the brake system by repeatedly pumping the brakes. For vehicles with anti-lock brakes, press the foot pedal down (do this with force). The ABS should pump the brake automatically.
If your vehicle doesn’t come with ABS, press down the pedal many times to build sufficient pressure. Once there is enough pressure, step on the pedal again and leave it down.
Shift To A Lower Gear
Shifting to lower gear is another way to stop your car in case of brake failure. To do this, remove your foot from the accelerator and downshift. This way, the engine can help to slow your vehicle.
For cars with automatic transmission, remove your foot from the accelerator. Doing this will shift your gears to a lower gear and slow the vehicle. For vehicles with a manual transmission, lower the gear the way you always do it. Do not shift gears too fast; you may lose control of the car.
For very recent automatic cars that can also use manual transmission, you can use the paddle shifters (if in place). Or switch to manual mode and shift to the lowest gear. Your owner’s manual has information on how to use automatic cars in manual ways.
Get Your Car Off The Road
After you’ve slowed down, try to get your car off the road. This will lessen the chances of you hitting something or being hit. Ensure you use the turn signals and pay attention to the traffic around.
Using a slow lane will be a great idea, and ensure you use the hazard light.
Leave The Engine On Until You’ve Stopped
Turning off the car may seem like a great way to slow your vehicle, but don’t try it. The engine should keep running until you finally stop.
If you turn off the engine, it means the power steering will also shut down, making it difficult to make a turn. The steering wheel could also lock.
Indicate That You Need Help
You may need help after safely getting your car off the road. Let people know you need assistance. Raise the hood of your vehicle and keep the hazard lights on.
Ensure people know you’re there by placing your road flares behind your car(if you have them). Ensure your vehicle doesn’t cause traffic and don’t stand behind or close to your car.
If you have a mobile phone, you can reach out to road assistants.
Have Your Brakes Checked
Very importantly, whether your brakes are now working fine or not, get an expert to have them checked.
It will save you from future brake failure. Brake failure isn’t something you would want to experience every time you’re on the road.
What Causes Brake Failure?
Several things can cause brake failure, and knowing these will make you check your brake routinely. Possible causes of brake failure could be:
Moisture In The Break System
Water droplets can cause brake failure if it finds its way into the brake fluid. How?
As the brake fluids heat up, the water turns into moisture. This moisture finds its way into the brake line, hence resulting in brake failure.
To avoid moisture in the brake system, ensure you change the fluids after two years or after 24,000 miles.
Faulty Brake Hoses
Brake hoses are connected to the brake lines, from the brake lines to the caliper, then the wheel cylinder.
They get weak if exposed to dirt and other corrosive particles. As the hoses get weak, they can tear, leading to brake failure.
To avoid this, try changing the brake hose after six years. But if you drive very often, then you’ll need to change it earlier than that.
Rusted Master Brake Cylinder
The master has a reservoir that holds the brake fluid and tubbing steel connected to the reservoir.
If the master cylinder or rubbing steel gets rusted, they begin to leak. These leaks can cause brake failure.
To avoid this, try changing the master brake cylinder after 70,000 -100,000 miles.
Overheated Brake Pads
Brake pads overheat mostly if the brake pad is non-standard. The brake pad works and gets overheated, then later cools down.
As it cools, a smooth coating appears on the pad and rotors. This action does not allow the brake pad and rotor to grip each other. As long they don’t grip, your vehicle can’t stop.
To avoid this, try changing your brake pads after 50,000 – 70,000. But if you notice any issues before getting to these miles, please check them out.
You can also use your owner’s manual to ascertain when changing your brake pads is recommended.
Leaking Brake Fluid
Leaking brake fluid can cause brake failure. These leaks could start from anywhere in the brake system.
The leak mostly begins from the brake cylinder and brake lines. It is recommended that as you change the fluid, your mechanic should also check the brake system.
If you change your brake system with bad quality parts, it may also cause brake failure. This is because the brakes are not working as well as the original.
So if you’re buying your brake parts, have a mechanic do it for you; they can identify original products.
What Are The Symptoms Of Bad Brakes?
If you see the following, know that your brakes might be faulty, and try to have them checked:
- Brake light on
- Weird noises
- Strong vibration when trying to stop the car
- The car always pulling to one side whenever you try to stop it
- As you drive, you start perceiving some burning smell
- Even in a shortstop, your car keeps bouncing up and down.
How Much Does It Cost To Repair Or Replace Brakes?
Your brake system consists of the caliper, rotors, and other parts. So the repair/replacement cost would depend on the number of brake parts that are damaged.
A brake job involving replacing the pads, rotor, and caliper can cost between $300 and $900.
However, you could spend up to $1,000 or more for a complete break task, depending on your car’s make or model.
While you can drive without brakes, know it’s hazardous. Your life and the lives of others might be in danger, at the least you may end up damaging your vehicle.
It takes just one mistake from your end to get yourself in trouble.
Your brake system is one part of your car that you must ensure is in perfect condition. So, remember to change your brakes when the need arises. Do NOT drive with faulty brakes.
Hi! My name is Stefan; I’m the owner and lead writer at TheDriverAdviser.com.
I’m an active writer on this blog myself, as well as a novice car mechanic. For the really technical stuff, I find writers with experience as a mechanic or who have studied mechanical engineering.
Read more about our fantastic team on our about page!