Don't ever, ever keep driving if your brakes have failed without having a mechanic check your car out.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 01, 1996

Dear Tom and Ray:

Finding myself hemmed in at a baseball game, I managed to get my right
front wheel (of my front wheel drive car) stuck in a small ditch. After
rocking back and forth, I got it free. I proceeded on my way home, and
after a short distance, I found I had no brakes. No pedal at all. My
first thought was a broken brake line. Driving carefully, I continued some
60 miles towards home. About a mile from home, I encountered some traffic
and touched my brake. It seemed to have a little pedal. By the time I
reached home, the pedal was back to normal. The master cylinder was full,
and I've had no more problem. Do you have an explanation for this?

TOM: Yes. But before we get to that, I have to ask you, Steve; what were
you thinking?? By driving 60 miles when you knew you had absolutely no
brakes, you could have easily gotten yourself nominated for a Darwin Award.
That's the annual award given to the person who does a service to the
human gene pool by killing himself in an incredibly stupid way. And you
would have been a contender, my boy.

RAY: As for your brakes, I think what happened is you compressed the
caliper piston on that right, front wheel. That brake caliper is supposed
to sit right in the middle, straddling the disc rotor and holding those
pads within a whisker of each side of the rotor at all times. So that as
soon as you step on the brake pedal, the pads are ready to grab right onto
that rotor and stop the car.

TOM: When you got that front wheel stuck deep in the mud, you must of
gotten the caliper hung up somehow, and pushed it all the way to one side.

RAY: After five or six pumps of the pedal, the caliper piston would have
moved the caliper back into place, and your brakes would have been fine
(which is what ultimately happened by the time you got home). They're
designed to adjust themselves, since pads and rotors do wear down and need
to be adjusted continually.

TOM: But instead of stopping the car and pumping the pedal or calling for
help, you kept driving, endangering yourself and every other innocent
person on the road that day. And you deserve a good, dope slap for that,

RAY: If you ever lose your brakes again, pull over as quickly and as
safely as possible--assuming you're lucky enough to be able to do so.
Remember, you can use the lower gears of your transmission, your parking
brake, or even "Park" if necessary in an absolute emergency.

TOM: Once you're safely stopped and out of the way of traffic, you can try
pumping the pedal to see if your brakes return to normal. If they do, you
can proceed slowly and carefully to a repair shop and have the brake system
thoroughly checked out.

RAY: If your brakes do not return to normal, or if you have any question
at all about your ability to stop the car, just get out and call a tow
truck. I know it's inconvenient, Steve. But think of the alternative: An
obituary that reads "Steve. Darwin Award Winner, 1996."

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