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What To Do If Your Car's Steering Or Breaking Systems Fail While Driving

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Would you know what to do if you suddenly lost control of the car you were driving due to mechanical failure in the steering or braking system? It may seem far-fetched, but it happens more often than you might think. Therefore, it pays to know what to do in advance, should you encounter such a situation. Here is what you need to do:

What if your steering goes out?

First, you should quickly assess whether or not you have lost all control of your car's steering. If a power steering pump fails or you have a leak in the power steering hydraulic system, then you will experience a sudden resistance when trying to steer the car; however, since your car's steering is mechanically linked from the steering wheel to the front wheels, then you can still steer even if it feels harder to do so.

If your power steering system fails, here is how to handle the situation:

  1. Grasp the steering wheel firmly with both hands to maintain physical control. Do not panic, and reassure yourself that you can get your car safely off the road.
  2. Slowly let off the accelerator pedal, and edge the car to the right side of the road. Avoid braking too soon so that you don't lose forward momentum and become "stuck" in the middle of the road.
  3. Begin braking when near the shoulder, and come to a complete stop in a safe location.

If you hear and feel a popping sound from the front, then your tie rod may have broken. Tie rods are the mechanical linkages that attach your car's steering system to the front wheels; if one of these breaks, then you will lose control of the affected wheel. A tie rod breaking at highway speeds could result in a serious accident, so here is what you should do if one fails:

  1. As soon as you hear the sound or feel the pop, resist the immediate urge to hit your brake pedal. Sudden braking could cause the affected wheel to sharply turn itself inward or outward and begin skidding. By keeping it rotating, gyroscopic force will help maintain the wheel's forward alignment in the same manner as a bicycle wheel.
  2. Release the accelerator pedal, and slowly drift to the right side of the road.
  3. If the wheel with the broken tie rod begins to wobble and skid, then be prepared to turn your car into the direction of the skid. The important thing is to keep your "good" wheel rotating, and not skidding, so that you can keep the car under control.

What do you do if your brakes fail?

In addition to steering failures, a mechanical failure in your braking system is also frightening. Like power steering systems, brakes in modern passenger vehicles operate by using hydraulic (brake fluid) pressure to activate the end component. If the braking system fails, then you will find stopping to be a suddenly difficult process.  Here is how you can safely bring a vehicle to a stop without brakes:

  1. Pump your brakes several times to see if you can restore any amount of pressure within the hydraulic system.
  2. If you can't get any pressure to form, then shift your car's automatic transmission to a lower gear, usually designated as L1, L2 or L3. Be careful, as this will cause the car to suddenly lurch. Hold on firmly to the steering wheel throughout the process.
  3. Once your car is in a lower gear, then release the gas pedal, and allow the engine's compression to slow the vehicle on its own.
  4. After your car stops in a safe location, be sure to apply your mechanical emergency brake.
  5. Do not drive the car until the brakes have been repaired by a qualified mechanic.

If you believe your systems failed because of a manufacturing error or something similar, a personal injury lawyer, from a firm like Otorowski Johnston Morrow & Golden P.L.L.C., can help you decide if you have a case to take against the car's manufacturing company.