How To Minimize Your Braking Distances

Under normal circumstances, you may not think about braking as fast as possible. However, when an emergency arises you may quickly discover that you are extremely interested in stopping as fast as you can. You can do a lot now to get you and your car ready to slow down quickly and safely when the time comes.

  1. Brake fluid check: Your must properly maintain your car safety systems. The most important of these is the brakes. Check the brake fluid every time you change the oil or open the hood. Most cars use DOT3 or DOT4 brake fluids, which are specially made to resist compression. If your brake fluid level is low, use only new fluid. Never use an old bottle of brake fluid.
  2. Tire pressure: You've heard it before, but it's pretty important to have the right amount of pressure in all four of your tires. Under-inflated tires make for poor fuel efficiency, poor handling, and increased braking distances. It's just as bad to drive with over-inflated tires. Too much pressure causes the tire to bulge, and you won't ride on the whole width of the tire. This also increases braking distance and impedes performance. Check your owner's manual or read the sticker on the side of the driver's-side door when it is opened. Either should indicate proper tire pressures for both front and rear tires.
  3. Anti-lock brake techniques: Many cars manufactured in the past ten or fifteen years are equipped with ABS or Anti-lock brake systems. Anti-lock brakes are designed to improve handling while braking, and they reduce braking distance under most conditions. They turn on when you push the brake pedal hard towards the floor. In an emergency braking situation, you should press the brake pedal firmly towards the floor and steer around obstacles as needed. Do not reduce pressure on the pedal, and do not "pump" the brakes to prevent skidding.

    You should feel the pedal pulsing while the ABS is engaged. This is normal, and should not be a cause for concern. The ABS system will prevent the tires from locking up and prevent subsequent loss of control. This may give you enough time to steer around an obstacle or stop before reaching it. You should make small, controlled steering changes.

  4. Emergency braking without ABS: Some cars are not equipped with anti-lock brakes. The technique you will use to stop in emergencies is different from those cars equipped with ABS. Stopping without ABS requires a little more care than stomping on the brake as hard as you can. If you do this, the wheels will lock up, and you may enter a skid and lose directional control of the car.

    The correct technique for emergency stops in a car without ABS is to press the pedal to the point of maximum braking effectiveness without causing the tires to "lock up" or skid. This point of maximum braking occurs immediately before the point of locking. If the tires begin to skid, you should ease up a little on the brake pedal just long enough to allow the tires to begin rolling, and then resume maximum braking. Never slam on the brakes. Rather, ease the brakes into maximum braking.

  5. Stopping on slippery surfaces other than asphalt: Sometimes, you may find yourself needing to stop on a slippery surface. In this case, you may want to perform a technique called "Cadence Braking." This is most frequently performed in winter on a slippery surface, such as ice, in a car without anti-lock brakes. The goal is to pass through the point of maximum braking as frequently as possible. This should help reduce your braking distance. Pump the brake pedal quickly. When you press the brake pedal the tires will lock up. Letting off the brake pedal allows the tires resume rolling.

    Cadence braking will not stop your car faster than if you continuously kept the wheels at that point of maximum braking described above. But since it's so difficult to maintain optimum braking on slippery surfaces, cadence braking may be your best bet. A good guide from Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia, can be found here: Cadence Braking.


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