Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom...

Today being the 4th of July, but a rainy, overcast, 4th of July, I simply slept in until about 9:30. Then I got up, had a shower, etc., and at a little after 11:00, Kath and I decided to go out for some lunch. I was tooling down the street in my ‘99 VW Cabrio at about 25 mph as I approached an intersection near my house that happens to have an interminably long traffic light. The light was red, and I sighed as I depressed the clutch and geared down just before stepping on the brake pedal, anticipating the usual 3 minute wait at that light. But my irritation with the slow light evaporated as I stepped on the brake pedal and felt it go straight to the floor. Suddenly, I had no brakes, and because that part of the road is on a slight decline and there was nothing to slow the car down, I was horrified to feel the car actually accelerating as we approached the intersection. Everything seemed to go into slow motion then. I pumped the brake pedal, but nothing happened. For a fraction of a second, I thought about turning, but the car was moving too fast. In a nanosecond I glanced to my left and my right and saw no cars closer than half a block away in either direction so I simply steered straight, exclaiming in disbelief as we flew through the intersection, "OhmyGod! I have NO brakes!"

We cruised to a stop midway up the next block, where we had been mercifully slowed down by a slight incline in the road, and there I saw that in the middle of all this, the car had died or perhaps I’d shut it off, but at any rate all of the dashboard lights were on.

Kath and I sat looking at each other, shaking and catching our breath.

"What on earth happened?" Kath asked.

"I dunno," I said, "My brakes completely failed..."

Kath said I handled it well. She said that I pulled the emergency brake after pumping the brakes, although I don’t remember doing that, and it didn’t help at all. When I turned the ignition back on, the car started right up, and the brakes seemed to work just fine. When I depressed the brake pedal, it didn’t feel soft or spongy; there was solid resistance beneath my foot, both with the engine on and with it off.

Back home, I Googled "sudden brake failure" and read that what had just happened is the classic symptom of impending failure of the master cylinder, although it can also be a symptom of low brake fluid, or of contaminated brake fluid that needs to be changed. A look under the hood revealed that my brake fluid was, indeed, low, although no warning light had come on indicating this, and when I had my car in last week to have the rear tires replaced, I was told that I needed a new air filter but no one said anything about the brake fluid.

I was sufficiently shaken by this experience that I took my car in to a garage this afternoon, where I was told that I do indeed need a new master cylinder, as well as new rotors, calipers and pads. That may well be so, as I’ve driven about 40,000 miles since I last had those parts replaced. The thing that really scares me is that there was absolutely no warning that the brakes were about to go, and if this had happened on any other morning, on my way to work, when there is endless traffic in both directions on that road...well, let’s just say that if it had to happen, I feel incredibly lucky that it happened today.

And to everyone reading this...whatever you drive, go check your brake fluid.

9 comments:

Theresa Williams said...

I am so glad you are both all right. Those kinds of incidents are so scary. I know because Allen and I both have had them. And thanks for your comment regarding my entry on THE BRIDGE. I ordered a copy from AMAZON after seeing the film discussed on CHARLIE ROSE. It's worth having, and I want to see it again, but not yet. It is without a doubt the most affecting film I have ever seen. The feelings it brings about, apparently, last for days. I hope you see it soon so we can share thoughts on it. XOXXOXOX Take care!

Carol Gee said...

Scary incident! Glad y'all are safe.

Erin said...

Wow! So scary! Glad to hear you guys are OK. Cars are such a mystery to me. (Oh, and by the way, I drive a 98 VW Golf!)

Jan said...

ooooohh!! I stopped breathing for a moment in your tale--I'm sure you felt like that, too! So glad that you and Kath (and the car) are all right. Wow. Thanks for relating the story AND for giving us some good info about our vehicles.

Tammy said...

Yikes! I'm glad you guys are ok, how scary! I had that happen on an incline last year and the guy said it was the heat...grrr! XXOO

Chris said...

Holy carp (sic)! I totally pictured this at an intersection I go though daily. It is a steep downhill from a residential section across a major 4 lane artery. If this happened to me, I would have been just like you! Thank god you're ok. That is some scary stuff. Just had my brakes checked last month when my tires were replaced but you have me wanting to go check again!

Terroni said...

Whoa, Judi!
I am so glad that you're okay. Seems like something they should have seen getting low with your last oil change, though. They are supposed to check all the fluid each time...huh.

dreaminglily said...

We don't trust our cars warning lights at ALL, they go off for no reason. We've spent a TON of money on having our car checked when nothing was wrong, the censors just don't work. We do regular checks and maintence and totally ignore the lights. Kind of like going back into the stone age lol But, at least we get the car regularly checked.

Oh and btw, it's a '97 buick. Almost the same age as yours.

I'm glad you're ok. I felt my stomach drop out when I read that. It's so terrifying when it happens.

~Lily

emmapeelDallas said...

I've had the same experience Lily. In fact, I call the Check Engine Light the Chick Engine Light because of all the ridiculous explanations I've received from various mechanics who apparently think I'm an idiot when I've inquired about that light. I maintain my car religiously, so I was amazed that this happened, and grateful to be alright.

Judi