Is there a warning for when your brakes are about to fail?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Apr 01, 1996

Dear Tom and Ray:

Please help. You fellows are a dear to us single females who own cars. What does a driver do when her brakes fail? This happened to me, and it was a hellish experience, believe me! I had a 1975 Dodge Dart and it gave no warning that the brakes were going bad. I drove right through a red light, and it was a miracle I didn't crash into anyone else, or they into me. But it sure shook me up. I drove up onto the median, shed a few tears, then drove to the closest mechanic.
I now own a 1980 Dodge Mirada, and am very vigilant about keeping the brake fluid topped up. But why isn't there a warning device so we can be warned of such a horrendous problem? And what else can I do to ensure that I'll never have to go through such a miserable experience again? --Annie

RAY: You DO have a brake warning light, Annie. And I'm sure if you had looked down while you were careening through that red light, you would have noticed the lit-up red "Brake" light on the dash. Of course, I suspect you were too busy to notice.
TOM: If you had had a slow leak in your brake system, the light would have come on earlier and given you some warning. But it sounds like your front brakes failed catastrophically, and once the brakes fail, the light telling you that you're about to crash doesn't do you much good, does it?
RAY: So how do you avoid this sort of problem in the future? Well, Annie, one problem is that you have a penchant for driving old heaps. You went from a '75 Dart (a widely acknowledged sled) to a 1980 Dodge Mirada -- not exactly a giant leap for mankind.
TOM: And old cars tend to have old, cracked brake hoses. And old, cracked brake hoses tend to do what? Leak!
RAY: So if you're determined, or financially sentenced, to drive an old relic like this one, Annie, you absolutely must have your mechanic check out the brake system every six months. The whole system should be inspected, but have him pay particular attention to the flex hoses. Those are particularly subject to failure on these cars. And at the first sign of any cracking or rusting, have your mechanic replace them.
TOM: If you buy a '96 Taurus, you can just turn the key and drive. But when you drive an '80 Mirada (by the way is that the CARMEN Mirada?), you've got to be much more diligent about preventive maintenance. And the front end and the brakes are two areas that absolutely must be looked at by a mechanic on a regular basis. Good luck to you, Annie.

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