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Winter-related brake failure a safety issue

Problems live on after snow and ice melt

Published: April 09, 2015 02:45 PM

Even though all visible evidence of snow and ice may be a distant memory, the ghost of winters past may be lurking under your car in the form of corrosion. And it poses a big safety risk, particularly for vehicles from 2007 and earlier, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

NHTSA has issued a safety advisory to remind people of the importance of washing and inspecting their vehicle—particularly the undercarriage—throughout winter and after the season has ended. Repeated exposure to winter road salts in Snowbelt states could lead to corrosion of metal brake lines and eventually failure, which could result in a crash. (See “Do's and don'ts of washing your car.”)

Consumers are urged to take the following action to not only prevent damage to their brake lines, but to address any developing corrosion.

Remove road salt that leads to corrosion:

  • Thoroughly clean your vehicle, including the undercarriage, at the end of the winter.
  • Regularly wash the undercarriage throughout the winter on warmer days.

Monitor your brake system, including brake lines, brake hoses, and other undercarriage components for corrosion or signs of brake failure:

  •  If you own an older vehicle in a cold-weather state, have a qualified mechanic or inspection station look over the vehicle at least twice a year. If there are any signs of corrosion, inspect the brakes more frequently, at least every time you bring your vehicle in for service.
  • Keep an eye on brake fluid level. Watch for changes in how your brake pedal feels and for signs of fluid leakage beneath the vehicle. All of these could indicate a leak in your brakes.

If you find severe corrosion that causes scaling or flaking of brake components, replace the entire brake pipe assembly:

  • Do not replace just a portion of the assembly. Failure in one portion of the brake pipes generally means other sections of pipe are at risk of failure.
  • Check with your manufacturer to see if they have pre-fabricated brake pipe kits to possibly make replacement easier.

This warning comes at the conclusion of NHTSA's brake-line failure investigation of 1999 through 2003 model-year full-size pickup trucks and SUVs.

The NHTSA advises not to drive the vehicle at all if you notice leaks from the brake pipes and that it is wise to replace all of the pipes at the same time.

Jon Linkov

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