'Why do my brakes fade after I drive through a flood?' [Newbie Guide]

Updated Mar 01, 2021 | Same topic: Beginner's Guide

Rainy weather driving gives new meaning to the phrase “wet and wild.”

Few occasions illustrate just how valuable (and vulnerable) brakes are than the rainy season. With heavy torrential rains come the inevitable flooding, especially on city streets.

In your rush to get home away from the combined madness of traffic jams and zero visibility, you might have driven through a particularly flooded street, only to be gripped by momentary panic as your brakes fail to engage afterward. Should you worry?

Driving through flood

Water and brakes don't make a very good combination when you're driving [Photo: Shootthedevgru]

First, it’s important to note that brakes work on the basis of friction. Whether your vehicle uses older drum brakes or newer disc brakes, the principle is the same.

Simply put, stepping on the brake pedal causes the brake pad or brake shoe to press against the moving disc or drum on the wheel hub. The resulting friction from the surface-to-surface contact slows down the wheels spinning motion, reducing the vehicle’s speed.

>>> Related: What is a hydrolocked engine & How to deal with it?

Car brakes

Brakes use friction to regulate the wheel hub's movement

The whole process works only as long as both surfaces are dry. Adding water to the mix reduces the friction from the two hard surfaces rubbing against each other. When that happens, the brakes are no longer as effective in slowing down or stopping the vehicle.

When you suddenly speed up after driving through a flooded street, or if you just had your car washed, chances are your car’s stopping power is compromised, putting you and other road users in danger.

A number of cars today are equipped with a brake disc wipe. When the windshield wipers are activated, the anti-lock brakes apply slight pressure to the pads in regular intervals, removing accumulated layers of water on the brakes without needing to reduce vehicle speed.

Driving through flood 3

Avoid driving fast on floods, especially after emerging from one

If your car doesn’t have this feature, you can dry the brakes manually by applying gentle but steady pressure on the brake pedal after driving through a flood, while keeping the car in low gear. Avoid slamming the brakes as other motorists behind you will react accordingly, otherwise you might find yourself the victim of a rear-end collision.    

Find more safe driving tips at Philkotse.com.

Joseph Paolo Estabillo

Joseph Paolo Estabillo


Joseph has been a member of various car clubs since he got his driver's license in 2004 – old enough to remember riding in taxicabs with analog meters, but his fascination with cars goes way back. After nearly two decades of working in broadcast media, he shifted gears by coming on board as Philkotse’s first Filipino member and staff writer in 2017.

Apart from his role in Philkotse as Content Team Lead, Joseph has written episodes for Drive, which has been airing on CNN Philippines for five seasons running. He has also delivered content for various car dealerships based in the U.S., spanning multiple brands such as Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Jeep, Dodge, among others.

Keeping his hopes high and his revs low, he dreams about owning a Kei car when he retires. Hates slow parkers.

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