A brake booster is a vital component of a vehicle’s braking system, using vacuum pressure to reduce the amount of effort needed to press the brake pedal and bring the vehicle to a stop. So what happens if this important part starts to fail? Can you still safely operate a vehicle with a malfunctioning brake booster? Let’s take a closer look.
Here’s a quick answer: No, it is extremely dangerous to drive a vehicle with a malfunctioning brake booster due to reduced braking abilities and unpredictable pedal response. Have the booster diagnosed and repaired immediately.
The Role of the Brake Booster
The brake booster is located between the brake pedal and the master cylinder. When you press the brake pedal, the booster uses vacuum pressure generated by the engine to increase the force applied to the master cylinder’s piston. This allows the driver to stop the vehicle with much less pedal pressure than would be required otherwise.
Without a functioning booster, the braking system relies solely on the driver’s leg strength to push the caliper pistons and brake pads against the rotors to slow the wheels. Much more pedal force would be necessary to achieve the same braking power compared to having the additional vacuum assist.
Dangers of Driving With a Bad Brake Booster
While it may seem possible to drive a car with a malfunctioning brake booster, especially for short distances, it is an extremely unsafe choice that puts yourself and others at serious risk. Here are some of the major concerns:
- Harder pedal and more force required to stop: With a failed booster, the brake pedal will feel very stiff and firm. The driver will have to apply much more pressure to achieve adequate braking.
- Longer stopping distances: The increased pedal effort and reduced braking power will result in longer stopping distances. This makes it harder to slow down or stop quickly when needed.
- Unpredictable braking: As the booster starts to fail, braking performance becomes inconsistent and unpredictable. The pedal may still be soft sometimes, then suddenly become very hard, which can catch drivers off guard.
- Complete brake failure: In a worst case scenario, a malfunctioning booster can lead to complete brake loss if it is forcing too much hydraulic pressure back to the master cylinder.
- Delayed response time: Since the pedal is harder to push, drivers may respond slower in emergency situations due to the extra effort required.
- Limited leg strength: Many drivers simply do not have enough leg strength to stop a car without the booster’s power assist.
Warning Signs of a Failing Brake Booster
Here are some symptoms that can indicate potential issues with your brake booster:
- Hard brake pedal that requires increased effort to push
- Brake pedal sinking to the floor when held down
- Longer stopping distances with reduced braking power
- Brake pedal feels spongy or inconsistent
- Brake warning light illuminated on dashboard
- Hissing, vacuum leak sounds from under the hood
- Engine rpm increasing when braking
Paying attention to these signs can help you identify and address a faulty brake booster before it leads to a dangerous situation. Do not ignore any problems with braking performance.
What to Do With a Bad Brake Booster
If you suspect your brake booster is malfunctioning, here are your safest options:
- Do not drive the vehicle: Avoid driving until the issue can be properly diagnosed and repaired. Look for alternate transportation options.
- Check brake fluid level: Ensure the brake fluid reservoir is filled to the proper level. Low fluid can indicate leaks.
- Get a professional diagnosis: Take the vehicle to a certified mechanic to test the booster and confirm any issues.
- Repair or replace booster: If diagnosed with a bad booster, have it repaired or replaced as soon as possible. Replacement boosters can cost $200-$700 for parts and labor.
- Bleed brakes after repairs: Once any repairs are complete, the brakes must be bled of air to restore proper braking abilities.
Do not neglect warning signs of a failing brake booster. Driving with this compromised safety component puts your life and the lives of others in jeopardy. Address the problem promptly before an accident occurs.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long can you drive with a bad brake booster?
You should not drive any further than absolutely necessary, such as just far enough to get off the road or to a repair shop. The risks are too severe to continue normal operation.
What are the symptoms of a bad brake booster?
Symptoms include a hard brake pedal, increased pedal effort, sinking pedal, longer stopping distances, inconsistent pedal feel, brake warning light, hissing noises, and engine rpm going up during braking.
Does a bad brake booster affect brakes?
Yes, a faulty brake booster reduces the hydraulic force applied to the brake pads and rotors, resulting in less effective braking power and longer stopping distances.
Can you drive with a bad brake booster temporarily?
It is never recommended to drive any further than essential with a confirmed bad brake booster. The unpredictable performance is too dangerous. Have it towed or repaired before any further operation.
How much does it cost to replace a brake booster?
Brake booster replacement costs typically range from $200 – $700, including parts and professional labor. Prices vary by vehicle make and model.
What happens if brake booster completely fails?
Complete brake booster failure can lead to a fully inoperative braking system with no power assist. In this catastrophic situation, the driver would have to rely solely on the mechanical operation of the pedal and linkage to stop the vehicle.
The Bottom Line
A malfunctioning brake booster jeopardizes your ability to stop your vehicle safely and effectively. Never attempt to drive with a known issue, except to immediately get off the road and get repairs. Doing so recklessly endangers your life and the lives of everyone around you.
If you notice any signs of booster problems, get your brakes checked right away before attempting further operation. Investing in professional diagnosis and repair is essential to remain confident in your braking abilities. Do not compromise safety – always address brake booster problems promptly and responsibly.