The sign says “Trucks, Stop Here, Check Brakes, Steep Hill Ahead.” Ask almost anyone and they would likely tell you that this sign only applies to heavy commercial trucks equipped with air brakes. This is not the case however, the sign applies to all trucks with a licensed Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) of more than 5,500 kg. regardless of brake system type. It could include everything from a truck tractor to a pickup pulling an RV.
Advisory signs posted at the brake check site tell drivers of vehicles equipped with hydraulic brake systems that they must check pedal pressure, brake assist, that there are no fluid leaks and that the brake drums are not overheated. Pedal pressure is tested by applying the brakes and holding them applied. The pedal must not be spongy or slowly depress. Turn the engine off, pump the brake pedal to deplete the assist, hold the pedal down and start the engine again. If assist is working properly you will feel the pedal rise slightly.
Are you towing a trailer equipped with brakes? Disconnect the vacuum lines, pull the pin on the electric switch or the lever on the surge brake to activate the breakaway brake. Try to drive ahead and the trailer wheels should lock.
In addition to checking for hydraulic fluid leaks, it would be wise to check fluid levels in the master cylinder as well. Some master cylinder leaks are hidden when the brake fluid leaks into the vacuum assist chamber and is pulled into the engine and burned rather than appearing as a visible leak.
Lethbridge Police are warning drivers again to check their brakes before driving after a vandal struck again in the city. Less than two weeks ago a vandal cut brake lines on 8 vehicles and just recently another 3 vehicles have been hit. It is unclear at this point whether the two vandal sprees are by the same person or a copy cat vandal.
Luckily no one has been injured but there is potential for some serious injuries if drivers do not realize their vehicle has no brakes. Most of the drivers have discovered that their vehicles have no brakes while still in the rear alleys where they were parked while some never got going after noticing the lack of brake pedal resistance.
“Obviously there’s serious potential here for property damage, injuries, even worse if someone were to get into a collision,” Lethbridge police spokeswoman Kristen Harding said.
It is a good idea to always check your brakes before beginning to drive, even if you’re not from the Lethbridge area. For those driving vehicles with automatic transmissions, you’re probably pressing down on the brake while shifting out of park anyway. Press the brake pedal a few times and if there is no resistance or if the pedal drops to the floor, there is something wrong with your brakes. Pull up on your emergency brake and turn off your vehicle. Check under your vehicle for any leaking brake fluid or have someone that knows about vehicle maintenance take a look at your vehicle before operating it.
One would think that there was a weekend push, pull or drag sale on trailers. I once checked three of them on a Friday evening and found one that was too heavy for a surge brake, one that had no brakes functioning and a third that needed brakes but was not equipped with them. The one with no functional brakes was being towed by a class one driver, and the other two by drivers who likely didn’t know any better.
A hydraulic surge brake cannot be used where the trailer and it’s load weigh more than 2,800 kg. When it is this heavy, the driver must have a means of applying the trailer brakes separately from the tow vehicle brakes from where the driver is seated in the cab. A combination electric and hydraulic brake is most commonly used on boat trailers for this purpose.
The class one driver was clearly negligent. The breakaway brake activation lever and cable was missing entirely from his trailer. A quick look inside the master cylinder on the surge brake revealed that there was no fluid inside it. This trailer should never have left the yard.
The third trailer weighed just under 1,400 kg and the driver towing it said that he had been told by the business that sold it to him that it was not heavy enough to require brakes. The net weight (shown on his vehicle registration document) of the vehicle he had chosen to tow the trailer with was just over 1,800 kg. This means that the trailer and load cannot weigh more than half of that figure or 900 kg. if it is to operate without brakes.
All three drivers had no clear idea how much their trailer weighed. The only sure way to know this is to go to a scale and have it weighed. Once that is accomplished, it is time to consider brake requirements.
For the simplest cases, if the total weight of the trailer and load is under 1,400 kg but more than 50% of the net weight of the towing vehicle, brakes are required. If it weighs 1,400 kg or more, brakes are required. If it weighs more than 2,800 kg a surge brake cannot be used and a different braking system is required.
Lastly, a word about breakaway brakes. These are required on trailers that weigh 1,400 kg or more when loaded. They are designed to stop the trailer and hold it stopped for a minimum of 15 minutes should it accidentally disconnect from the tow vehicle. Don’t attach the lanyard for activating the brake to the hitch assembly or safety chains! Attach it somewhere else on the tow vehicle so that if the hitch fails the brake will still activate.