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7 Reasons for Brake Failure in Heavy Equipment and How to Avoid Them

Published on 14 Dec 2023

Brakes must work, but that doesn’t mean they always do. And when they don’t work when needed in heavy equipment, that puts operations behind schedule and risks profit loss. 

In most cases, brake failure is preventable. Equip yourself with the knowledge you can bring to your customers and check out these seven common reasons for brake failure, potential causes, and how to avoid them.

  1. Design faults
  2. Excessive wear & tear
  3. Overheating
  4. Contamination
  5. Imbalance
  6. Fluid leaks
  7. Electrical issues

Common Reasons for Brake Failure, Possible Causes, & How to Avoid Them

1. Design Faults

A flawed design is doomed to fail. Whether it’s the brake design or the design of the entire vehicle, every millimeter and individual component — down to the smallest screw — must be factored. If the brake design doesn’t make sense for the conditions the vehicle will face or doesn’t integrate with the rest of the vehicle to create a responsive system, problems arise.

How to avoid them: Ensure collaboration between brake system engineers and product developers immediately when beginning the design process, well before vehicles hit production.

2. Excessive Wear & Tear

Wear and tear are normal, but every pad, rotor, and caliper has a life expectancy of tens of thousands of miles when used properly. Riding the brakes on inclines, frequent forceful braking, and user neglect wear out brakes before they’ve reached their full life cycle — failing to bring a complete return on investment.

How to avoid it: Pass along to owners and operators the importance of cleaning and inspecting brakes frequently, and advise drivers to practice proper braking techniques while operating.

3. Overheating

Improper braking leads to excessive friction, which overheats sensitive brake components and disrupts operation. With too much heat, brake pads experience “glazing,” where they’re “cooked” so severely that their surfaces smooth out and lose grip. Rotors warp and lose their intricate shape and ability to perform.

How to avoid it: Managers should instruct all drivers to use proper braking and give vehicles regular downtime to cool off.

4. Contamination

Heavy equipment — wheel loaders, dump trucks, snow plows — is highly susceptible to brake contamination from working in sloppy, dirty conditions. Mud, gravel, water, and other debris can contaminate and eat away at brake components, hurting their functionality.

How to avoid it: Frequent cleaning and inspection often catches contaminants before they build up and create major problems.

5. Imbalance

Brakes may be off balance and not performing at the same level. Possible causes: One side of the vehicle may be carrying more weight than the other, or the wheels may be misaligned, putting more pressure on one set of brakes than the other. Whatever the root cause, the imbalance creates unpredictability and leads to possible failure.

How to avoid it: Advise managers and operators to obey all loading limits to distribute weight evenly, inspect brakes frequently, and ensure wheels are aligned. 

6. Fluid Leaks

Leaks in brake fluid lines and cylinders prevent hydraulic fluid from effectively sending force to calipers to put pressure on rotors. The result is a loss of force and brake functionality.

How to avoid them: Operators must check brake lines regularly — after every use if they’re working in sloppy or hazardous conditions — and repair or replace brake lines on schedule or at the first sign of damage.

7. Electrical Issues

Even if the brakes themselves are working, brake lights may experience failure. Bulbs burn out, fuses blow, and wiring falls loose or gets damaged. When brake lights aren’t alerting others around the vehicle, accidents may occur.

How to avoid them: Advise managers and operators to inspect all brake components regularly and be sure all wires are connected and undamaged. Instruct them to replace bulbs and fuses on a regular schedule or as needed as soon as any outage is noticed.

Turn to the Brake Experts for Insights

For nearly 80 years, we’ve succeeded in researching, engineering, and developing innovative braking systems for many industries — including heavy equipment and industrial vehicles.

Fueled by our brake experts, our blog is your resource for information on the latest braking systems and best practices, plus updates on Hayes’ exceptional, American-made products. 

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