Question Inspired by Recent "Monk" Episode

I’m not sure where to post this, but here’s my question. At the beginning of last Friday’s “Monk”, a game show host murdered his assistant by cutting the brake lines of her car. Since then, I’ve been turning this over in my mind.
When you start a car and put it in gear, you have to put your foot on the brake, of course. So why wouldn’t the assistant know she had no brakes when she put the car in gear? Or, when your brake lines are cut, do you get one “free” brake application before your brakes are no more?
Can anybody answer this? (Maybe I just need to work harder at suspending my disbelief.)

That’s all that’s bothering you about that episode? :dubious:

It happened to be one of the many plot holes that was actually covered: There was a hole in the brake line, but the brakes were still working in the beginning. If you watched the scene, there was a point when she hit the brakes and all the brake fluid flooded out onto the road. From that point on, she had no brakes.

I’d assume that it required over a certain minumum braking pressure to lose the brakes, and just backing out the driveway wasn’t enough.

Let’s understand what brake lines are and how they work. Brake lines are hoses full of fluid. When you expert a force on the fluid at one end of the hose, the force is transferred to the other end of the hose. If you cut the hose in half, the “end” is now where you made the cut and not at the brakes. If the brake lines were truly cut, you get no brakes at all. No “free” anything.

On the other hand, if there was just a hole in brake lines, as might happen when the brake lines have simply developed a leak, as opposed to being completely severed, you do feel them fade after a couple applications. I’ve personally experienced this, fortunately with an old beater vehicle on rural roads where the disappearing brakes didn’t have me sailing out into oncoming traffic. I believe more modern vehicles have multiple hydraulic circuits. I can attest that a '64 International Scout only had one.

Important safety tip: if your brakes ever do fail like this, instead of trying to mash the brake pedal through the floor boards lift your foot back and start pumping the pedal. If there’s any fluid left in the system–and usually there will be–you’ll get a little more resistance with each pump and you should be able to brake to a stop if you have enough room in front of you. (Another argument against tailgating.)

Care to expand upon that thought, RealityChuck?

Can’t say for sure what RC was thinking, but my reaction to the show was, “No way is it that easy to cheat on a game show. Even with the collusion of the celebrity host.” And the ‘undetectable’ signalling method they were using was just slightly less subtle than the host shouting the answers to the contestant …

SCSimmons has one of them. Others include:

[spoilers]1. Game shows are always taped in advance and are never broadcast live.
2. The contestant was awfully stupid to not even pretend he was playing the game. I know he was supposed to be dumb, but someone capable of the quick thinking needed to come up with the plot should have known to look at the picture behind him before giving an answer.
3. Why did the assistant leave the host alone with the videotape? If I had evidence like that, I’d keep it with me – or, better yet, not tell the host at all.
4. This is a common problem with all movies/TV shows featuring this type of murder plot: if your brakes fail, put the car in low gear. It’ll keep your speed only about 30 mph, making it easier to control without brakes. And why not at least try to use the emergency brake?
5. What was on the destroyed videotape? The implication was it was evidence of collusion, but the contestant we saw learned about the host’s plan *after * the tape was made. So who was the first colluder and what happened to him/her?[/spoilers]
I still like Monk for the humor, but the quality of the mysteries is wildly uneven. (And this episode was good for the flashbacks to Trudy.)

I had this happen once. I was at my husband’s job waiting for him in the car and feigned leaving him by backing the car up. I felt a stutter in the brakes but being a novice driver, didn’t realize what it was. I instinctively pumped the brake once or twice and everything was normal.

He took the wheel when we left and the brakes were fine since I had pumped them up. However, when we were on the highway about halfway to where we were going, he felt the same stutter and being a mechanic, knew it was the brake line. He did several things at once - pumped the brakes (which didn’t help much this time), put on the 4-way flashers, honked the horn, got to the right lane, cut the ignition and pulled onto the shoulder. Quite impressive even if he did need to get to a bathroom quickly!

It should be noted, that in a car with power steering, you should NOT cut the ignition before you are stopped, or else steering will be next to impossible.

A similar thing happened to me once. I usually do my own brake work but since I was in a hurry this particular time I had new brake pads put on at a local garage. They had bled the brakes and apparently forgot to put the cap back on one of the bleeder valves. Little did I know that everytime I applied the brakes, fluid was being squirted out the open line. About 5 miles down the road, with my wife and kids in the car with me, I attempted to stop for a red light at a busy intersection and - uh, oh! - no brakes. None. Nada. I grabbed the hand operated emergency brake and carefully used it to stop the car. Once the light turned green I proceded slowly into the next parking lot, still using the hand brake to stop. A quick look at the brake assembly showed the bleeder valve open and the cap still sitting on top of the caliper! I capped the line, added brake fluid, and proceded back to the garage where I probably scared off every customer in the place. They contritely offered me a free brake job next time! Eh, I don’t think so.

All this to say I opt for the emergency brake.

Depends on the car. I had a throttle stick once, coming up 270 out of DC (think 6 lanes of bumper to bumper traffic, all going 70 mph), which is not someplace you want to have your car suddenly decide it’s just going to accelerate forever. I shut off the engine, coasted off to the side of the road, and opened the hood. I had a little compact car at the time, but I didn’t find it that difficult to steer. Sure it was a bit harder than without power steering, but not that bad.

I had the power steering go out on an old Monte Carlo I had once (it blew a power steering hose). It took a bit of muscle, but it wasn’t impossible to steer. I managed to drive it home from Gettysburg to Hanover PA, which is about 10 miles on twisty little country roads.

Good advice. I don’t know how many people realize that the emergency brake is connected by a cable, and will still work even if all the brake fluid is gone. The important thing is you want to keep the brake release on while using it like this. If you don’t, you can easily lock up the brakes.