If a child jumped out onto the street in front of your moving vehicle, could you stop in time?

That depends on a number of factors, from how far away you are, to the speed you’re driving and how quick you are to get on the pedal.

But there is something that has been overlooked: the brakes themselves. But brakes are brakes, right?

Wheelbase Media, in conjunction with Goodyear Tire, online tire/wheel store The Tire Rack and Italy-based Brembo Brakes, embarked on a set of tests (stopping distance from 96 km/h to zero) that went everywhere but in a straight line.

We’ll save the nitty-gritty of all that testing for the series we’re still working on, but there were several key findings that we believe can’t wait since spreading the word could save lives.

So, after establishing a baseline stopping distance through repeated back-to-back stops until the distance became noticeably longer due to heat saturation of the brake parts, it was Brembo’s suggestion to change the brake fluid and try again.

Information on changing brake fluid is anecdotal at best, so we actually didn’t expect any difference in our 11-year-old test truck, a 2000 Ford F150 Lightning SVT, especially since it was only ever summer driven and had just 48,000 kilometres on it.

The baseline testing — starting at square one with the factory brakes — began with a few stops in the 38-41-metre range. Once the brakes became heated, however, the distance dramatically increased to about 55 metres. This was after about eight back-to-back tests. The interval between stops was about 35-60 seconds, the time required to reset the distance computer for the next run and then get back up to speed.

Once the fluid was changed as per Brembo’s suggestion, we were shocked to discover that although the initial braking distance was just slightly better than the baseline, that, even after 15 hard stops from 96 km/h, the braking distance had only climbed to about 46 metres. Where the baseline-run distance after eight stops was 55 metres, with the new fluid the truck was hauling itself down in 43.

Wow.

What we thought was merely the rotors and brake pads becoming overwhelmed with heat turned out to be the old brake fluid, which had lost its performance over time.

The moral? Changing brake fluid keeps your brakes operating in a more consistent and predictable manner. For $15 in fluid plus labour, it’s worth it.

We relayed the information to three shops who all said the same thing: they knew — or perhaps were told or heard — there was a difference, but had no idea how big a difference changing the fluid could make.

Brembo engineers, who suggested the test, also found the data to be an eye opener. The company deals with high-performance and racing applications where every foot of stopping distance counts.