Car maintenance is never fun, and one area that’s all too often ignored is the brakes. That being said, brakes are critical and you have to pay attention to the indicators that it’s time for a service at Midas or Pep Boys. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the condition of your brakes will either keep you safe from accidents or get you involved in one, so pay attention to them.
There are some very clear signs that your brakes need servicing, such as the car taking more time to stop than before or the brake light showing up on the dashboard. If either of these occurs, have your car serviced and the brakes checked. However, there are other signs that you need to watch out for.
Pads Getting Worn Out
First you need to understand how the brakes work. The majority of cars use disc brakes, and they work similar to a bicycle. There’s a hydraulic system full of brake fluid that sets off the calipers, and these calipers come together on the rotor. Friction takes place between the rotor and the pads, stopping your car.
As time passes by, the pads get worn out, so they can’t slow and stop your car as quickly as before. If your brakes are acting up, check the pads’ thickness – those that squeeze the calipers- to see if they’re worn out. Just take a peek between the wheel spokes and look for the metal rotor. When you find it look for the metal caliper at the outer edge, and you should see the pads between the rotor and the caliper.
The pads have to be a quarter of an inch thick at least, and if they’re less than that it’s time for a change. If you cannot see between the spokes, you’ll need to take out the tire first. While you’re checking the brake pads, have a look at the rotor too: it needs to be smooth, and if it isn’t, have it replaced along with the brakes.
One of the clearest signs your brakes need a change is when it emits a high pitched squeal. The sound is loud enough to hear even if your windows are up, but it might difficult to notice if your car radio is blaring, so that’s another reason to keep the volume down.
Besides the squealing you should also watch out for a grinding noise, and when you hear that it means the brake pads are almost completely through. The grinding noise is due to the metal calipers going up against the metal rotors. This isn’t good for your car, and if you don’t replace the brakes ASAP, you’re going to damage the rotors as well, which can be expensive.
Pulling refers to those situations when the car feels like it wants to go left or right while you’re braking or driving. This is a possible sign of brake system problems, and the cause of the pulling could be a stuck caliper. If this happens there will be a friction on only one wheel, forcing the car to pull to the right or left where the caliper has been stuck.
The pulling can also occur if the brake hose collapses, leading to an uneven movement of the calipers when you go for the brakes. The problem can also be due to uneven brake pads as different pressure levels are applied.
That being said, it has to be pointed out that pulling may be caused by other problems such as worn out tires, suspension problems or poor alignment. Because there are a lot of possible causes, you should have the car checked immediately if there’s a pulling sensation.
If you’ve had the chance to put on the emergency brakes, you know that there’s a pulsing that emanates from the system as it slows and stops your car. But if you feel a pulse or vibration even when braking under normal driving conditions, there’s a strong possibility of a brake problem.
If the brake pedal is vibrating it’s indicative of a warped rotor, as the rough surface will thrum against the brake pads, the effect of which is felt in the brake pedal. Generally, rotors warp only when placed under extreme stress for prolonged periods, such as going down mountainsides or stopping often while towing something large. If your brakes aren’t stressed but you still feel a vibration, the wheels could be misaligned. Whatever the case may be, have it checked to be sure.
If the pedal has to hit the floor prior to the brake engagement, it’s a sign of a hydraulics problem or worn out pads, or there could be a leak in the brake fluid. If you don’t know how to check this, take your car to a service dealer and have it inspected.