You may not give much thought to your brakes. If they are working correctly, you might not even notice them. However, they are the most critical safety feature of any car or truck. A vehicle that does not run is inconvenient; one that does not stop is deadly. That is why we recommend regular brake inspections and for you to come in immediately if you suspect a brake problem.
Damaged brakes are hazardous, not just to you but to other drivers on the road. Routine brake inspections make sure your components are working correctly. If they are worn or damaged, an inspection lets you know to replace them before they become dangerous. We can also estimate the remaining life of your components when we inspect them.
Most of today’s vehicles use disc brakes. With disc brakes, a set of calipers with pads squeeze the disc, also known as the rotor. That creates friction, which stops the car. The calipers operate hydraulically, so you need the right amount of brake fluid in your lines.
Like disc brakes, drum brakes operate hydraulically. They have a brake drum inside the wheel. Instead of pads, some shoes contract against the brake drum. The friction slows and stops the wheel.
Your emergency brake, also known as your parking brake, is a backup system. It works independently from your disc or drum brakes. That means you can use it if your primary braking system fails. Most emergency brake systems use mechanical energy and a cable system, not hydraulics, to stop wheels.
ABS or antilock brakes are not a different type of brake system. Instead, they are usually in conjunction with disc breaks. The ABS features keep your wheels from locking and skidding when applying the brakes. ABS systems rely on sensors and add additional components to your brake system.
Inspection Check List
When we check your brakes, we look at the entire system.
- Brake pedal
- Brake fluid
- Brake lines and hoses
- Master cylinder
- Brake assemblies (drums or discs)
- Emergency brake system
We are looking for signs of wear or damage, including leaking, cracked, or damaged lines or calipers. We also look at the lifetime of various parts. For example, brake shoes and pads have an ideal thickness (at least a quarter of an inch). We will let you know if they need replacing or should be replaced soon.
When Should We Check Your Brakes
Brake inspections are a routine part of car maintenance. We generally tell customers to get their brakes inspected every time they rotate their tires. For most drivers, this means brake inspections every six months.
Of course, driving conditions can impact your brake system. If you drive on busy roads with frequent stops and starts, you put more wear-and-tear on your brake system. So, the mileage may not be the best way to determine when you need a brake inspection. Suppose you drive in heavy traffic or are an aggressive driver. In that case, we recommend brake inspections every three months or with every oil change.
Signs of Brake Problems
You should also check your brakes if you have any signs of a brake problem.
- Brake Light- The most obvious warning sign is when your brake light comes on. You should not ignore this light because it means that your car has sensed a problem in your braking system. However, always check your parking brake. If it is on, the brake light will turn on. Get your system inspected if the brake light stays on after you release the parking brake.
- Spongy Brakes- If your brakes feel soft or spongy when you hit the pedal, you may not have enough pressure in your brake lines. The culprit can be a leak somewhere in your hydraulic system. That is a severe problem that can lead to sudden loss of braking ability. Get them checked immediately. If you are not close to a service station, you may even want to call a tow truck for safety.
- Longer Braking Times- If it seems to take you longer to stop, get your brakes checked. Longer braking times usually mean wear and tear on your components.
- Squealing or Squeaking– Did you know that brake pads have components to make them squeal when they need repair? These wear indicators help you avoid damage to your rotors. Debris, pebbles, and even excessive moisture in the air can also lead to squealing or squeaking. Get your brakes checked to rule out any problems.
- Grinding Noises- If you hear grinding noises when you brake, it could signify a serious and potentially expensive problem. Grinding sounds usually indicate metal-on-metal contact. You want to get that fixed right away. Usually, we can resurface rotors. However, if they are significantly damaged, you will need to replace them. The longer you wait to service your brakes, the more expensive the repair will probably be.
- Vibration- Does your vehicle shimmy or shake when you brake? If so, you may have uneven rotors or brake pads. A simple brake job and rotor resurface can often fix this problem. Of course, shimmying can also signal a problem with your alignment. The best way to find out the root cause of the problem is to get your brakes inspected.
- Leaking Fluid- You should never be losing brake fluid. That is because brakes are a closed hydraulic system. If you notice any leaking fluids, you want to get that checked immediately. If you have had to add brake fluid, you want to get your brakes inspected, even if you do not see any puddles of liquid.
- Pulling to the Side- Like shimmying, pulling can indicate a problem with your brakes. Pulling can be a severe problem because it can mean that one side of your brake system is failing.
- Burning Smells– Your brakes can overheat. The calipers can malfunction and lock in place. If you notice burning smells when you brake, pull over as soon as it is safe. Make sure your parking brake is off. Check to see if there is smoke coming from the wheel. If not, wait until your brakes can cool off and then drive to a service station. If you notice smoke from the wheels, it is not safe to drive.
Summer is the time for road trips. To ensure you are safe, we always recommend having a mechanic inspect your car before any long trips. A brake inspection is an essential part of that pre-road trip overview. A few minutes and a few dollars can save you money and keep your family safe. So, come in for a brake inspection today.