Your vehicle’s brakes have one of the most important jobs of any component: making sure you can stop safely and predictably each and every time you hit the pedal.
As the kilometres rack up and time moves forward, however, even the best braking system requires care and maintenance. The key is identifying the right time to address the needs of your brakes – which should be well before you start to notice a measurable decrease in performance out on the road.
Check out these signs that you should be starting to think about repairing or replacing your vehicle’s brakes.
- Difficulty: Easy
- Duration: 10-20 minutes
Hey, You, What's That Sound?
Is your car starting to sound like a bus when you roll up to a stop sign? Squeaking, squealing brakes are often a sign that your vehicle’s brake pads are getting close to the end of their usable life.
Usually, the sound is generated by small metal tabs attached to the side of the pad that only make contact when its friction material has worn down to the point where replacement is in the near future. Other times, however, the sound could be an indication that the pad itself is completely worn and the metal backing plate is making contact with the brake rotor.
If you hear a grinding sound while braking, that can also indicate a problem. There may be uneven wear on the pad that is causing it to disintegrate, or there could be a rock or some other debris caught between the pad and the rotor.
A quick visual inspection will tell you your pad and rotor status, and whether it’s time for a new set. Make sure to inspect the rotor for signs of gouging or uneven wear at the same time.
It might seem as though reduced stopping power would be the most obvious sign that your brakes need to be replaced, but in truth it can be quite difficult to tell that your vehicle is taking longer and longer to slow down. This is because you get used to the incremental increase in stopping distance as your pads begin to wear down, and automatically adjust your driving style to compensate.
As above, a visual pad inspection will tell you right away whether you have a safe amount of friction material left. If you’re noticing fade during quick stops, however – that sensation of your braking capability diminishing after the initial pedal hit – it’s likely time for a fresh pad at each wheel.
Pump It Up
A final key indicator that your braking system needs maintenance is a ‘spongy’ brake pedal. This term refers to the sensation of having the pedal feel less firm than normal during steady braking, perhaps even requiring you to pump it once or twice to get enough pressure to confidently stop.
If you’ve noticed this problem – or if the pedal seems to sink to the floor when you’re holding the brakes – it could be time for a fluid flush. Brake fluid is hygroscopic, which means it absorbed moisture, and when this happens its effectiveness is significantly reduced. The heat generated by braking during your daily driving can also eventually boil off some of the fluid, with the resulting gas leading to ‘air in the lines’ and a further performance penalty.
The first step for dealing with a spongy pedal is to bleed each corner and remove the air that could be causing the problem. If you still have an issue – or if the fluid is dark, discoloured, or has bits and pieces of gunk floating in it – it’s time for a full brake fluid flush.