When we’re zipping around town at highway speeds we often forget how dependent we are our vehicle’s braking system. It can take as much as 100 yards to bring your vehicle from 60 mph to a complete stop, and that’s only if you’ve been diligent about taking care of your brakes. If you need to stop suddenly, it’s crucial that your braking system is in healthy working order. Therefore, it’s extremely important that you pay attention to the warning signs that denote a need for service. Below we’ve put together 5 signs that you may need to repair or replace your brakes.
First, let’s discuss the fundamentals of your braking system.
Most cars have disc brakes, which function a lot like the brakes on a ten-speed bicycle. A set of padded clamps known as calipers are engaged by a hydraulic system filled with brake fluid. When you press on your brake pedal, the hydraulic system triggers the calipers and pads to squeeze together on the rotor, which is the visible disc just inside of your wheel. Eventually, the calipers create enough friction on the rotor to bring your vehicle to a stop.
The brake pads are what drivers are most familiar with, and that’s because they are the parts that are replaced most often. As you compress your brakes again and again, the pads wear thinner and become less effective.
In general, your brake pads should be at least 1/4-inch thick. If they appear thinner than that, it would be wise to have them replaced. While you’re having a look, it’s also a good idea to evaluate the condition of the rotor. The metal should be smooth, so if you spot any grooves or pits, it may also be time to replace the rotor.
Squeaking and Grinding
One of the most noticeable warning signs that your brakes need attention is the high-pitched squeal that comes from a sensor in your braking system when your pads need to be replaced. When you hear the squealing, you should also listen for a grinding sound. If you hear metal on metal, it means you’ve gone through your brake pads entirely. You’ll probably notice that your car isn’t stopping as easily, and chances are you’re also damaging your rotors. For the sake of your pocketbook, try to have your brakes serviced before it gets this bad.
Pulling To The Left Or Right
Sometimes it can feel as though your car has a mind of its own, veering to the left or right when you apply the brakes. This could be the cause of of uneven brake pads or a collapsed brake hose that is preventing one caliper from engaging. When you get out the car, hold your hand close each of the front wheels, being careful not to touch them. If you can feel heat coming from either of the rotors, you probably have a stuck caliper.
Pulling isn’t always a sign of a problem with your braking system, however. It could also be caused by worn or unevenly inflated tires, improper alignment, or an issue with your vehicle’s suspension. With so many possibilities, you’ll want to stop at your local mechanic shop for an inspection.
If you have a vehicle with anti-lock brakes and you’ve ever had to execute an emergency stop, then you’re probably familiar with the quick grabs the system applies to the rotor, and the rapid pulsating in the brake pedal it causes. Although, if you experience any pulsating under regular braking circumstances, you could very well have a problem.
In most cases, a vibrating brake pedal is a sign of warped rotors. The pads are compressing against an uneven surface, and you can feel it as you step on the brake pedal.
Rotors tend to warp when put under extreme, prolonged stress. When you’re driving down a steep hillside or towing something heavy and you have to make frequent stops, the added friction can generate enough heat to change the shape of the metal rotor. Sometimes warped rotors can be resurfaced, but they often need to be replaced.
A Sloppy Brake Pedal
When you press on the brake pedal and it practically hits the floor before the vehicle starts to slow down, this could mean a number of things. You could possibly have worn out brake pads, but if you’re not also hearing the squeaking and grinding, it could be a problem with the hydraulic system. You could have a leak, an obstruction, or air in the line. If the hydraulic system fails altogether, all you have left to stop you is your emergency brake. Needless to say, brake line problems are extremely dangerous to ignore and should be dealt with immediately.
A Sticky Brake Pedal
On the contrary, your brakes may stop you hard even with the lightest touch. This could mean that your rotors are unevenly worn or that your brake fluid is contaminated. In either case, the repairs are simple and inexpensive.
If you are experiencing any of these or other issues with your vehicle’s braking system, drop by Grease Monkey today – no appointment necessary!