The month of August has been dubbed “National Brake Safety Awareness Month” by the Car Care Council. What does that mean? In short, it’s a national campaign to help prevent traffic accidents, collisions, and fatalities due to faulty or improperly maintained brake systems.
It shouldn’t be surprising that so many different bodies and organizations have so much to say about brake safety. Many drivers would agree that suddenly discovering that our brakes are out, or even working at only half their capacity, is one of the scariest scenarios imaginable. The question is, how can you know the signs of brake failure before it happens?
How Brakes Work
You’re likely already aware of the function of your car’s brakes, but how much else about them do you know? Here are some key facts that all drivers and vehicle owners should know:
The principal components of your braking system are the brake disc, rotor, brake caliper, brake pads, and brake lines.
When you depress the brake pedal, it activates the master cylinder, which boosts the force of your pressing many times, sending energy from the master cylinder down the line to the calipers, which move the brake pads around the rotors to create friction and cause deceleration.
The two main types of brakes are disc brakes and drum brakes. Your vehicle likely also has a parking brake.
Regular brake maintenance includes:
- changing the brake pads
- replacing the brake rotor (if warped)
- changing the brake fluid
Signs of Brake Failure: What to Look Out For
1. Increased Stopping Distances
If you’ve noticed that it’s taking longer to stop than usual, then this is a classic sign that the brakes are not working as they should be. You might wonder how you would know for sure if you have never paid attention to braking distances in the past.
The fact is that you don’t need to know the exact numbers here. Most drivers are more attuned to their braking distances than they think. The main thing to look out for is when braking suddenly seems more challenging or increased braking force is needed for the vehicle to stop.
2. High-Pitched Noises from the Brakes
In most cases, any kind of whining, grinding, knocking, or other similar, unwelcome sounds from your vehicle should be cause for concern. Most of the time, squeaking from your brakes is there by design. Squeaking brakes are a warning sign that your brake pads are nearing the end of their life. Get them changed as soon as possible.
3. Brake Grabbing
This term refers to a slight pulling of the vehicle to one side that you might feel when you apply the brakes. The most likely cause is either a faulty brake hose in need of repair or a pressure imbalance in your brake calipers. In any event, maintenance is required.
4. Spongy Brakes
Have you ever felt you were braking but then suddenly felt you had to force the pedal down much further to get the effect you expect? This is known as a “spongy” brake pedal. It’s a classic sign of a buildup of moisture within the master cylinder and brake fluid. If you’re pushing the pedal close to the floor, it might be time to flush the system and get new brake fluid.
5. Brake Pulses
If you have ever felt like you are getting pulse-like feedback when you press down on the brake, you might be experiencing a warped brake rotor in need of repair. The rotor might not be broken, either, but instead improperly installed. The only time a pulse is normal from the brakes is when you are emergency braking, and your ABS (automatic braking system) kicks in.
6. Dashboard Warning Light
If your dashboard is warning you about a problem with your ABS or brakes, then at the very least it warrants an inspection. It could be the rotor, the pad, or another component. The main problem with the warning lights is that they often point to general systems rather than specific faults. You’d need to run diagnostics to get a clear answer, or at least have a mechanic check the brakes.
7. Signs of Wobbling/Vibration
Suppose you experience any vibrations in the steering wheel or any kind of shaking in response to your application of the brakes. The most likely cause is a warped or otherwise damaged rotor.
Never Miss Vehicle Brake Maintenance
Here are some maintenance tips to always remember for the future. Following these points will help you have effective and long-lasting brakes:
Regular Maintenance Is a Must
Get your brake rotors and brake pads checked at least once a year regardless of mileage, but this is doubly important if you regularly exceed the national average of 13,500 miles per year.
Besides rotors and pads, have your brake fluid checked and regularly serviced, too. It absorbs outside moisture over time, which turns it dark and in need of flushing. Regular maintenance is the best way to help prevent component failure in your vehicle.
Driving Style Matters
Avoid sharply pressing on your brake pedal. Give yourself lots of room to slow down. Try coasting to slow down at first and then gently brake to a complete stop. Additionally, maintain a reasonable distance between yourself and other cars so that you don’t have to sharply brake whenever they do.
Don’t Cheap Out on Safety Components
If choosing new brakes for your car, always invest more money in quality rather than trying penny-pinch. Always be willing to pay more for good rotors, calipers, and other components.
Put the Brakes on Brake Failure
Brake failure is incredibly frightening to experience and can lead to serious injury and costly vehicle repair. If you think you may be having brake problems that could result in brake malfunction or failure, schedule an appointment with AAMCO Lee’s Summit today. Our expert technicians will diagnose the problem and get your back on the road quickly and safely.