Top 10 brake concerns every driver should know
The average motor vehicle weighs 1500-2000Kgs. The amount of damage that can be done by one, that can’t be cautioned or stopped is unimaginable.
the system responsible for this is the braking system. Unfortunately, it rarely gets enough attention from vehicle owners, users and maintenance officers. Therefore, I have curated 10 things to help bring attention to this invaluable system.
- Brake pads: Worn out brake pads will cause the braking distance to increase and may cause a metal to metal grinding on the rotor surfaces. If a brake pad gets cracked on its surface – caused from overheating the pad – it will squeak or squeal when stopping. If the pads and rotors get overheated, then the stopping distance will be increased. Once you hear a squealing sound on a regular basis, it’s time to replace the brake pads.
- Rotors: The brake rotor surface needs to be flat to keep contact with the brake pads. If the rotor surface is warped from heat damage it will cause the brake pedal to pulsate up and down and the vehicle to jerk when stopping. If a rotor is overheated its surface will be discoloured blue to purple and this hardens the surface and the brake pads will not be able to grip them. This will impede its stopping ability.
- Leaks: A leak in the braking system is usually a hydraulic issue. If the brake pedal goes to the floor, it can usually be traced back to a leak. A leak in the brake line will result in a loss of brake fluid, and eventually the brake system may fail altogether. Leaks should be addressed immediately, a pool of brake fluid on the garage floor or a low brake pedal are all symptoms of this problem.
- Sticking calliper: The calliper and calliper brackets hold the brake pads and force them against the rotor to stop the vehicle. Calliper pistons can become stuck in their bore, and when this happens the car will usually pull to one side when the brakes are applied, or the pads and rotors will be overheated or worn down too fast. It will also affect performance under acceleration as the brake is sticking. A sticking calliper is more than a nuisance, it can be dangerous and should be repaired immediately. Sometimes the caliper bracket slides will bind causing the same issues as a stuck calliper except only one pad will get worn down too fast instead of both.
- Warped rotors: Rotors can become warped if they are exposed to extreme stress. Mountain driving or towing can result in warped rotors. Even something as simple as parking a car next to a sprinkler system can warp a rotor. The cold water hitting the hot brakes can result in warping. Warped rotors will usually cause the steering wheel and vehicle to shake when the brakes are applied. Warped rotors may even increase stopping distance or cause the anti-lock brakes to prematurely engage.
- Brake fade: If the vehicle is taking longer than normal to stop it is probably due to brake fade. In most cases this is a short-term problem, but it can turn into a long-term issue. As an example, driving down a mountain road will heat up the brakes making the pads and rotors less responsive. Once the brakes cool down, they should return to normal functionality. As time goes on brake fade can become permanent and then it is time to replace the brake pads and rotors. This is the early sign of overheating the brakes and will damage the rotors and pads.
- Smoking brakes: While smoking brakes sound sort of cool, it is actually a very dangerous condition. Overheated brakes or brakes that are smoking means the brake pads have been burned or something is leaking onto the brakes. If this happens, the pads will develop a glaze, which can severely affect performance. If axle seals are leaking onto the brakes it will ruin the brake pads and rotors.
- Brake light: If the brake light on the dash illuminates it can indicate a serious issue with the braking system. In most cases it indicates a problem with the hydraulics and the vehicle should be inspected and repaired as soon as possible. It is never safe to drive if the brake light is illuminated. The light also doubles duty to let you know the parking brake is on in some vehicles.
- Faulty or collapsed hoses: A collapsed, or malfunctioning brake hose can result in calipers that move unevenly. This will cause the vehicle pull to one side when the brakes are applied. If the brakes are pulling to one side the vehicle should be inspected and repaired as soon as possible. Sometimes the fluid pressure to the calliper will not be released by the faulty hose and will keep the calliper applied.
- Emergency/ Parking/Hand brake on: This may seem silly, but it happens more often than you would imagine. It is easy to forget to release the parking brake, and this will cause performance issues as well as damage to the brake system. If the car seems to be accelerating slowly or you hear a squealing or grinding noise, check to make sure the parking brake is not engaged. If the parking brake cables seize after the parking brake is applied and then you try to release, can cause the vehicle to not be moved at all.
It is my belief that understanding these signs could make a world of difference in the safety condition of your vehicle!