If you have noticed an ominous grinding noise coming from your car every time you stop at a corner, your breaks have a problem. Brake problems get more dangerous as time goes by and it is never a good idea to ignore them. The longer you wait to fix your brakes the more expensive the repairs are likely to be.
Brakes are a car’s primary safety system. Even if you have a car with cruise control, power steering and shatterproof glass, the brakes are what will ultimately stop your vehicle and protect you from a major accident.
Brakes are subject to a lot of wear and tear. They are responsible for stopping a ton of weight every time you park or come to a red light. It is important to understand how brakes work, what grinding is a sign of and the cost of various repairs.
How Brakes Work
When a car is driving down the street it generates a great deal of kinetic energy. When a person steps down on the brakes, it stops that energy abruptly. Car brakes work by converting a car’s kinetic energy into heat by the use of friction.
When you depress your brake pedal, hydraulic fluid is pushed from the master cylinder through lines into the caliper. The caliper is an apparatus that squeezes the brake pads against the rotors which creates friction and stop the car. The pads wear down over time and so do the rotors.
Different Kinds of Brakes
There are two different kinds of brakes; drum and disk. A drum brake consists of a round drum with a set of shoes inside. The drum brake rotates next to the wheel. When the brake pedal is applied, the shoes are forced against the sides of the drum which makes the wheel slow down.
A disc brake contains a disc-like metal rotor that spins inside of a wheel. When a person steps on the brake pedal, a caliper will squeeze the brake pads against the disc. The wheel will slow down as more pressure is applied to the brake pedal.
Many contemporary cars use drum brakes on the rear wheels and disk brakes on the front. Disk brakes are used most often nowadays. only older cars have drum breaks on all four wheels.
What Causes a Grinding Noise in a Car
Brake grinding should never be taken lightly. If your brakes grind when you depress the pedal, it is most likely because the rotor disc has come in contact with part of the caliper. This happens when the rotor or brake pads have too much wear and tear.
If you hear the grinding noise as you are traveling down the road, it may be caused by a foreign object such as a rock that has gotten caught in the brake system. If you hear grinding, your breaks are in bad shape and you need to stop driving the car or take it to a mechanic right away.
Cost of Repairs
As with all kinds of automobile repair, the price of getting your brakes fixed will depend on the make and model of the vehicle. When your brakes have been grinding, a mechanic will look at the parts themselves and at any damage that might have been caused by them.
If you are lucky, the only thing you will need to do is have the brake pads replaced. Brake pads function by converting kinetic energy to thermal energy. The average cost for replacing them is around $235.00. Most of the cost is for labor and this can vary greatly depending on the make of your car. There are different grades of brake pads and the higher the quality, the more expensive they will be. For example, the average price per axle of a standard quality pad with a 6-month warranty is about $150. The average price of a high-quality pad with an 18-month warranty is $230.
Another thing that you may need to replace are the brake rotors. A car’s brake pads clamp down on the rotor to stop the wheels from spinning. Getting them replaced is more expensive than replacing brake pads.
The cost of rotor pad replacement can range from $406 to $559. There are two different kinds of rotors; drilled and slotted.
Drilled rotors have holes in them. The advantage of a drilled rotor is that it allows for heat to escape more freely. When heat gets trapped in a rotor, it can cause brake fade. Brake rotors can get wet when you go through a puddle or carwash and that can cause rust and other damage to your car. A rotor with holes in it will not trap as much water. However, the holes weaken the rotor and it can crack very easily.
Slotted brake rotors have grooves carved into their metal surface to move gas, heat, and water away from the engine. A lot of dust and gas can build up in between the brake pad and the rotor. A slotted rotor will allow gases that cause build-up to escape. They are considered sturdier than drilled rotors. They tend to wear down brake pads because they are so heavy.
Other Noises Your Breaks can Make
Worn out brake pads and rotors can cause your brakes to grind. However, there are a lot of other things to look and listen for when it comes to the brake system of your vehicle.
When your brakes become overheated you may experience a lessening or fading of their performance. It happens when the brakes are used more than normal. If you are going down a steep hill or parking on a hill, you may have to use considerably more pressure than you usually do. When you apply the brakes and they might make a screeching noise. Putting your car in a low gear when this happens is a temporary solution to the problem.
If you think you may be experiencing brake fade, you can perform a simple test. When your car is parked, try pressing the breaks three times. The pressure should increase with each pump. If it doesn’t, you should take your automobile for service.
If you feel a vibrating sensation when you press down on the brake, it may be because one of the rotors has become damaged. This happens when you put too much pressure on the brake by engaging in such activities as towing things or mountain driving.
Knowing When You Need New Brakes
Sometimes your brake problems can be fixed by replacing individual parts. Other times you are going to have to replace the brakes if you want to continue driving that particular vehicle. Before you invest the money in repairing your brakes, you should consider whether or not that particular vehicle is worth it. Replacing your brakes can be very expensive and the failure of any system in your car might be a good sign that it is time to buy a new one.
How to Know When Your Brakes are Failing
You should check your brake pads every so often. If you look through your wheel spikes, you may be able to see your brake pads. You should see an outside pad that presses up against the rotor. You should measure its thickness with your hand. If it is over ¼ of an inch thick, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. If it is thinner than that, it may be time for new pads.
If your brakes are squeaking, it is likely coming from a tiny metal shim in your brake system that was invented to signal when you need new brakes.
Uneven Wear and Tear
If your car slides slightly to the left or right when you depress the brake pedal, it may be because some of your brakes are wearing down and others are doing just fine. Driving this way can cause major problems, so it is important to have your vehicle checked out.
Fixing Your Breaks
If you need your breaks fixed, you will have to decide if you want to do it yourself, go to a garage or dealership. Each option comes with its benefits and drawbacks.
Do it Yourself
If the only thing your car needs is brake pads, you may have considered the possibility of doing the job yourself. It is actually a reasonably simple procedure that most anyone with the right tools can do.
Buying the tools is what is so expensive. You will need a jack and jack stands from an auto parts store. A decent stand tends to run between $70 and $150. You will also need the replacement pads which cost between $30 and $150.
To change the brake pad you simply loosen the lug nuts of your vehicle, then elevate the vehicle and remove the tires. You should then remove the caliper assembly of the old brake pad. Once this caliper assembly is off, you will just have to remove and replace the pad and put everything back together.
After you have changed brake pads a few times, you will be able to do it in an hour or two and it can save you a lot of money in the long run.
Hiring a Professional
If your brake problems are more serious than a need for new pads, you are probably going to have to go to a professional mechanic. Most people prefer to go to an autobody shop for repairs as they can provide personalized service and a lower price. There are a few instances where the dealership may be the better option.
Taking Your Vehicle to the Dealership
If you have a foreign automobile or a rare car, you may want to consider going to a dealership for repairs. Although parts and labor are almost always more expensive at the dealership, they will always have the part and the mechanic will be well trained on your vehicle’s engine. They will charge you for the entire job rather than by the hour, so you are less likely to be surprised when you get your bill.
Taking the Car to an Autobody Shop
When you take your car to an autobody shop, you will have direct contact with the mechanic who will work on your car. Be sure to ask them what kind of certification they have. They should be able to give you a cost estimate and they should be able to guarantee their work.
AAA offers a list of approved mechanics and the list has shops all over the country. Be sure to check a shop’s online reviews and their grade from the Better Business Bureau.
Get Rid of the Car
Some rides are not worth saving. If the brake system is completely dilapidated and your vehicle is older, you may want to consider getting a new one.
If you buy a new automobile, the dealership will offer you a trade-in amount for your old one. At first glance, it may seem very generous. Unfortunately, the dealership will normally tag the amount of money they gave you for your trade-in onto the final price of the new car.
If your brakes were damaged in an accident that you did not cause, you may be able to get the at-fault parties’ insurance to pay for repairs to your car or for a new vehicle. However, the insurance company is likely to lowball you. Be sure to explore all of your options before taking a settlement offer.
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