Many of us are guilty of only taking action when the problem is too big to ignore. As long as something is still working, then it’s fine. But this should not be the case when it comes to owning a car. A well-maintained car lasts longer, drives smoother and ultimately can keep you safer. Every part of the vehicle should be working in good condition, and out of all the parts in a vehicle, the brakes are one of the most important. Compromising the brakes of your vehicle is sacrificing safety. So yes, it is a must to take care of your brake system.
You need brake service to make sure that all parts of your braking system (including brake fluid, rotos, brake pads and calipers) are in good working condition. Having your brakes serviced keeps the brake system working properly between replacements. Your brake system affects the handling, safety and the overall performance of your car so it must be properly maintained and inspected periodically.
When To Have A Brake Service
There is no doubt that you need brake service at some point, but the question is how often do you need to have your brakes serviced? Figuring out brake problems is not as straightforward as you want it to be. It can be confusing at times. There are problems that only require minimal repair to nothing at all, like having dust in the braking system which causes squeaking. And then there are other problems that are not really about the brakes, but with other parts of the car. For instance, a shrill squeal can be caused by a worn belt. Not every noise, smell or sensation points to a need to have a brake service, but some do.
If you are worried about losing time and money over a brake job that at the end of the day is not necessary, then read on. We list down the common signs that indicate your vehicle is due for a brake service.
- Soft and Spongy Feel in the Brake Pedal – When you experience this, it certainly means you have a problem in the hydraulic system. Problems like a weak flex line, air in the lines and failing calipers can feel soft can cause the spongy feel when hitting the pedal. A brake pedal that is functioning well should be firm and the brakes should apply gradually. When the pedal feels soft then the braking system is not properly working. It might simply be needing more fluid in the master cylinder.
- Fluid Leaks
There are lots of lines that run to the different components of a hydraulic system. One leak in any of these many lines will cause fluid loss and air loss in the system. When this happens, the braking system will go down altogether. Leaks usually happen at the rubber flex connections between the hardline, at the wheels and the calipers.
The color of brake fluid varies–from clear to rusty orange. It depends on its age and condition. You can also smell a slight odor. Check if the wet inner tires are wet since this is a sign of caliper leaks. Another indication that there’s a leak is wrinkled paint close to a brake line connection. Brake fluid causes this wrinkle. Any sign of brake fluid leaks is bad and must be fixed as soon as possible.
- Brake Pedal is hard to push – A hard brake pedal is most probably caused by a problem in the power assist mechanism. Power assists come in two types: hydraulic and vacuum. A vacuum booster is more commonly used in cars and trucks to provide braking assistance. With the vacuum booster, the driver does not have to put a lot of effort on the brake pedal. A hydroboost, on the other hand, is being used by some heavier and bigger trucks and certain turbo-charged vehicles instead of the vacuum to assist in braking. When these systems went kaput, the brake pedal is hard to hit but the brake system is still functioning. If the brakes do not function and the pedal is hard, then there is probably a mechanical problem between the master cylinder and the pedal. For instance, it might be caused by a broken connecting rod or something might be obstructing in between.
The power assist in vacuum systems goes down usually because there’s a loss of vacuum due to disconnection, split or obstruction in the vacuum line or there’s a tear in the brake booster’s diaphragm. Problems happen with the hydraulic booster when there’s a leak or when it runs out of oil. When the rest of the steering system is working properly, but the hydraulic brake booster is not, then the booster is probably the issue.
- Grinding noises – Have you encountered hearing noises when hitting the brake pedal? Chances are you have a mechanical problem with your braking system. The grinding noise produced when two metals hit each other is due to the brake pads that have worn out and the base metal is grinding on the drum or the rotor. When this happens, the braking system is seriously in trouble. The brake system will function very poorly and the rotors are continuously being damaged with each push of the pedal. Make sure to get your vehicle to a professional for brake service immediately for safety and to avoid further damage. Usually, when grinding noise is already present, the damage is beyond repair and replacement is the only option. But if you are lucky you can still save the rotors. Expect to have the pads and the rotors replaced.
Vibrations – The rotors develop hot spots when the brakes experience too much heat. When the hot spots cool down, they contract more than the rest of the parts of the rotor resulting in a warped brake rotor. Once this happens, every application of the brakes gives pulses through the steering wheel or brake pedal. Vibrations can also indicate poor steering alignment. When this occurs you should set a service appointment with an auto shop right away. The rotor can be saved if you’re lucky but if not then you need to have it replaced to get rid of the vibrations.
- Brake system is pulling left and right when pressing the pedal – When one side of the brake system has an issue, your car will pull to one side as you hit the brake pedal. It could be addressed by a simple adjustment but usually when this happens it means that the brakes are wearing on one side than the other. A failing caliper will cause uneven wear and application of the brakes. It could also be caused by worn rotors eating up the pads. This is the reason you have to replace brake wear components in LH/RH pairs at the same time to guarantee equal braking functionality.
- When your vehicle is taking longer to stop than usual or having a longer braking distance, then you are having brake fade. The problem can be short-term or long-term. It depends on what causes it. One of the examples of a short-term fade is when you drive on a curvy road. Riding the brakes heats up the brake pads and rotors which will make them less responsive. But once they cool down, they can go back to normal or near their original performance. But over time, the fade becomes permanent and the only fix is to change the pads and/or rotors. What you can do instead of riding the brakes in unavoidable situations is to downshift the transmission and make the engine slow the vehicle.
- Dragging when accelerating – If your car is not pulling away as fast as it should when you hit the gas and engine revs, you probably have a caliper hanging up. A sure sign of a braking problem is when the car slows down much faster than it usually does when you let off the gas after hitting 35 MPH or more.
- Funky burning smell – If there’s a weird burning smell when you hit brakes then you got a problem. Brakes that are overheated gives off a bad odor and are dangerous. When the brakes are smoking, the friction lining is burning. A glaze develops on the surface of the pads and shoes when they are overheated diminishing the braking performance.
- Brake Warning Lights Comes On – There’s a brake light for the main system, and another brake light for the ABS system. When the warning light turns on, you need to give attention to it. When the ABS components go down, the rest of the system can still function normally, however, if the main braking warning light comes on it means the vehicle most likely has a failure in the hydraulic system and needs to be repaired immediately.
Take immediate action when you encounter any of the issues mentioned above. Moreover, keep in mind that although brake pads can last about 4 years or 50,000 miles it can still require replacement sooner or later depending on the way you drive and mileage.
What To Expect in A Brake Service
Now that you know the tell-tale signs of brake issues, it’s time for you to find out what are included in a brake service.
A thorough and comprehensive inspection is done on all the moving parts of the braking system including the pads, rotors, calipers, hardware, brake drums, hoses, wheel cylinders, parking brake cables, fluid condition, master cylinder fluid condition, and wheel bearings and grease seals. The technician will have a better idea of what the issues are and what needs to be done after the completion of the inspection.
Cost expectations vary. There are plenty of factors to consider when calculating how much you would be charged for a brake service. In general, the cost will depend on the type of vehicle, the amount of wear and tear caused, the manner you drive and load your car, and the type of brake pads your vehicle has. Since there are lots of things that come into play when it comes to brake service cost it is not easy to come up with an exact amount, but typically it could be anywhere between $160 to $800.
Car Brake Maintenance Tips to Keep in Mind
You should not only depend on a brake service for maintaining the health of your brake system, you must also do your part. To prevent brake system failure here are six important things you should do:
- Have your brake and brake pads inspected once a year. Have them changed if they are too worn to function properly.
- Regularly check your brake fluid. The car’s brake fluid is essential to absorb water and to transfer heat to all parts of the brake system. When the fluid turns dark, it is a sign that it is time to have it flushed.
- Pay attention to warning signs such as odd noises, unusual feelings when pressing the brakes, and abnormal brake response. These may indicate a dangerous problem that requires immediate attention so you should have your car checked out right away.
- When you are driving opt for coasting to slow down before applying brakes whenever it is possible. This puts less pressure on the brakes of your car so it helps to preserve them.
- Refrain from braking when vehicles ahead of you brake unnecessarily. For instance, these vehicles may be following too near to the vehicle ahead of them, slow down and maintain a great distance behind them to preserve your brakes and to be on the safe side.
- Go for good quality and dependable brakes. Sure they may be more expensive, but in the long run it will give more value to its cost especially when it comes to safety, durability and efficiency.
A well-maintained brake system offers tremendous benefits. First, it gives your vehicle better performance. Having car brakes that respond instantly improves handling. You’ll enjoy driving without hearing any annoying screeching noise. Second, it gives you peace of mind and confidence. You won’t have to worry about the condition of your brake system when driving. Lastly, it gives you savings. When your brakes are in good condition you would avoid having your brake rotors damaged. Replacing rotors are more expensive than your regular brake service. These are all good reasons to have your brake service done regularly.