Rolling Down The Highway: A Summer Brake Story
Not every vehicle system lets you know when trouble is coming, but brakes do.
Next time you’re driving, cock your ear for the sounds of brake problems–squeaks, squeals, grinding. Visit your service center immediately before warning signs become catastrophic failure, experts say.
Also, take notice of the brake pedal response when you press your foot to the pedal. Does it drop all the way to the floor? Is it squishy?
According to Pat McCleish, brake repair expert who spent 18 years at Centric Parts, minor symptoms need to be addressed before they become an expensive and dangerous problem.
“Anytime you notice changes in the performance and feel of the brakes, get it checked out,” McCleish said. “If you notice the brake pedal is a little softer than it usually is, get it checked out, don’t just ignore it because the brakes still appear to work correctly.”
McCleish has spent a lifetime learning the nuances of brake components. He had rebuilt just about every type of brake caliper from vintage British vehicles to German and Italian road racers.
“Brake systems are integrated with other systems in modern day vehicles,” said McCleish, who started a performance brake business called Automotive Brake Solutions.
Automotive Brake Solutions specializes in rebuilding calipers for high performance and vintage vehicles–-the housing for brake parts such as pads and pistons that slow the vehicle when you press on the brake pedal–for high end vehicles. Whereas most calipers are made with zinc coating to help reduce corrosion. McCleish uses the metal cadmium to provide exponentially more protection for the calipers, extending the life of the parts.
“Corrosion can occur with any vehicle that sits outside,” McCleish said, explaining how moisture can create a thin layer of rust on brake pads.
Brake pads press against both sides of the rotor, the shiny disc attached to the wheel. Rust interferes with how well the brake pad makes contact with the rotor and the vehicle’s ability to stop.
“Get an inspection from a shop which has invested in the right equipment to analyze problems and employs certified technicians who know how all the systems work together,” McCleish said.
Changes in the brake system may be auditory–listen for a grinding noise or squealing whenever you press the brake pedal. Or the symptom may be less obvious–the brake pedal may feel spongy or the vehicle takes longer to make a stop.
Recommendations from vehicle manufacturers vary and can be found in your owner’s manual. As a rule of thumb, drivers should get a brake inspection every 10,000 miles (or every time tires are rotated) McCleish said.
“If your vehicle rotors have rust, it’s time to replace them,” McCleish said. “Otherwise, you are reducing performance as well as safety.”
How and where you drive affects longevity of components such as brake pads. Hot environments tend to wear brake pads quickly. Stop–and-go city driving also increases brake pad wear.
“Premium quality brake components cost a bit more up-front but will generally result in longer life,” McCleish said. ”They save money in the long run.”
McCleish also had the following recommendations for brake safety:
- Check your vehicle brake system regularly, every 10,000 miles (16,000/km) or every time you have tires rotated.
- See your vehicle owner’s manual for vehicle-specific recommendations.
- Listen for warning signs. Do you hear squeals or do you feel vibrations when brakes are applied? Does the brake pedal feel spongy or drop all the way to the floor?
- Heed any warning lights on the dashboard or messages on your display screen. They must be addressed immediately.
- Avoid aggressive driving, which places unnecessary strain on brakes and can wear them out faster.
- Get quality brake replacement parts. They will last longer and perform better.
- Check the master cylinder for leaks. This reservoir stores the brake fluid and occasionally requires replacement of worn out seals.
- Look for cracks and brittleness in brake lines, which can turn into leaks. Lack of fluid can lead to brake failure.
- Test the parking brake. It is easy to overlook when you’re having your vehicle serviced for regular oil changes and tire rotation.