Your brakes are obviously one of the most important parts of your car. But how much do you really know about how your brakes work — and what you should be doing to take care of them? In a recent survey, 77% of cars were found to be in need of maintenance or repair. If you’re worried your car might be in a similar condition, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with common causes and symptoms of brake problems.
How Braking Systems Work
There are a few different braking systems, but here’s the basic idea: When you press down on the brake pedal in your car, what’s really happening is that a piston is pushing the brake pad against a brake disk. This, in turn, slows your car’s wheels down. Most modern cars have hydraulic brakes, which means that the force is actually transmitted through a fluid (brake fluid).
Common Brake Repairs
Here are some of the most common problems auto repair shops see regarding brakes:
- Spongy or Hard BrakesSpongy braking describes the phenomenon where the break feels too soft when you apply pressure to the pedal. This can be caused by air bubbles in your brake line, a leak somewhere in the system, low brake fluid or a faulty master cylinder. This is a sign that total brake failure is imminent, so have your car towed to a local garage as soon as possible. Hard braking refers to a need to put excessive pressure on the brake pedal in order to achieve a response from your car. This might be caused by a kink or leak in the line or a leak in the brake booster.
- Shuddering or Grinding BrakesIf your steering wheel or entire car vibrates when you depress the brake pedal, you have what is generally described as “shuddering” brakes. This is usually caused by warped rotors. Failing to change your brake pads, or using cheap brake pads, can cause the excessive friction and heat that’s usually the culprit in this case. If your brakes are grinding, the brake pads are probably completely worn off, allowing the metal base underlying the brake pad to be applied directly to the rotor.
- A Lit Brake Service LightObviously, your brake light turning on is a sure sign you should get your car inspected. Air bubbles, faulty sensors or low brake fluid can all cause this light to turn on.
Remember that routine brake pad service and fluid changes are necessary in order to prevent damage to your system. Check in your owner’s manual for the recommended brake pad replacement interval, and keep in mind that in a recent car maintenance survey, 18% of the cars inspected had low or contaminated brake fluid.
Repair Costs and Brake Service Specials
Repair costs obviously vary, but you can get auto repair estimates from various shops if you’re price conscious. The good news is that as long as you don’t let your brake problems devolve too far, you’ll pay less than you would for, as an example, engine or transmission repair. Many auto body shops also run regular brake service specials for brake pad replacement and fluid checks, so you can look around and wait for one as long as you don’t have any pressing concerns. As with most auto repairs, the best way to protect both your safety and your budget is to keep up on regular maintenance.
Do you keep an eye out for brake service specials and other deals, or just pay whatever it costs when you get around to it? Share in the comments.