Working brakes are essential to safe driving, and if you skimp or procrastinate on brake repairs, you may be endangering yourself and others.
Most modern cars have disc brakes on each wheel, though some still have disc brakes up front and drum brakes in back. Disc brakes use a set of heat-resistant pads to grip the spinning brake rotor when you stop, using friction to slow the wheel and halt your car.
The materials in brake pads, drums, rotors and shoes wear down under normal driving conditions from the heat and friction of everyday use. Without regular brake pad service, these issues can spread to the brake’s hydraulic components including wheel cylinders and brake hoses. The brake fluid that transfers force from the pedal to the wheel hub becomes less effective if it reaches a certain level of heat. These problems reduce the car’s ability to slow down.
In the best case, a brake failure will result in a costly repair that dwarfs average brake service costs. In the worst case, a sudden loss of braking can cause severe traffic accidents that endanger you and your passengers.
Brakes should be checked at least once a year, but there are conditions under which you should take them into a shop immediately. These warning signs include:
- Continuous squeaking, squealing or grinding
- The car jerking or swerving when braking
- A sudden need to pump your brakes to get them to work
- Visible brake fluid leakage around the wheels or engine
- Brake or ABS warning light coming on
- An unusually soft or hard feel to your brake pedal
Some of these indicators can result in almost immediate brake failure, so get yourself to an auto repair shop the moment you think something may be wrong. If your brakes fail while driving, don’t panic. Work your vehicle to the right lane, and then toward the shoulder or an exit. When you’re over as far as you can go, turn on your hazard lights and let the car slow down by taking your foot off the gas pedal. Get your car off the road if possible to avoid a collision, then call for towing or assistance. Even if your problem can be solved by quick brake pad service, don’t risk driving if it will endanger you more.
It’s not uncommon for brakes to need replacement after 12,000-15,000 miles of travel, and every two years, brake systems should be flushed and filled with new brake fluid. A recent car survey found that 18% of cars were running on low or contaminated brake fluid, and 15% had a similar problem with power steering fluid.
Mechanics in auto repair shops are trained to give you quality brake pad service and can replace and resurface worn parts. Remember, about 77% of cars on the road are in need of maintenance or repairs. Brake service is well worth your time and getting your car checked out is the best way to keep you and your passengers safe.