Brake Maintenance Tips: How to Extend the Life of Your Brakes
Your vehicle relies on many critical components to operate safely. One of these critical components is the disc braking system. Ideally, you will never have to slam on the brakes to avoid disaster. But things are not always ideal, and it’s crucial to ensure that all the moving parts of a braking system are functioning efficiently.
Fortunately, the system provides many warning signs when something is beginning to go wrong and needs your attention. This article offers tips for getting the most out of your braking system and protecting yourself and others on the road.
What Are Brakes Made of and How Do They Work?
Brake pads are the best-known component of a disc brake setup. They are backed by a metal plate and composed of friction material designed to slow down a vehicle at the driver’s discretion.
The composition of the pads is usually chosen by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). The OEM decides what material works most effectively with the rest of the system. But drivers can often select differently made pads if they find that the factory pads are too noisy, dusty, or wear out too quickly.
Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of some common types of brake pads used in modern vehicles.
- Organic. Organic pads are often the most affordable and quietest option. But with frequent use, they are prone to fail quickly.
- Semimetallic. Large pickup trucks and SUVS often use semimetallic pads that are suitable for heavy-duty stopping power. These pads are usually made of copper, steel, and brass bonded with resin. Unfortunately, they are noisier and leave more dust than their counterparts.
- Ceramic. Ceramic pads combine comfort and quality, and they hold up well under high temperatures. But the way they distribute heat can damage other components.
No matter which brake pad you use, it will wear out and have to be replaced after constant use. If you notice a squeaking noise coming from the wheels when the brake pedal is engaged, that’s a big clue that you need to replace your pads. The alert occurs when a metal wear indicator is exposed on the pads and metal-to-metal contact is made with the rotor.
If you don’t change your brakes once you start hearing the unusual noises continuously, other components of the braking system may be damaged. Let’s look at a few of these other components and their role in stopping a vehicle.
As the brake pedal inside the cabin is depressed, a piston in the master cylinder of the vehicle is engaged. This action sends hydraulic fluid through an intricate maze of steel tubing and rubber hoses, where it ultimately meets the calipers. Depending on the system, the calipers engage single-piston, dual-piston, or quad-piston forces that squeeze the pads into the rotor discs, thereby disrupting the power sent by the drivetrain.
How to Take Care of Your Brakes
The key to ensuring that your components remain efficient is to follow a regular maintenance schedule and to perform regular brake inspections. If a replacement is necessary, don’t delay the repairs. If you do, you risk extensive damage and a dangerous inability to stop your vehicle on the road. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when monitoring your brakes.
Check Your Brake Pads and Rotors
Thoroughly inspecting your pads and rotors requires that the wheel be removed. Loosen the lug nuts before lifting the vehicle, and secure the vehicle with jack stands and wheel blocks. Once the tire is out of the way, you can see the components.
First check the rotors for problems like uneven wear or pitting in the metal. Even if the surface is in good condition, you should check whether it has at least the minimum thickness recommended for worn rotors. Typically, the wear limit is etched into the disc and measured in millimetres. Use a micrometre to determine the levels, and replace the equipment when the suggested levels have been exceeded. You can also find out whether a rotor is warped by spinning the disc and noticing whether it grabs during rotation or doesn’t rotate smoothly.
You can learn whether brake pads are worn out by looking through an inspection hole on the caliper. When applicable, measure the thickness and consider making a replacement when only about three millimetres to four millimetres of the friction material remains.
Check Your Brake Fluid
Since the braking system is contained, low levels of brake fluid usually indicate a leak or compromised pads. You can quickly inspect the capacity by locating the vehicle’s master cylinder, which is usually near the firewall on the driver’s side and positioned in-line with the brake pedal. If you have a plastic reservoir, you can identify the fill line inscribed outside the container. Some vehicles, especially older models, use steel tanks and require you to remove the lid to ensure that it is filled correctly.
When your levels are low, it is important to use the correct brake fluid to make sure that the system works properly. The reservoir lid will usually describe the manufacturer’s recommendation.
It is also imperative to analyze the condition of the brake fluid, even when the reservoir is full. The fluid is a hygroscopic—water-absorbing—chemical. Over time, this absorption of water significantly reduces its performance. It is time to change the fluid when you notice a burning smell or feel a softer, less effective touch when you apply the brake pedal.
Listen to Your Brakes
You know that if the breaks squeak when you engage them, this is a sign that a replacement is due. Did you also know that ignoring the warning signs can lead to further damage, making eventual repairs that much more expensive?
Here are some other noises you may hear if you don’t address the initial signs of break failure.
- Scraping. Sometimes, objects like small rocks or road debris become stuck between the rotor and caliper, causing uneven wear on the pad.
- Grinding. Grinding is often caused by metal-to-metal contact between a worn pad and the rotor. When this happens, it is usually necessary to replace the discs and the calipers.
- Rattling. Rattling is usually caused by a brake pad that has come loose from the anti-rattle clips that normally hold it in place. A distorted or warped rotor can also cause extreme rattling or vibration.
Bleed the Brake Lines
Bleeding the brake lines is the process of flushing expired fluid or releasing air that has infiltrated the system. If air bubbles exist inside the lines, the ability of a vehicle to brake is significantly reduced. Bleeding the brake lines must be done periodically as part of brake maintenance and also after replacing components like pads or calipers.
Do-it-yourself mechanics can perform the task by accessing bleeder screws located on the four calipers of the vehicle and using a specialized tool to release the contents of the lines.
Tips for Brake Care
Your driving style determines how long your brakes will remain effective. If you learn to be careful about how you stop the car, you will make it possible for brake maintenance to be performed less often.
Obey the Speed Limit
The need for speed, or, more precisely, the lack of adequate stopping distance caused by speeding, helps erode the friction material on brake pads. Following the posted speed limits is the most effective way to ensure that you have plenty of time to react and avoid emergency stops.
Don’t Hurry to Stop
Save your brake components and save money on fuel costs by timing your braking correctly. Instead of slamming on the pedal as you approach a sign or red light, anticipate the change in speed by letting your vehicle coast before you need to stop completely. To reduce wear and tear, avoid using the brake unnecessarily.
Don’t Rest On Your Brake
If you are switching from driving a manual vehicle to driving a vehicle with an automatic transmission, you may find driving with a single foot challenging. But accelerating while the brake pedal is slightly engaged will quickly ruin the friction material that’s bonded to help you stop. Travelling in this manner will also confuse other drivers, since it will cause your taillights to be illuminated when you have no intention of stopping.
Limit Heavy Loads
If you continuously pull heavy loads without heavy-duty braking equipment, you can count on having to make expensive repairs. When a vehicle is overloaded, the brakes, tires, and fuel economy are all damaged or impaired. If you plan to haul trailers or heavy equipment, consider investing in an enhanced braking system.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Although the stopping system isn’t the most complicated component of a vehicle to understand, some problems are best left to a professional and regular brake inspection. An expert mechanic can diagnose problems and find the solution before more extensive damage occurs. Especially if you have not already been working on vehicles on your own, the vital braking system is not the place to start experimenting with the innards of your car.
Keep your car safe by taking care of your brakes. That means performing regular maintenance, learning to recognize the first signs of trouble with the braking system, and resolving to fix any problems as soon as possible.