All About Brakes: Staying Up On Brake Maintenance
Many drivers don’t think twice about their vehicle’s braking system until their brakes start to give way. This is a concern because weak brakes are a hazard on the road, especially in regions like Victoria where stoplights are the norm, there are merging lanes as far as the eye can see, and the weather can turn on you in a heartbeat.
Of all the car maintenance tips we like to inform our customers about, brake system maintenance is at the top of our list. We believe staying up to speed on the life of your brakes is one of the smartest moves a driver can make.
A Brief Rundown on How Brakes Work
The majority of cars on the road right now make use of disc brakes in the front and drum brakes in the back. When your foot hits the brake pedal, a plunger sends hydraulic oil (brake fluid) through a master cylinder down through four separate brake lines on its way to all four wheels that activate calipers.
In disc brakes, the fluid enters calipers, which push on pistons that clamp brake pads on either side of a rotor/disc, which is attached to the wheel. This friction stops the wheels from turning, and voila! A stopped car. You can see the same principle at work on most bicycles. In drum brakes, the brake fluid forces wheel cylinders to push brake shoes against a drum that sits in the wheel, pushing it outwards and causing the wheel to stop.
As you can tell from our rudimentary description of how brakes work, a vehicle’s brake system is made up of many moving parts. Fortunately, the parts of a brake system that need the most attention (pads, rotors, and fluid) are all easily accessible by a mechanic, making brake jobs one of the most routine fixes on a car. While this doesn’t always translate to an inexpensive, hassle-free brake job, there are a few ways to prevent the premature wearing out of your brake system. The tips below are a combination of good driving practices and staying on top of brake system maintenance.
Prolonging the Life of Your Vehicle’s Brakes
Just follow these tips to get more life out of your brakes:
- Don’t ride the brakes. Lighten up on the brake pedal. Tap it repeatedly when heading down a steep incline instead of clamping down the entire time.
- Gear down. If you have a manual or semi-automatic transmission, you can lighten the load on your brakes by using your car’s gears to slow the vehicle.
- Keep a safe distance. Ease up on how closely you follow the driver ahead of you. He’ll be happier and so will your car’s brake system, as this will likely mean less sudden stops it will be forced to make.
- Anticipate having to stop. This means paying attention to driving patterns and traffic light signals from a ways a way. Not only is this safer, but a by-product of being an alert driver is less sudden stops, which means more life out of your brakes.
- Keep them clean. In combination with tips 1 – 4, Searles Auto Repair can perform a brake service to keep everything clean, free and moving properly. Maintaining clean brakes helps them work more effectively, helps keep the temperature down and avoid that annoying squeaking.
- Exchange your brake fluid. Brake fluid quality and levels need to be monitored. This specialized, glycol-based fluid degrades over time as moisture can build up and eventually displace the fluid. This is why a trusted auto mechanic will always check a vehicle’s brake fluid during a regular inspection. Typically, the fluid should be exchanged every 1-2 years depending on driving habits. Brake fluid that is drastically low is an indication of a leak or worn out brakes.
A Word on Warranties and Brakes
Because brake pads and brake rotors are considered wearable parts, they aren’t covered by most warranties (factory or otherwise), making it even more important to keep good care of the ones you have for as long as possible. Ultimately, things will still need replacing, though.
How Often Should Brakes Be Inspected?
Brakes will wear out at different rates depending on their type, brand, the driving conditions, the driver, and general wear and tear. The hard and fast rule many mechanics go by is recommending having your vehicle’s brake system inspected every 12 months/24,000 km. An auto mechanic will look at the entire system, including brake lines, brake fluid, the parking brake, rotors, pads, shoes and drums.
If you suspect your brake pads are wearing thin (see next point), a visual inspection is all that is required and, depending on your vehicle, may be done without having to remove the wheel. However, it’s often best to leave any type of brake inspection to an auto mechanic. These sorts of inspections are typically a part of a vehicle’s regular Peace of Mind inspection.
We recommend always asking specifically on the condition of your brakes during every oil change. (You’ll have better luck with this if you avoid the quickie express oil change depots.) If an inspection shows it’s time for a replacement and you are curious to see why, your mechanic won’t hesitate to show you the condition of your existing brakes compared to new ones.
Signs Your Brakes Need Attention
Like most things that demand your attention—a wanting toddler, a smoking oven, a nosy telemarketer—brakes have an effective way of alerting you to the fact that they need servicing. In many cases, it will start with a sound—a squealing noise while driving and stops when braking. This sound is the brake pad wear indicator touching the brake rotor telling you it’s time to have your brakes inspected. Waiting too long is dangerous for you and everyone else in your path, plus it will also inflict more damage to the rotors, most likely grinding them and leading to a more costly repair.
If the problem is with your brake fluid or brake lines, the alerting factor will be more in the way of having to press harder than usual on the brake pedal (also known as spongy brakes). Another telltale sign is warning lights flashing up on the dashboard, including digital percentage displays in newer, fully loaded models.
Your Best Bet for Brakes in Victoria, BC
Here at Searles, brake systems are one of our specialties. We inspect, maintain, and repair all aspects of car and truck brake systems, including brake pads and shoes, brake line replacement; brake calipers, wheel cylinders, master cylinders, emergency brakes, brake drums and rotor machining. We also diagnose and repair antilock brake systems.
Make an appointment online or give us a call at 250-475-2000. Let us make sure your brake system isn’t an unknown hazard out there on the busy streets of the Greater Victoria Area!