Listening to Your Brakes
Chances are that you don’t think about your car’s brakes very often. You just want them to work when you jam your foot on the brake pedal. However, there are times when your brakes need a little of your attention and fortunately send a few signals your way to indicate this. In this article, we will look at some of the things that may indicate your brakes are getting a little needy and should be checked by a good mechanic before any serious problems occur.
First, a few words on how brakes work. Most cars use what are known as disc brakes. These function in much the same way as brakes on a ten-speed bicycle do. When you squeeze the brakes on your 10-speed, a set of rubber pads grip both sides of the wheel rim and the resultant friction quickly slows down the bike. It’s similar with a car except that instead of rubber pads, a hydraulic system filled with brake fluid squeezes the spinning rotors attached to your car’s wheels with hardened composite brake pads. In this case, the friction that occurs between the pads and rotors slows down your car.
The first point to mention is that those brake pads will get thin over time. They simply wear down and will need to be replaced. What mechanics do is check the thickness of the brake pads to judge if they are in this category. They should be some ¼ inch thick or more. You may also be able to do this yourself. If you have spoked rims, you may be able to look through your wheel spokes and see the brake pads nestled inside the brake caliper. Do they look like they are thicker than ¼ inch? Then you are probably OK. Can’t see them? Then let a mechanic take a look.
There is another indication that it may be time to have your brake pads replaced; a squeaking sound when you step on the pedal. Not always, but many brake pad manufacturers put little metal tabs on their brake pads that make a very distinctive squeaking sound when the pads wear thin. This will occur when applying the brake, not during normal driving. If you hear that sound, don’t panic, it’s not an emergency. It’s just getting to be close to brake job time.
Then there is the “pulsing brake pedal” signal. If your brake pedal pulses when you step on the brakes, then you may have one or more things going on. If your brake rotor is out-of-round or scored, your brake pedal may pulse. You may also have a stuck piston in your brake caliper assembly or even a defective wheel bearing. In any of these situations, it is best to have a good mechanic take a look.
A “mushy pedal”, one that goes practically to the floor before engaging the brakes, could indicate worn pads too but it is usually a problem with the hydraulic system, such as air in the brake line. This usually requires a procedure called “bleeding the brakes”. Unless you are a skilled do-it-yourselfer, this is a procedure best left to professional mechanics.
Finally, if stopping the car seems akin to Fred Flintstone putting his feet through the bottom of the car to bring it to a halt, you might have a problem with the power-assist part of your brake system. Virtually all brake systems today are power assist systems. If something occurs to interfere with the assist part, your brakes will still work but will take a lot of foot pressure to work. This is also job for your local mechanic to undertake.
In general, you can stay out of trouble in regards to your car’s brake system by just keeping your eyes and ears open for issues that occur when you use them. Today’s brake systems are quite robust and are designed to be failure resistant. However, they will need new brake pads and other updates as you put on the miles.
Source: Akins Dodge Jeep Chrysler Ram