Although many drivers neglect their brakes and put changing brake pads off until the last possible moment, it’s important to remember that your braking system is one of the most vital to your car’s (and your own) continued health.
Don’t wait until something is obviously wrong or broken, because then it might be too late. Get your brakes serviced regularly when you change your oil because certain parts need to be replaced after so much wear and tear.
Staying safe should be your number one concern while operating your vehicle, and maintaining the integrity of your braking system is a vital component of that safety.
How Do Brakes Work?
When you press down on the brake pedal, that causes the calipers (clamp-like parts behind each wheel), to begin closing. They squeeze the rotors (metal discs under each set of calipers,) which produces friction. The effect of this friction on the wheels is to cause them to spin more slowly and finally stop.
As one might imagine, this whole process produces a great deal of power and energy, which is directed onto the brake pads (the removable plates that provide contact between the calipers and rotors.)
Obviously, these forces, over time, will degrade the brake pads to the point that the brakes no longer operate effectively. As a general rule, brake pads should be replaced every season climate dependent, but it’s not unusual for them to wear out more quickly.
Every car and driver is different. That’s why it’s important to keep a watch out for five warning signs that your brake pads need to be replaced.
1 — Your Car Makes a Squealing Noise
This sound can actually be closer to a scrape or a buzz, but it only occurs when the brake is not depressed. This noise is caused by wear indicators, which are built into modern brake pads. They are bits of metal located at the top of the pad, which will scrape against the rotor when the pad has worn thin enough.
2 — Your Car Makes a Clicking Noise
All vehicles have some method of keeping the brake pads steady, whether it is bolts, pins, clips, or a special holster. They all serve the same purpose: to keep the pad from shaking. If the pads become loose, they will begin to rattle, which produces the clicking that you hear whenever the brake pedal is depressed or released.
3 — It’s Harder to Stop Your Vehicle Than It Used to Be
Often referred to as “brake fade,” this issue is caused by repeatedly applying the brakes over a long distance without ever actually stopping the car. Some drivers might find this sort of driving a necessity when traveling down a mountain or over a winding road.
Be warned, if this is a part of daily driving, it will undoubtedly impact the integrity of your braking system. You’re essentially forcing the brake pads to grind against the rotors for long periods, which generates heat and causes the parts to lose their ability to generate friction.
4 — Your Car Pulls to One Side When You Brake
This phenomenon occurs when your brake pads have worn at different rates. It is possible for one side to erode more quickly than the other, which causes a pull to one side when the brakes are depressed. Leaving this issue unaddressed can be detrimental to a variety of other parts including ball joints, steering rack, wheel bearings, and steering knuckles.
This problem can also be caused by malfunctioning brake calipers, a bad wheel bearing, or even uneven tire pressure.
5 — When Pressed, the Brake Pedal Shakes
Brake pads are generally manufactured with some type of binding resin. As they wear down, this resin heats up and runs onto the rotor. Ideally, this creates an even layer over the rotor’s surface, but if the pad gets too hot, the adhesive may clump in places on the rotor.
This is called “glazing,” and if your brake pedal is vibrating, it is likely the culprit. While this might not sound important, a shaking brake pedal is an unsafe brake pedal, and it could affect your ability to stop your car in a timely fashion.
6 — The Brake Light Is On
Modern vehicles will often tell you that it’s time for a service through lighting the brake light indicator in the dashboard. More advanced vehicles have sensors that detect issues with the brakes and the smart electronics will light the brake light to notify you of a potential problem. Check your vehicle’s manual for a full rundown on what each of the warning lights mean.
Now that you know a little about how your brakes work and why they are so important, you have all the tools you need to be able to get your car serviced when it needs attention. All of these things are warning signs that your brake pads are worn and need your attention.
Under no condition should you allow your brakes to lapse into a state of disrepair or neglect. For your protection as well as that of those on the road with you, get your brakes checked often and get your pads replaced regularly. It could save your life, or the life of someone you love.