- Helping you drive happy

Brake System Maintenance before the Holiday Travel Season

Arguably, your vehicle’s brakes are its most important safety feature, and one that should be maintained regularly, and not taken for granted. Ahead of the winter travel season, an inspection of your vehicle’s brakes is a fantastic idea, especially if you’ll be travelling in a vehicle full of passengers and gear. Loading a vehicle up adds even more weight, stress, and wear on your braking system.

You don’t want to take a chance or procrastinate when it comes to your braking system. Operating a vehicle with poorly maintained brakes is a danger to you, your family and your fellow motorists. Plus, in many newer vehicles, healthy brakes are vital to proper operation of other safety systems like stability control, traction control, and trailer sway control.

Your braking system operates via hydraulic pressure transferred through a special brake fluid that runs through metal lines to brake system components. Like any other fluid in your vehicle, brake fluid should be inspected for level and quality on a regular basis. Ask your mechanic to ascertain the condition of your brake fluid, and ask whether or not they’d recommend a brake-fluid flush. As brake fluid ages, it collects contaminants and may absorb moisture reducing the life and effectiveness of other brake system components and even accelerating rust in your brake lines.

The service life of your brake components will depend largely on mileage, landscape, driving conditions, and driving style. So, expect your pads and rotors to wear out more quickly if you frequently tow or do a lot of stop-and-go driving.

In any case, brakes often give off numerous warning signs that they’d like some attention when there’s a problem. Sometimes, they don’t or the signs can be missed. A mechanic can inspect and assess your vehicle’s braking system in a matter of minutes, adding confidence ahead of a road trip. So, if you’re heading in for a pre-holiday oil change or tune-up, be sure to have the mechanic give your ride’s brakes a once over.

Are your brakes making questionable sounds? Does your brake pedal nearly go to the floor before your vehicle slows down? Does your car or truck’s stopping power seem to be going out the window?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, you’ll need to get to a mechanic, pronto. Brakes, like any other system on your vehicle, require periodic maintenance and replacement of parts to ensure they work properly. That’s common sense for most motorists.

Here are a few of the key indicators that your vehicle is in need of a brake job.

Squealing: The all-important brake pad has the task of generating friction to stop your vehicle. When you hit the pedal, these pads clamp down against a rapidly spinning metal disc or rotor that’s fixed to each wheel. This causes the vehicle to decelerate, but also causes the pads to wear as they’re exposed to tremendous heat and stress.

When these friction-generating pads are nearly worn out, a small metal tab attached to each one contacts the surface of that brake rotor to create an annoying, high-pitched squeal. That’s your cue to call the garage and book a brake job as soon as possible.

Ignoring the squeal is a bad idea. When brake pads wear out completely, dangerously low levels of stopping power and brake rotor damage can be expected.

Do you notice a pulsation when stopping with light to moderate pedal effort from highway speeds? The pulsing or vibrating may be felt through the steering and brake pedal itself, and it can shake and rattle the entire vehicle in extreme cases.

This is likely a sign that your once-straight brake rotors have become warped, which is typically caused by poor-quality replacement parts, repeated hard, heavy braking, and extreme heat. Warped brake rotors aren’t an enormous danger in themselves, though they may cause premature wear to other braking components.

Note that if the pulsation is continual and happens even when the brakes aren’t applied, it’s likely another problem. Have your vehicle’s tires and front-end checked if this is the case.

Weak Pedal: When applying pressure to the brake pedal, deceleration should begin sharply and fairly close to the top of the pedal’s travel. If the pedal needs to be pressed considerably farther before deceleration begins or if you’re able to press the brake pedal to the floor something is likely out of whack.

These symptoms could indicate a defective system component, or even a dangerous brake-fluid leak. Your brakes could fail completely at any time, and your car needs to get to a mechanic right away. Note that some braking systems will illuminate a special warning light in the instrument cluster if there’s an issue, but others won’t.