Brakes are vital for slowing your car down – whether its abruptly to avoid a collision, or gently to stop at traffic lights. They are crucial for safety, not just yours, but also that of other road users around you. So, it makes sense to ensure they are well maintained.
Brakes in action
When your foot pushes the brake pedal down it pushes against the master cylinder. This is basically a piston surrounded by brake fluid. The fluid moves down the brake lines where it forces the caliper to squeeze a pair of brake pads against a brake disc. This, in turn, slows the wheel down. The energy released from stopping your car’s motion is converted into waste heat, which has to be dispersed. As the disc has a relatively quick cooling time, this type of brake offers a better stopping performance than drum brakes and is widely used in current cars.
Considering the amount of times that you brake during an average car journey, it’s no wonder that brake pads and discs need to be replaced periodically.
How to tell if your brakes need replacing
Checking your brakes to ensure they are in good condition requires your senses of sight, hearing and touch. Together, this will give you a good idea of when to replace your brakes for a smoother and safer driving experience.
Your brakes may need replacing if you notice any of the following signs:
- Squealing noise:
Some squealing noise coming from the brakes is expected under normal driving conditions, depending on the cleanliness of your brakes, the materials used for your brake pads and the weather. However, a loud screeching sound is a warning that brake pads may need replacing. Some brake pads use a semi-metallic layer within the brake pad material or an external sensor designed to screech when the brake pad is due to be replaced. This screeching noise can be heard even when the brakes aren’t being used. If you wait too long at this point, the screeching noise will be replaced by a grinding noise which means the brake pads have worn down completely, and potentially can generate additional costs by damaging the brake disc.
- Warning light:
Some cars have a warning light on the dashboard to let you know when your brakes need attention. Most sensors have the same lifespan as the brake pad, so they need to be replaced along with the brake pads. Before you rely on this method, it’s best to check your owners’ manual as not all cars are fitted with brake pad sensors.
- Car pulling to one side:
If your car feels like it is pulling to one side or the other while you’re driving, it could be a sign of worn out brake pads or that the caliper guide pins or piston is sticking.
- Visual check:
It’s a good idea to visually check your brakes regularly, for example every 10,000 miles (approximately 16,000 km). This is extremely important if your car doesn’t have sensors. You can visually check the brake pads by looking through the spokes of the car’s wheel. If less than 3mm of the brake pad is visible, then they need to be replaced.
If you feel your car vibrating as you brake, it is a sign that your brake discs might be abnormally worn or have suffered thermal damage following severe braking.
How often do you need to replace your brakes?
In general, there is no fixed interval for replacing your brakes, as the duration of the brake components much depends upon the vehicle as well as upon driving style. Braking can last up to 80.000 km or even more, but can be as low as 25.000-30.000 km in the case of heavy duty use. Your owners manual will have more information about the recommended intervals for brake replacements of your car’s make and model.
It is important to note, if the discs are unevenly worn or badly scored, that it is recommended to replace your brake pads and brake discs at the same time.
How can I make my brakes last longer?
The lifespan of your brakes depends on a number of factors, including:
- Driving style – how hard do you usually brake? If you usually brake hard, your brakes will need replacing sooner than those of someone who gently brakes. Coasting to reduce your speed before traffic lights or junctions can also help extend the lifespan of your brakes.
- Environment – both city traffic and mountainous roads require more braking than long, straight roads like motorways.
- Brake quality – the quality of brake materials varies greatly by manufacturer. Some last longer than others. The adage rings true, you usually get what you pay for.
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