88 how to tell when your brakes need replacing

how to tell when your brakes need replacing


By Jamie Rogers on 2018-10-08 11:31:58

The very nature of car brakes, and how they're designed to work means that they wear out, and depending on the model or type of car, you could have some different options for replacement some may last longer and others may offer more braking performance, but there´s usually an offset; longer lasting could mean less overall performance, whilst the opposite could be true for better braking less life.

For the purpose of this article, we´re discounting drum brakes whilst common on older vehicles, they aren't so popular today, although some of the more cost-conscious cars have them fitted at the rear.

Understanding Brakes

To understand how to tell when your brakes need replacing, we should get to know how the brake the system works first; with a few different components, it could be any one of those that cause a problem, not just worn out brake pads or discs (sometimes called rotors).

Generally speaking, a car will have a brake disc attached to the wheel hub assembly, it rotates at the same speed as the wheel, a brake caliper (which holds the brake pads) sits fixed to a bracket, with brake pads clamping´ on either side of the brake disc. It is this action of clamping the pads to the disc that slows the vehicle down.

The brake pads are forced onto the disc with a hydraulically operated piston, which is actuated by the foot pedal fluid gets pushed through the system when you press the pedal, pushing the brake caliper piston onto the pads, which in turn push onto the disc.

Common Problems

Of course, the most common problems with brakes are the brake pads wearing out, which is what they are designed to do, but did you know that your brake discs also wear? In most cases, worn brakes can be fixed by fitting new brake pads, but over time, the disc wears out, usually leaving a trough in the central part of the disc face, which if left unattended, will wear any new pads even quicker this is why they should be checked at the same time.

Perhaps the second most common issue is the failure of the Brake Master Cylinder which is attached to the brake pedal and is responsible for the actuation of the fluid when you push the brake pedal the seals within the cylinder fail, meaning that pressure can´t be built up, leaving you with no braking whatsoever.

How to Tell

Most problems with brakes are easily diagnosed, especially if it ´s a case of worn pads. Many modern cars feature warning indicators as to when the brake pads are getting close to being unusable, this could be in the form of an audible noise (created by a specially shaped piece of metal attached to the pad itself) or electronic indicator which lights a warning lamp on the dashboard. There's also the good old fashioned method listening for irregular noises coming from the wheels, although if you don't know what you´re listening for, this method isn´t ideal.

Smell can also be used to help spot problems with the brakes heavy usage or binding brakes often produces an acrid smell, perhaps a little smoke also, this can be a good indicator of problems if youve just been driving as you would regularly.

In the case of a failed master cylinder, the problem is easily diagnosed your brake pedal will have no resistance whatsoever, you´ll be able to push it to the floor easily this is the fluid bypassing the seals. Repairing the problem is relatively straightforward, you need to replace the master cylinder, although some of the older cylinders are repairable. Our advice would be that unless it´s an extremely rare car with a limited parts market, you're always better off replacing the whole thing.

In extremely rare cases, you may even find that your brake servo has failed. The servo uses engine vacuum to help increase pressure in the system. If you´ve ever rolled your car downhill with the engine switched off, and then tried braking, you have noticed that the brakes feel as though they aren´t working properly, and that you need an extra bit of pressure on the pedal to stop this is the effect of the brake servo. In these cases, it is more likely that the hoses from the engine have developed a leak, rather than a servo failure, but it ´s worth getting an expert to look at it for diagnosis.

Brakes Save Lives

With a little mechanical knowledge, replacing or diagnosing braking problems is relatively easy, however, you should remember that your brakes are perhaps one of the biggest safety critical systems on the car, and failure of them will more than likely end in an accident of some sort. Added to that, if the worst happens, and the Police decide to investigate, problems with brakes will invalidate any insurance and lead you to a conviction. If you´re unsure, get them professionally looked at.


The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details
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