When Do You Know That Your Brakes Need Replacing?
The brakes in our vehicle are the first and main line of defence when it comes to staying safe and staying in control on the road. They control our speed, prevent collisions, and restore control when approaching a tricky bend in the road. To suddenly find ourselves without brakes is one of the most potent driving nightmares that most people can imagine.
The fact is that without proper maintenance and repair, that can and might happen to our brakes on the road. Total failure of the brakes would more likely indicate not just that the brakes needed maintenance or repair, but that they needed replacing, and that will be the central topic of today’s blog. How and when do you know that it’s time to replace the brakes on your car?
A complete brake replacement is also sometimes known as a “brake job” and usually includes full and comprehensive servicing of the brakes:
- Replacing cracked or leaking hoses
- Rebuilding or replacing brake calipers
- Checking for and fixing leaks in the master cylinder
- Replacing brake rotors and self-adjusters
- Replacing brake pads
- Flushing and replacing brake fluid
- Resolution of any and all ABS fault codes that emerge on OBD-II scanner
Signs that Your Car’s Brake Components Need Replacing
First, we’ll look at individual components: brake pads, brake rotors and brake fluid. All of these are critical to the proper functioning of your brakes, and are also the 3 parts most likely needing to be replaced.
You’ll know when your brake pads need replacing first by observing roughly how many miles you’ve covered since your last brake pad replacement. Brake pads typically last between 30,000 and 50,000 miles depending on the brand and the way you drive. The more aggressively you use the brakes, the fewer miles that they’ll cover in total. Since the mileage range is so wide, you’ll need to know other signs too.
Squeaking Noises, Grinding or Vibrating
If you hear a squeaking or squealing noise when you apply the brakes, then that’s them telling you — warning you, in fact — that your brake pads are coming close to the end of their life. That point is actually there by design to allow you enough time to replace the brake pads before they are too worn and the braking action starts to damage the brake rotors.
Besides squeaking noises, you may also notice grinding. This is another design point in some brakes that contain metal wear indicators that are designed to generate that grinding noise when they are starting to be impacted. If you ignore it, your brake rotors will be in trouble soon. Finally, vibrations typically mean that you might be too late and your brake rotors have already become warped (see more below).
Brake System Warning Light
When your brake pads are worn down, you should get a warning on your dash in the form of your brake system warning light. That light is normally there when you have the handbrake engaged, but if you see while on the road or while you’re sure the handbrake isn’t engaged, then it’s warning you about problems in your brakes, quite possibly brake pads.
Your brake rotors will become damaged if you don’t replace your brake pads in time. Good brake rotors can last easily up to 70,000 miles if you change the brake pads regularly and on time and thus protect the rotors from unnecessary wear and tear. Most rotors become warped and uneven because people let their brake pads fall below the 1.5mm minimum thickness requirement and all protection was removed.
The typical sign that your rotors have been damaged are extreme vibrations and shaking when you apply the brakes. You may also notice uneven performance in the brakes, or even a slight pulling to one side. If they are warped beyond repair, they will need replacing, but they may also be able to be resurfaced.
When brake fluid shows signs of needing replacement it can be among the most worrying of all the signs and indicators. First of all, if your brake fluid has become contaminated with outside moisture or something else, then you’ll likely get a brake warning light. Your brake fluid should also be replaced every two years or so, and it should be checked every time you get an oil change or regular service.
Brake fluid contamination can lead to less responsive brakes, or a stiff or spongy brake pedal, which can easily make one feel uneasy on the road. Therefore, never skip a brake fluid flush and change.
Signs that You Need a Full Brake Replacement / Brake Job
Next, we’ll cover some of the signs that not just the above parts, but your entire brake system needs an overhaul.
Brake Pedal Loose
Are you pushing down on a loose brake pedal and not feeling any kind of meaningful response? Perhaps there is some braking power but it’s very low? Perhaps the brakes are taking longer to respond than you want. If you experience this and you also have a brake warning light or ABS warning light, then it’s very likely that your brakes need a major overhaul with many or all parts replaced.
Greatly Diminished Braking Power
On top of the loose pedal, you should also look for generally reduced braking power. Are your braking distances increasing? Do you have to use more force to get your car to stop? Have you had some near misses with the rear ends of other cars, or other obstacles? When braking power is dropping, your brakes need major repairs or possibly replacement. If the car is older or hasn’t had key brake components changed in some time, then that will also indicate time for brake replacement.
ABS and/or Brake System Warning Light
Finally, remember to look for the brake warning light and/or the ABS warning light. It might be just a single ABS error code that can be fixed with an OBD-II scan. On the other hand, it might mean that your brakes have experienced a major fault and need to be replaced. Very often these warnings can be about things that you don’t always immediately detect. It could be to do with the calipers, the master cylinder, the brake fluid…or worse.
Neglecting your brakes is the same as neglecting car and road safety altogether. Ensure that your brakes are properly serviced each year, that you get proper brake fluid and change your brake pads before they cross the 1.5mm thickness threshold.