Routine service to a vehicle’s safety systems should never be ignored, and brakes are perhaps the most vital safety feature there is. Knowing the signs of brake wear is the best way to prevent a scary situation. Though you should follow the service schedule outlined in your owner’s manual, brakes will often tell you when they need repair. Here’s a list of the most common signs your brakes are struggling:
Any sound that happens as you apply the brakes should be taken seriously. If the sound is high-pitched, it usually indicates wear to brake pads (the steel portion rubbing against rotors creates the noise). If the sound grinds upon braking, it could mean something is stuck in the caliper unit or there’s a lack of lubrication in rear drum brakes. Whatever the case, you should have your car taken to a mechanic as soon as possible.
If you feel the steering wheel shake when you brake, it might point to an uneven rotor. This problem usually manifests itself when the uneven rotor surface hits a spinning brake pad and causes material to stay on the rotor.
You might also feel a shake if the brake caliper fails to release properly. Road debris and heat can create wear on a caliper, making the piston sticky when you let off the brakes. Regardless, your car should stop smoothly and if it doesn’t, your brakes need service.
Illuminated Brake Light
A no-brainer, you should never ignore a warning light. With intelligent computer systems, your vehicle is telling you something has gone wrong.
Any extra resistance in the brake pedal should also be taken as a warning sign. If healthy, manual brake pedals should stop at least three inches from the floor (power brakes should stop one to two inches from floor). If it sinks to the mat when you press it or more air seems to be in the area, take the car in for immediate service.
Any vehicular system leaking fluid is a bad sign. As such, if your brakes feel soft, have a technician test for leaking brake fluid. Sometimes an overlooked culprit, it can be difficult to spot a leak without professional guidance.
A chemical odor noticed upon braking is a sign your brakes or clutch has overheated. If this happens, pull over and have the car towed to a local mechanic. You don’t want to risk full-on brake failure.