Summer’s here, and in many parts of the country, summer means road construction. Plus, summer means more teen drivers on the road, more highway traffic from road-trippers, and more bicyclers sharing the road. It’s important to keep brakes in good shape for the increased toll summertime driving can often put on them.
There are two major types of braking systems: disc brakes and drum brakes. Disc brakes are a newer technology and more efficient at stopping, but many modern non-performance cars use disc brakes for the front and drum brakes on the back wheels. The major concept in these two systems is the same: using friction (by pressing brake pads up against the spinning rotor) to convert the motion of the rotating wheel into heat.
Front brakes will usually last for about 30,000 miles without a change, and rear brakes for up to about 60,000 miles. The difference is largely because of the greater toll put on front brakes, which provide the majority of the stopping power of the vehicle.
It’s a good idea to ask for a brake check at each oil change, but there are also symptoms of potential brake problems that can be noticeable in everyday driving. Drivers should always be on the lookout for these telltale signs of worn brakes to ensure that they can be changed before they become a hazard.
- Squeaking and squealing. Occasionally new brakes will be squeaky during the break-in period, and moisture can cause even brakes in good condition to grind or squeal a bit. However, if it’s been a while since the last time they were changed, the noise is a good sign that the brakes are becoming worn. As the brake pads wear thin, the metal backing plate begins to come in contact with the rotor, causing noise. Eventually, if the brakes aren’t changed, braking will become dangerously inefficient.
- A “spongy” feeling in the brake pedal. Mechanics call this test the “brake pedal feel.” One common cause of a soft-feeling pedal is air trapped in the brake lines. (Brake fluid is the only thing that should be in the lines.) Damaged brake lines can also be a problem, especially if they begin leaking and the pressure inside the system decreases.
- Depressing further than usual before coming to a stop. Mechanics call this test the “brake pedal travel.” If the driver’s foot is going all the way to the floor, the brakes are probably worn thin and badly in need of changing.
When anything feels or sounds strange in a vehicle, it’s usually a good idea to take it to a mechanic to diagnose the problem and ensure safety on the road. And before heading out on any road trips this summer, take it to All in the Wrist Auto to make sure the brakes, and everything else, are in tip-top shape for travel.