Nobody likes the prospect of brake repairs. But the good news is that the cost of brake repair is often quite manageable in comparison to other major issues such as engine and transmission fixes. And given that brakes have perhaps the most important function out of any your car should perform, brake problems are not something you can let slide when they come up. You can, however, do a lot to prevent needing brake repairs in the first place, or at least catch problems before they become too costly.
Your best plan of action is to head to a local auto repair shop for your annual inspection — that means every single year. A good brake inspection will cover brake pads, brake fluid, brake rotors, hoses and brake lines, brake lights, and dashboard warning lights. Some auto shops will include these checks as part of a more comprehensive safety inspection, but you should always ask what, specifically, is being inspected so that nothing is left off the list. You’ll also want to keep on top of the two most crucial aspects of regular brake maintenance. Here’s what you need to know about them:
- Brake Pads
Brake pads assist the brake rotors in your car with actually stopping your wheels from turning. Because of the resulting friction, they wear down with continuous use. As long as they’re replaced promptly, they prevent damage to the actual brake rotors. Your inspection should let you know when it’s time to replace brake pads (typically when they’re thinner than 1/8 of an inch). You should also be vigilant if you hear metallic screeching when you brake, or feel your car shake and pull to one side when you brake. Both could indicate that your brake pads need to be changed immediately.
- Brake Fluid
Modern braking systems are hydraulic, meaning that the forces involved are transmitted through fluid. Brake fluid is also important because it absorbs heat, dispersing it throughout the brake system to prevent damage. But brake fluid can become contaminated by water or other particles, leading to system problems and eventual brake failure. If you pop the hood of your car, you should be able to easily take a look at your brake fluid. The color should be clear; if it’s dark like motor oil, then it needs to be changed (you should know the whole brake system may also need to be flushed).
Do you have anything to add about maintaining or repairing brakes? Join the discussion in the comments.