While your car or truck contains many features that are critical to your continued safety, your brakes are definitely toward the top of the list. In fact, how well you’ve stayed on top of yours can literally mean the difference between life and death, so it’s imperative that you know how to tell if you need new brakes.
The average car will require new brakes at least a couple of times over the course of its lifetime. However, it’s important to realize that brake changes aren’t like oil changes or tune-ups in that they’re ideally addressed after certain amounts of mileage have been reached. Depending on different variables, you may be in the market for your first new set after a mere 20,000 miles or you may be able to wait until closer to 50,000 or 70,000. Instead, keep your eyes and ears open for the following warning signs.
BRAKES THAT ARE NOISY OR SQUEAKY
Whether you’ve heard this on someone else’s vehicle or your own, the chances are excellent that you immediately thought: “Well, that doesn’t sound good.” You’d also be right to think that, especially if the sound you heard sounded anything like metal scraping against metal. Contrary to popular belief though, this isn’t necessarily the sound of vital brake components getting ready to go kaput.
What you’re actually hearing is the sound of a metal wear sensor doing exactly what it’s meant to do – give you a heads up that it’s time to think about investing in a new set of brakes. Squeaky brakes can also occur if your car has recently spent an extended amount of time parked under damp conditions. When that’s the case, thin layers of rust can form on the vehicle’s brakes, but they’ll be gone after a short drive and several stops. If squeaking continues for longer than that, it’s better to simply err on the side of caution and have your brakes looked at. Brake noise can also come from worn brake hardware. We recommend that you replace brake hardware with every brake job, even if it looks fine.
Have you been feeling as if your brakes just really aren’t as responsive as they should be? Does it seem like your brake pedal feels “mushy” lately or as if its sinking more than it should when you step on it? Does your vehicle take longer to come to a complete stop than it used to? It’s probably not your imagination playing tricks on you. This is part of what happens when brake fluid is low and can even be a sign that there’s a leak somewhere that should be addressed as soon as possible.
One warning sign to look out for is a puddle of actual brake fluid underneath your vehicle after it’s been parked a while. Not sure what brake fluid looks like? Watch for a liquid similar to clean motor oil, but that feels less oily to the touch. You’ll also want to look for other signs of low brake fluid. How do you know when you need brake fluid? Check your fluid reservoir, taking care to note both the level and color, or ask your mechanic to do it for you.
Do your fluid levels seem to be just fine? If so, this could point to the brake booster or master cylinder beginning to fail, which should be addressed as quickly as possible.
PULLING, BOUNCING, OR VIBRATING
Any type of motion that feels strange or ominous when using your brakes could be a sign that something is wrong and that it is time to inspect your braking system. The following are just a few examples to keep an eye out for.
SYMPTOMS OF BAD BRAKES
PULLING TO ONE SIDE
Does your car pull noticeably to one side or the other when you’re braking? It’s probably not just a quirk or a sign that your car’s simply getting old. It’s likely a sign that your brakes aren’t wearing as evenly as they should be. Alternatively, it could point to a caliper issue or the presence of something foreign in your brake fluid.
VIBRATING OR PULSING
Does your brake pedal ever feel like it’s vibrating or pulsating? This could indicate that something is wrong with your rotors, as this sensation tends to occur when irregular wear or contamination on the rotor leads to a non-level surface.
Last but certainly not least, you should get into the habit of visually checking your brakes every so often. You can do this by peering into the space between the spokes of your car’s wheels. If you do this, you should see your brake pads pressing along the rotors of the braking mechanism. How do those pads look? Is there at least a quarter inch of pad present? Does it seem to be in good condition? Is there any exposed metal visible or anything else that looks worrisome?
You’ll also want to pay close attention to that handy brake light on your dashboard. Sometimes it’s a warning that your parking brake is engaged, but other times it’s a sign that you really ought to have your brakes looked at sooner rather than later.
At the end of the day, it’s always better to be safe rather than sorry when it comes to your car, especially if you might be dealing with a potential brake issue. Make sure you take your vehicle in for regular inspections, even if nothing seems to be wrong, and definitely go in more often if you’ve been having problems. You’ll be glad you did.