Normal wear and tear on a car's brake system requires regular
inspection of the them and other components. Skipping maintenance or
putting off minor repairs can lead to serious - and expensive -
problems. Driving habits determine how long they last. Driving carefully
extends the life of most of them like rotors and calipers. Keep the
car's suspension system - shocks and struts - well balanced, too. A
poorly balanced vehicle puts unnecessary strain and wear on the brakes,
and they wear out faster.
Symptoms of a brake problem:
The brake warning light is activated.
: The car giving an alert that something is amiss in the system.
Get the car inspected by a trained mechanic as soon as possible.
Replace or repair any worn or damaged parts, and follow a regular
inspection and maintenance schedule in the future.
They make a squealing or grinding noise when they are applied.
: Any grinding, squealing,
screeching or rubbing noises heard during braking indicate it is time to
have the system inspected. The pads and shoes may have started to wear
down and need to be replaced. In some cases, the gasket between the pad
and the piston may be missing, causing vibrations to escalate to
Replace worn pads
and shoes immediately, before they damage other parts. If the gasket
between the pad and piston is missing, have the technician replace it.
The brake pedal is spongy or slow to respond. Brakes feel weak.
They still work, but it takes longer to stop and sudden
stops create less braking power. You may have to press down farther on
the pedal to get results. If the pedal goes all the way to the floor,
the car may have no braking power.
pads may be too worn to effectively stop the car, or the fluid is too
low to allow for adequate braking pressure. In the worst case scenario,
the brake power boost unit may have failed or the master cylinder has
Replace the pads as soon as
possible, and have the fluid checked for contamination. If necessary,
replace the fluid. Checking the brake power boost unit requires a
special vacuum measurement tool, because brake boosters are
vacuum-controlled. If the unit has failed, it must be replaced. Failed
master cylinders also must be replaced.
The brakes make a "clunking" sound.
Something may be loose
inside the system, such as the bolts that hold them together or attach
them to the suspension. Suspension components may be worn or broken.
Ball joints, steering racks, tie rod ends, wheel bearings and more can
cause clunking sounds.
: Have the vehicle inspected immediately and repair any loose components or worn parts.
The brake pedal is too firm.
If applying them suddenly feels very difficult and it is
hard to depress the pedal, this can be an indication of a significant
The vacuum brake booster
system may have a leak or it may be failing. There may be an obstruction
in the line circulating fluid throughout the system.
Get the car to a mechanic immediately. Having any leaks in the vacuum
booster system repaired. If there are no leaks, the booster has probably
failed and needs to be replaced. The technician should check for
blockages in the lines. In some cases, the line has been damaged or
pinched and needs to be repaired.
The brakes seem to be "grabbing" or braking causes the car to pull to one side.
Grabbing or pulling when
braking can indicate that they or suspension system has a problem. In
some cases, the discs may be damaged.
Replace worn or contaminated pads. If the disc is damaged, replace the discs in pairs to ensure the car brakes evenly.
The brake pedal vibrates when brakes are applied.
Most cars have ABS, and the pedal will vibrate during
sudden, hard stops as part of the normal anti-lock braking function.
Other vibrations felt through the pedal or steering wheel during braking indicates a problem.
There may be metal-on-metal rubbing in the system. The brake rotors may be warped or being damaged by worn-out pads.
Replace any worn our contaminated pads. If the discs have been damaged,
replace them immediately. Check the suspension system and replace any
worn or damaged parts. Have the mechanic check the car's alignment, and
get an alignment if necessary.
The brakes "drag" or do not immediately release when the driver takes their foot off the brake pedal.
The system may have a bad
wheel cylinder, causing them to remain under pressure. The parking brake
may not have fully released, leaving it engaged slightly at all times.
If the technician finds a problem with the wheel cylinder, it must be
replaced. If the problem is with the parking brake, the cable control
may need lubrication or replaced.
There is a strong burning smell near the tires.
: Brake pads may be seriously
worn, or they may have been over-used. If the driver habitually "rides
the brakes" or brakes very hard, brakes can overheat. This often occurs
when coming down a steep hill or mountain drive. If the smell occurs
during regular driving, a more serious problem exists. A caliper piston
may be locked, or there may be a problem with the parking brake or brake
Drive smart, and do not ride
the brakes or drive with the parking brake engaged. If driving down
steep hills frequently, downshift rather than constantly use the brakes
to slow the vehicle. If the burning smell of overheated brakes occurs
during normal use, get the brake system inspected. Replace or repair
caliper pistons, brake pads or parking brake components as needed.